“Excuse me, ma’am? Can you point me in the right direction for the campsite?”
“Það er á þennan hátt og snúið til hægri við ljósin, farðu lengra lengra og þú sérð það á hægri hönd”
“Oh, uh, great. Okay, thank you for your help!”
The Icelandic language is something else. I suppose it isn’t much different than trying to understand any foreign language, but I couldn’t grasp it no matter how hard I tried. I found the campsite, so I figure the above translates roughly into “it’s up this way and turn right at the light, go a little further and you will see it on your right hand side”.
I ended up driving my first day for almost 6 hours. I left Reykjavik and headed west, obviously stopping for a number of pictures which increased my travel time dramatically. That was to be expected, though.
After navigating my way through lava fields, dirt roads where the speed limit is 80km/h (basically all paved roads in Iceland are a 90km/h limit, and all of the unpaved dirt roads were 80km/h – I still can’t fathom why or how anyone would go that fast on these roads) and a little bit of rain, I finally made it to Stykkishólmur around 6pm. Set up at the campsite and wandered into town to see what it was all about.
Stykkishólmur is a town on the west coast of Iceland, on the northern part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Its location serves as the base for the ferry that connects it with the Westfjords. I had thoughts of taking the ferry, but ultimately decided against it.
This was my first night ‘camping’ in Iceland. In other words, I had a sleeping bag and air mattress and slept in the car. I had grand plans for my outdoor experience in the land of fire and ice. You know, fold down the back seats, lay out the mattress and sleeping bag and sleep as comfortably as one could in the Icelandic wilderness. What I didn’t account for was the two back seats not folding down flat. There was a good 5 inches of height difference from the seats being folded down and into the trunk area.
It wasn’t the greatest nights sleep, but I’ve definitely had worse.
I got up early and had plans of heading to Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords. I entered the closest destination the GPS could find to it and headed out. I was not prepared for what came next.
Following the GPS’ guidance, it took me out of Stykkishólmur and onto Road 54, a dirt road that was give or take 42km long. Well, yeah, the speed limit was 80km/h, but not only was it pouring rain, the drive was almost directly along the coast. Remember in Part 1 when I briefly described how narrow and unforgiving driving in Iceland was? I don’t think I got above 50km/h. Partly because I was anxious as hell, but also partly (mostly) because its a damn dirt road with pot holes everywhere. And still, I got passed by a half-dozen other vehicles. Crazy.
I made it out alive after a solid hour and a half of driving and spent the next few hours navigating the beginning of the Westfjords towards Dynjandi.
You know, I mapped out my route before I left, but cripes, it did me no good. There was no way to account for how often I would stop, slow down or turn around to snap some pictures and take in the scenery. With 4 hours left to go (after 4 hours of driving already) I ultimately made the call to re-route myself towards Hólmavík.
As amazing as that waterfall was going to be I knew that I was going to pay an arm and leg on gas. I also knew that there were going to ample sights and other waterfalls to make up for missing it along the way. Its not the biggest or most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but it is supposedly (and pictures prove it) the most beautiful.
I got to Hólmavík late afternoon and found the campsite. Did a little hike and wandered through town. Hólmavík is the home to the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, and not much else. I didn’t actually take it in but I read up on a few things and it seemed pretty cool, just wasn’t in the budget. From what I read, if you are a huge fan of folklore then you should check it out.
Did I mention Iceland was expensive?
One of the best decisions I made for my trip to the land of fire and ice was to invest in a mobile wifi hotspot from Trawire. This allowed me to not only feel an ease of comfort in case I got lost or god forbid something happened to my car in the absolute middle of nowhere, but it also allowed me to stay on the grid and experience things like this:
My brother plays hockey for the Cardiff Devils, so with some time to kill I caught the game from a pretty damn cool vantage point.
After my second night camping I still hadn’t figured out the best way to sleep in the car. Laying diagonally across the folded down back seats, stretching one leg out over the driver side, hanging my feet out the window and any other possible sleeping formation I could think of. Damn was it ever uncomfortable.
The next morning I headed back towards the Ring Road and onto Akureyri, the capital of the north. Man, every time I say that I think of Game of Thrones. The wild thing is that Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland with a staggering population of 16,000 people.
Throughout Iceland all of the points of interest are very well marked. Well, as well as they can be. Typically a white sign with red lettering and the ‘Point of Interest’ symbol. I had seen pictures of the Hvítserkur Rock Formation and had a general sense of where it was, so when I saw the sign (I saw the sign) I made a quick louis onto yet another dirt road.
But thats the thing, having a general sense of where things are in Iceland by looking at a map is nothing compared to what it actually takes to get there. Still, the time it takes to get to some of these sights is well worth the detour. The best part about it was coming across a group of Icelandic horses right up against the fence, almost begging for attention. So I gave it to them.
As you can see, I had a blast with these guys. They’re such beautiful, friendly and stunning animals. And they loved apples.
25 minutes down the unpaved road later I came to the rock formation. It was not a comforting climb down to the beach, but it was worth it.
The rest of the drive to Akureyri was incredible. Landscapes that I couldn’t have even imagined and that pictures just don’t do justice to. I have to give credit to the brave souls who either drive a tour bus or rented a large RV, because some of the inclines and turns are so damn intimidating in an SUV or smaller car that I cant even comprehend driving Iceland in a large vehicle.
It had been cloudy and rainy my first few nights so I hadn’t seen the northern lights yet, which was one of the, no, actually, the top thing on my list of what I wanted to experience in Iceland. I landed in Akureyri around dinner time, filled up with gas and headed for the campsite, which I specifically chose because it was outside the city with the best chances of an unobstructed view of the northern lights.
Each morning I basically mapped out where I was going to go that day and the best campsites to stay at, and I found this place about 20 minutes outside of Akureyri called Systragil Campsite. Super cool, off-the-beaten-path camping area. The ironic thing, being in the land of fire and ice and that Akureyri is only 100km from the Arctic Circle, is that this was the warmest temperature I experienced in Iceland in my 12 days there. A solid 17 degrees.
The outlook for the northern lights was promising, with a forecast for clear skies and an active aurora. Iceland has a great weather website (it is much needed because the weather can change so drastically, so quickly) that also shows the forecast for how active the aurora will be each night.
They are much, much more stubborn than I expected. It was this night that I realized they were playing hard to get.
Keep your eye out for Part 3.
Missed Part 1? Check it out here: The Land Of Fire And Ice Part 1