A few years ago I was travelling back from a 6-month trip through Europe, flying Icelandic air from Munich Germany to Toronto. I had a short layover in Iceland to transfer planes and continue onto the Canada. Leaving Germany I hadn’t really thought anything of stopping in Reykjavik for a few hours but was pretty happy I did. As we were preparing to land I remember flying over the southern coast where you could see the endless black pebble beaches and glowing marshlands diverging up into the glaciers. The woman next to me noticed my forehead glued to the window and asked if I had been visiting Iceland for a while. I mentioned my trip and how I was heading back to Toronto but showed some interest in definitely coming back. She lived in Vik, the southernmost village in Iceland and describe how exceptional the landscapes and the beauty of the island in the summer months were and recommended it as a must see before it becomes far too popular.
Near the end of the summer in 2014 I flew to meet a good friend in Reykjavik, Dan Chadwick. He was travelling Eastern Europe with his family and decided to make one last stop before heading back to University in Ireland. The plan was to travel the entire island, split ways and then I’d fly to meet my brother in Norway. The trip would be an 11 day excursions in total. I had landed in Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport a day prior to Dan’s arrival and had some time to explore the town centre and see some local sights. The atmosphere was comparable to a calm coastal fishing village where the smell of the salty air and a strong fishy scent from the seashore passed through the streets. It was quiet and inviting.
On August 6th, I picked up the Nissan Artic Patrol Jeep we rented, grabbed Dan from the airport and we set out to explore the island and complete the entire ring road loop through all the regions of the country. We left Reykjavik just after 12pm and headed towards Arnarstapi. This was a small fishing village on the coast of Snæfellsbær, hidden in the shadow of Mt. Stapafell. This was about a 3 hours drive Northwest. We immediately passed through some beautiful surrounding towns and into farmland and coastal highway outlooks. This first day was full of mist and fog but made for some interesting photos.
We set up camp in Arnarstapi, talked about our route to some fellow travellers over a bit of rum and called it a day. We got up early, ate breakfast and got back on the road. There were only a few other campers where we were and the roads were essentially vacant. It was impeccable. We were completely free to roam at our own leisure. We continued around Snæfellsjökull National Park towards Hellissandur.
Kirkjufellsfoss, near Grundarfjörður, another small town on the north side of the peninsula, is a gorgeous waterfall in the forefront of a Mt. Kirkjufell. We stopped to make some food and take in the views. To make it around the Island we had to move quite quickly. We drove on average about 4-6 hours a day and still saw all the top spots we planned to visit. We wanted to make it into the northern region for our second sleep. The next check point was a town about 4 hours away called Sauðárkrókur. This would be a good place to set up camp and get some groceries before heading further Northeast. This stretch was rewarding.
We reached Sauðárkrókur around 10pm after the 5-hour journey through the winding highways out of the west. At this point, no one else was on the road and we hadn’t seen anyone since we left Grundarfjörður.
We had a pretty wild time getting from Blönduós to Sauðárkrókur. We could either have taken HWY 1 south and back up to 75 forming a loop that was quite out of the way or our other option was to cut across HWY 744 that directly linked us to the next town and would shave off an hour of driving through the night. However, this shortcut was treacherous with very narrow roads, limited signage and no traffic lights. It was also a major shortcut for freightliners and heavy farm equipment. The weather progressively worsened and visibility was fading quick. We made it across in just under 45 minutes, found a campsite, took in the Northern lights and passed out.
We left Sauðárkrókur around 9am the next morning and headed East towards Akureyri and then down to the eutrophic lake of Mývatn. We camped at Reykjahlid and got a nice early snooze. In the am we headed towards Egilsstadir on the far East coast of Iceland. This was a wicked day. As you leave you pass by Hverir, a geothermal site where you can hike between the hotspots. We picked up 2 hitch hikers that were travelling east as well. We brought them to Dettifoss Waterfall which was also our next stop. After these two detours, we got back on the main HWY and headed towards the entrance of an off-road trail which lead us into the interior. The trail was called Möðrudalsleið which does a loop connecting back to HWY 1. This was a two-hour detour of unadulterated off the grid driving, no speed limit, and very few traffic signs. We were pretty much alone and free to roam the interior of Northern Iceland!
Exiting the trail was intense, we got a bit turned around where there was a river that was far too deep and had to detour once again but we finally made it back to the number 1 Hwy and continued to Egilsstaðir where we would find this hidden cabin within the mountains after an extremely foggy and misty drive through the Austurland! Again, this cabin was completely empty and was somewhat mysterious. We opened a bottle of rum and planned the rest of the trip. At this point we were half way around. We’ve covered the Western and Northern regions of Iceland and now it was time to explore the South. We drove from Egilsstaðir to Hornafjörður for the next quick stop for gas and food.
From Hornafjörður We travelled passed Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon and took some time to chill. This was an incredible part of the south leg. It was wild how quickly the regions changed. From here we drove up to the top of Hvannadalshnjukur in Skaftafell National Park, through dark green woodlands and black contrasting mountain ranges. Not far was Svartifoss Waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park. We figured we had some time to spare as we moved through the North quickly. These sights we stayed at and met some locals and travellers. It was then onto Vik, which was our last major stop before headed back to Reykjavik. Dan was headed back to Ireland and I was off to meet my brother in Stavanger, Norway for a 4-day hiking trip around the Lysefjord.