This was a day with a lot of driving around. And one of the days, where you discover another side of the true nature of Icelandic weather: Rain and wind. As said before: Take into account that you will encounter at least one full rain day. At least. But it was fun!
The temperature drops to about 10 degrees (we are in high summer!), so be prepared to take adequate clothing with you. We spend the full day in car, so it wasn't very much of a problem, but if you are on the go for the day you're gonna need some warm stuff and good rain protection. Did I mentioned the wind? Yes, it's windy.
Vestmannaeyjar is a nice island in the south of Iceland. It's reachable via ferry (and probably via plane) from the very near end of Landeyjahöfn for a reasonable fee. Vestmannaeyjar is known for their Puffins colony, very adorable little creatures that you should definitely visit! We had the chance on the North-East end, so don't worry, they are also elsewhere. And just because they are so adorable, here's a picture of one of them:
But there is something nice about Puffins that is only in the to Vestmannaeyjar. First: Puffin chicks are called pysja. Keep that in mind for now.
In fall the Puffins leave the breeding nest for the open sea, where they spend the winter (yes, those little fluffy things are in the freezing cold water in winter!). Until then, the pysja get fed by their parents, mostly Raitt’s sand eels (known as lesser sand eel). See here:
Ok, now when the chicks are big enough, the parents stop feeding them so that they get out of the nest. Sounds harsh, but sometimes you need a kick in order to prevail. That's just how it works for them ...
So, hungry pysja wants to have food! And so the journey to the sea begins. Just like humans, the birds get attracted by shiny lights, so every year there are a lot of unfortunate and confused pysjas invading the nearby town. Frightend by the noise and the unusual environment, they crawl under cars and wander around plan-less and frightened. That'ts where the inhabitants of Vestmannaeyjar come for the rescue - every fall the children go out and collect the pysjas and bring them to the sea the next morning. Some of the more exhausted pysjas even get nursed before being released. An act of kindness - I find this absolutely brilliant! Maybe one day I have the chance to go there and somehow participate in this event.
For more informations about the pysjas rescue, I refer to the iceland magazine page here.
So, we wanted to take the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar, but once we stood at the shore and got a full load of the bad weather and practically no visibility we decided not to do that. We anyways got another chance to visit those little adorable creatures, but that will be another post in the future 🙂
On the way back from Landeyjahöfn we encounter another beautiful and well-known waterfall of Iceland: The Seljalandsfoss. Usually it's quiet crowded there during the day, but still it's worth going there and enjoy the beauty that nature can serve you. I didn't managed to really take a breathtaking picture, but other did and posted a lot of very nice pictures on unsplash. I'm leaving you here with my stuporous tries of creating something artistic.
Although some picture have been turned out to not to be too bad
After that we drove to the Vík í Mýrdal camping place. There was another camping spot in between: Skógar Camping, that was also included in the camping card, but due to the bad weather we had the time to skip that and therefore have more time on the upcoming destinations. In the end there are so many things to do, that you anyways won't be able to do all of them at once.
If you can, you should also go to Dyrhólaey, it's just on the way.
You will also see the Reynisdrangar, three volcanic rocks in the sea, but that is gonna be part of the next post 🙂
This is the first part of my series about the Ringroad. For general suggestions, go to the introduction page. Here I'm going to tell you about the first day or days in the middle of the beautiful Þingvellir national park. You can download the GPX track here.
Click title to show track
(For some weird reson, the names and descriptions of the waypoints are not working) [Download GPX]
Nearby Reykjavik there are a lot of astonishing and breathtaking natural wonders: The Þingvellir national park itself (pronounced Thingvellier), the Geysir (such famous it is the eponym to the geysers) and the Gullfoss waterfall with it's peculiar tectonic form. All three of them are absolutely worth going there, you don't want to miss one. They are also reachable via car, and, if you are fast, you can visit almost all of them in a single day.
I suggested already in the Ringroad introduction that you might want to take a day or two at least as buffer, and the Golden Circle is a place where you could consider spending a little bit more time, especially if you are lucky and have a couple of sunny days. In this story I follow our route and start with the Þingvellir national park.
Þingvellir national park
(Pronounced more like "Think-vellir" and not like a "P", but I'm not a native speaker, so who am I to teach you?)
You're approaching the park from the West, and after a nice ride you will see it's lake. The pictures are only covering part of it's beauty, most of the time I've been driving and didn't had much more time to make even more pictures.
The park has a inviting landscape and I can totally see it as a very nice place for some day-hikes. If I would live nearby (including Reykjavik) I could totally see myself going for a lot of hikes there.
As you might notice, there are not much woods in Iceland. This is true, Iceland's woods were razed by the vikings. The forest service says, in the 9th century, when the settlement begun, about 25-40% of Icelands area contained birch forests and woodland. Around mid of the 20th century the wood reached a minimum, with only 1% of the area being the typical Icelandic birchwoods. Nowadays there are re-forestation programs established and the people try to re-establish different types of forests, with birch being the governing type. [Forest Service]
Anyways, Þingvellir is absolutely brilliant to visit from the landscape point of view. It's between two tectonic plates and in the middle of the national park you can see a valley, formed by the plates drifting away. Because there is a nearby lake, between the tectonic plates, there is a (not too deep) void, where you can go diving: in Silfra. We decided already in Reykjavik to go on a snorkeling tour there. It's costy but it was worth it: The water is crystal clear, and you're diving in a world filled with blue and green. The colors are amazing and it's an experience you won't regret. Silfra advertises the experience with the "clearest water on earth" (not commenting on that) Also, it's cold, but you will get a dry-suit.
This place is historical. Þingvellir was the place for the historical parlament of Iceland, called the Althing. They held session in the park until 1793 [Wikipedia], and you can still see the place, where the people met. It's in the middle of the national park, and it's open for visitors. That is one of the reason, why Þingvellir is also a UNESCO World heritage site.
Oh, and geese are doubtful the governing species in the national park. Don't mess with them! 🙂
Geysir Geothermal Area
This is the second place we visited in the Golden Circle.
Geysir is a active geothermal region with boiling mud pits, hot water tubs and the active Strokkur geysir, that spits water up every few (6-10) minutes. The features picture of this post is an eruption of Strokkur.
Experiencing an eruption was something I haven't seen anywhere else before. It was overwhelming and kind of magic. It teaches you everything you need to know about how small you are as a human being. And Strokkur is rather a small geyser. Geysir (it's the name of the big one in this location) was the name-giver of geysers and erupted in 1845 with a peak altitude of about 170m. Wow!
Geysers are by the way also a very interesting physical phenomena. The water heats up under high pressure until it starts boiling. As it boils, water evaporates, relieving some of the pressure, thus causing a run-away process of evaporation and condensation that blows finally up as the natural phenomena.
But that's maybe stuff for an extra post, if I find time for going into the physics of geysers 😉
... And you can buy canned Icelandic Fresh air in the souvenir shop ... For whatever reasons you would want to buy that ...
Concluding: You would definitely miss out something, if you are not going to visit the Geysir area!
The Gullfoss waterfall was our final stop of the day. It was shaped by two colliding tectonic plates forming a fissue canyon in a unique way The waterfall has it's own website and is a touristic attraction. You might find it a bit crowded, but the waterfall is worth going there and you still will get your peaceful moments.
The Gullfoss is beautiful, but, because you might encounter a lot of other waterfalls (like the not-too-close Öxarárfoss) on the way, this is the only stop that you might consider skipping. But then you have not completed the full Golden Circle, but it's up to you to decide 😉
Flying your drones is prohibited, by the way. For valid reasons.
That's for now, the Golden Circle is definitely worth visiting. It's close enough to Reykjavik to be also a stand-alone day trip with a rental car and a good kickoff for a very nice road trip around Iceland.
I can also imagine, that a helicopter or airplane ride around the Golden Circle can be absolutely breathtaking, but leave it to the ecological side and the financial situation of the individual traveler to actually consider it.
There are some upcoming blog posts about our amazing trip on the Ring Road. Since it was a long trip and there were a lot of different sites on the way, I'm going to split that up to a couple of individual blog posts. This series is about our absolutely brilliant roadtrip on the ...
... Ring Road!
The Ring Road - It's the capital road in Iceland that goes around the whole island. Except for a small part it is paved, and worth a road-trip. Going by bike is clearly not recommended - although you will encounter some poor souls, you are constantly on the main road next to busses and tourists in cars. Also the weather conditions are not favorable for biking: Constant wind and frequent rain showers make your days on the bike hard.
A road trip on the other hand is nice. And there are a lot of places you should go on the trip.
Best starting point is Reykjavik. Most of the travelers will anyways start from there, because Keflavík the only international airport in Iceland. If you come with your own car then Seyðisfjörður might also be a starting point, because of it's ferry connection with Denmark and the Faroe Islands. This story is about our starting point Reykjavik, you can adapt it to your needs if you're starting from Seyðisfjörður (and there's nothing wrong with that!)
We have been renting a car for about 10 days which was nice but not cheap. Also if possible book your car well before you go there, that saves you lots of trouble and precious travel time. In general I have the following recommendations
Plan your trip well ahead
Book your car well ahead (3 months is safe, 1 month is possible everything later could become tricky*)
If you stay at the Ringroad and it's main branches, you won't need a 4-wheel drive
* a friend of mine was able to book the car on the spot. I call it a lucky shot, although it was proof that it is possible. Decide for yourself if you want to have that or rather be safe 🙂
Planning your trip
Plan your trip well ahead of time, that safes you trouble. Book your car before you go there.
Although the ring road is well marked, you might consider getting your own GPS or navigational system with you. Since most cars have a power-plug, a not-too-old smartphone with offline maps (I recommend OsmAnd, but you can take whatever you like) works fine. Don't pay the additional fee for a navigational system but get a backup that doesn't depend on electricity (classical maps are awesome). Also: Driving around in Iceland will probably not challenge your navigational skills if you stay on the Ringroad 😉
The Ringroad is mostly paved - In the east there was (or is?) a small section of gravel road, but all of it is easily accessible with a normal 2-wheel drive. They will explicitly tell you to avoid the F-Roads (which are more adventurous roads) where you will need 4-wheel drive but I'm not going to cover that. If you're want to go on a Ringroad-road-trip, then avoid F-roads at all costs.
When going to pick up your car, take your time: Check your car before you go and make pictures of small damages. Because some people go on gravel roads, small bunks can not be excluded, and you want to document them. Do it properly, it safes you trouble. Also ask for gas discounts cards, as some car rental services have such cards for you.
On the road, drive peacefully. First because there are a lot of animals on and besides the roads. Farmers will let you pay if you hit their animals. Second: The roads are in good shape but the surroundings are not car-friendly. Also: Enjoy your trip. You're not on a race 🙂
So, in a nutshell, those are my recommendations based on our experience
Plan your trip and book the car at least 3 months before
Keukenhof, Netherlands. Probably the place, where flowers have been invented.
The Keukenhof is a gigantic garden, filled with all different kind of flowers, mostly tulips. It's a fantastic place to go with your camera - All over the place you will see people with cameras, and those who don't have one with them, take out their smartphones.
It's like finding the flower picture you have been searching for a long time, just that it's not one picture but a full SD card full of brilliant pictures - Have a look
In the beginning I was focusing on single flower pictures, but you will soon realize, the place is just amaizing and you won't get far - everythere there are different flowers, one more beautiful than the previous one. And one picture after another ....
There's nothing wrong with that, but at some point it's worth raising your eyes and also to have a look at the beautiful compositions, the experts in gardening create there.
After every corner there's a new composition and they do a really good job in keep feeding you nice sceneries. The contrasts are absolutely brilliant, composing a piece of art with different flowers of different colors, types, and heights ... Spectacular!If you have an eye for aesthetics and enjoy a day in a gigantic garden, you're definitely going to enjoyKeukenhof.
And, of course since it's the Netherlands, there has also to be an obligatory Windmill.
Apart from the official informations, here some recommendations from my side.
First: Plan your trip. Keukenhof needs a day, and you want to have a sunny day for that. Since the Netherlands have quiet a lot of cloudy and rainy weather, you might consider planning two or three days as options, so that you can skip a rainy day. The pre-purchase tickets allow that.
Second: There are busses provided and you should use them, because they bring you directly to Keukenhof.
But in order to go to the bus stops where the busses leave, you should use the public transport. Have already a OV-Chipcard? It's a rechargeable card that is valid in almost any kind of public transportation in the Netherlands. Yes, (almost) every - it's valid for the trains, as well as for the inner-city transport in very city. Now, that's something I consider awesome!
Third: Take your time and enjoy 🙂
Keukenhof is amazing, take your time there. You and the artistic composition deserve it 🙂
For everyone who plants to visit Iceland, and considers camping, have a look at campingcard.is. This card costs you about 150 bucks and gives you access to a wide range of camping locations. The locations are good, sometimes, especially when it's raining, the provided indoor accommodations are a bit crowded. Still - it's a nice deal. We did it for about two weeks and it was a nice experience.
Unfortunately campingcard doesn't provide GPX files, so I wrote a python script to extract the locations from campingcard.is and write them to a GPX file last year. Both, the files and the script are available on GitHub.
If you are searching for the CampingCard GPX files, then you also should have a look at https://safetravel.is/ for safety informations around Iceland.
Download CampingCard locations as GPX
I've hosted the extracted GPX files for 2017 and 2018 on my blog - you find them here. Please, use at own risk!
One of the most amazing things was our 5-day hike from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. Originally we wanted to go to Skogar, but had to cancel the last section due to bad weather conditions on the Glacier. This story is about the adventure of this awesome hike!
Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk in 4 days
Click title to show track
Landmannalaugar to Thorsmörk
Click [here] for the full GPX track. You may want to have a look at the individual days since they also provide hut informations. You find all files [on my ftp server].
Getting to Landmannalaugar
We learned about the hike from a friend of ours, that did the hike already. It's one of the most famous one and that is for a reason. Already during the bus trip from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar via Trex (Or Reykjavik Excursions, whatever suits you more) the variety of different Landscapes was breathtaking: During the 3h we went through rich green with lots of sheep, plains like moonscape, gravel deserts and then again green. Almost ever 30 minutes the shape changed completely! Iceland - The land of contrasts.
Day 0 - Arrived in Landmannalaugar, build up tent and set for sleeping. Tomorrow it starts!
Landmannalaugar also offers hot springs. Although it's pretty chilly outside, it is worth going there. How wonderful it is to be in a hot tub with an amazing landscape surrounding you.
Don't forget to inform yourself about the weather conditions in the next days and have a look at http://safetravel.is/ for some general safety information about Iceland and hiking in Iceland.
Getting up early is relative in a season, when the sun doesn't set. Whenever you go up, it feels like you already have missed half of the day. Fortunately it's only a feeling and also it wouldn't matter so much, since it's not getting dark. Still, keep track of your time, since you want to arrive at the designated huts on time. Just to mention: You have to pay at every hut, also for the camping spots. The fee is affordable and you should also go there, since they are in protected sites and the weather can be challenging at some times. Wild camping is in general not allowed, but you will encounter some (Don't do that!). And you will have a rainy day at least once, so keep in mind to take a set of spare clothes and maybe something dry to sleep in as well. Few things are as cosy as sleeping in a nice warm and dry place, while it's nasty weather outside.
Back to the actual hike. Day 1 - You start in the basalt fields near Landmannalaugar and bear South. After some time you will see the mountain chain that you will cross and a lot of exhaust steam.
After about an hour you encounter the first volcanic activity (apart from the hot springs in Landmannalaugar) - The smell of sulphur is in the air and we could standing in the middle of volcanic steam coming out of the mountains. It's an amazing feeling to stand there for someone who does not encounter volcanic activity at all. Also a nice spot for the first break, since now the trails goes uphills into snow fields. In fact, most of day 1 we have been hiking through snow fields, so make sure you have adequate shoes with you. Leggings could be of benefit, we have been walking without and it was fine. After half of the day we have arrived at the first hut: Hrafntinnusker hut. Since it was only at lunchtime and we have been still good in shape, we have decided to move on towards Álftavatn.
The Hrafntinnusker hut was in the middle of a gigantic snow field. The camping opportunities are as well in the middle of snow or at least quiet snowy. You maybe also want to go on to Álftavatn if you don't like that.
After another couple of hours, quiet hungry and tired we arrived at the Álftavatn hut near the Álftavatn lake. We build up the tent and went for a nice hot shower, provided for a small fee at the hut. Relaxing evening in the tent - Keep in mind, that it will be always windy in Iceland. Make sure you have a suitable tent and build it up correctly, also if it's cold and you are tired.
I promised you that there will be at least one rainy day. Well, that day was ours. If you have been going from Landmannalaugar to here, then you might feel the efforts of day 1 already. Make sure you get enough calories and drink enough. A good day of hike starts with a good breakfast:
I was positively surprised by the Jacobs 2-in-1 instance coffee packages. They lack the usual powder-like taste of an instant-coffee and are together with creamer and thus a milk-coffee. Nothing for black-coffee drinkers, but they will be anyways better off bringing their Mocca pot.
Anyways. Be prepared for rain. We have been lucky in the morning and could build down the tent and make it rainproof before we left, when it started drizzling. We brought the rain-proof pants but didn't put them on because there were some river crossings coming. And after the crossings also the drizzling stopped. We have been quiet lucky!
Shortly after Álftavatn there comes another hut: Hvanngil hut. The distance between the two huts is only some kilometers, so when planning you can consider them as one station. It really doesn't make sense to plan a day for both huts, unless you want to do some day-hikes, which is a nice thing, because you are in the middle of a very nice region. We didn't do that and still had enough of the beauty of Iceland.
From Alvafatn to Hvanngil hut the landscape was filled with a rich and saturated green. Because of the long days, everythings grows and breeds like mad. You will encounter lots of animals with their young onces - mostly but not exclusively birds. I suppose there are also foxes around, we did not see any of them.
Shortly after the Hvanngil hut, we experience a quiet abrupt landscape change to black volcanic wasteland. Not much grows here, only some small flower-colonies. The constant wind flow is chilly and makes the journey arduous.
There are two river crossings and a bridge during the day hike - The first river crossing is the deepest one during the whole trip. I marked them in the GPX tracks. On the later you better take off your pants, because also on the most shallow part of the river, it's gonna be knee-deep. Everyone does that, there's absolutely no reason to be shy! Also: I'm not going to post a picture of me, walking through that river (Although I'm not denying such pictures exist. Thank you, my beloved companion ... 🙂
Anyways. The landscape today is steady. I would not say boring, although the previous days (and the upcoming days) have been astonishing, and this is for sure a less exciting day. I was taking it as a longer walk through a wasteland. It might not be as jawdropping as the last days, but it has it's own charm and gives a contrast. And since it's limited to one day you never get the feeling of monotone landscapes.
Day two was exhausting. The route is long, and walking through that chilly exposed area demand body and soul. Don't forget to bring enough provisions.
The location is nice and the tends are supposed to be build in a small valley. The night was approaching and with it also a storm and heavy wind gusts. We knew about it and were building fortifications around the tend to give it some wind and rain protection - including a little trench, to avoid heavy rain to come into the tend from below.
The hope for sleep was not fulfilled. The wind was constantly hitting and bowing the tend, and occasional rain surges made the stay inside the tend uncomfortable for the tired wanderer. Much better than outside though, still we barely slept. Luckily the material proved outdoor-proof. After half of the night also the storm was calming down. That was an experience!
We have been quiet lucky with the weather. Make sure you have weather-proof material with you!
Good morning world! After the last night, getting up was not that easy. But we need to keep moving, because there should be again rain coming up and we want to build down the tend and get moving, before it starts.
The morning was actually astonishing. Here's what you get to see in the middle of an Icelandic National park:
Beautiful, isn't it? That is a look to the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, about an hour from Botnar away. But first we need to get breakfast.
On the way there a lot of very nice and friendly people. While breakfasting I run out of sugar for the breakfast of the champions. Luckily we met a very friendly German guy who had some left. We also traded some Crony bars (we had a lot of them!) for some nice spicy and salty sausages (of whom we had too few but he had a lot). Turns out it was his first time really doing such a trip. He was practically living only on those small sausages and potato mash. The dried potato mash is actually one of the best things you can take with you. Weights practically nothing and gives you a nice and warm meal. Just a consideration 😉
After breakfast we went on. The weather was good and although we started to feel the efforts of the last days, hiking was good. Also, the landscape was changing again from the wasteland to a very nice and well-arranged canyon. The canyon is formed by small rivers coming from the glacier, in this case the name is Femri-Emstruá, There is a bridge over the canyon, wish otherwise would be not passable.
I had always the clear water river in mind when I was looking forward to the trip. Although it it different in nature, the beauty of the wild waters is not tainted by the unmet expectation. The smell of the river, the noise of the streams gives me enough to embrace the moment and experience the magic of this landscape. What a beautiful world!
Back to the hike - Always be prepared for rain. The morning was looking good, and you will be more than happy, if you can pack your tend and stuff rainproof before it starts. And since it's Iceland, it will rain (or at least drizzle) at least once per day. If you don't like the weather, just wait for 10 minutes and it will change. In the end you're in a country known for it's contrasts. And the weather is no exception here
This day was an easy one. We know our route and the walking distance was shorter than the last two days. Also it's going most of the time slightly downhills. I guess the other way around should be more demanding. That's ok, maybe the next time!
After another day of hiking and another river crossing we finally arrived at the Volcano huts. In comparison to the last days I must say this accommodation was luxurious: warm showers, a indoor sitting place with fire. After the last days this felt like a huge improvement. Volcano huts is more a hotel than a camping site. They even have a sauna and everywhere small decorations and small houses for the hidden people.
The hidden people, or Huldufólk are the elves and other mystical creatures living in and between the rocks. You better have a good relationship with them, because there are some rumors around, that they can and will make your live difficult, if you destroy their houses. In 2013 a road construction stopped because elf supporters
End of day 3. Next day we are planning to go over the Fimmvörðuháls, a glacier between the two volcanos Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Good night!
Day 4 - Volcano huts to þórsmörk
That was a short track! We went up, had a nice breakfast and checked the weather forecast. It was already looking like rain ...
When you are in Iceland, especially when you are hiking, always check the weather since it can change quiet fast. Often with varying weather fronts the forecasts are only limited reliable. Better check every day.
Turns out, this was a good idea. There is rain, fog, snow and wind approaching. Given our tiredness state and because we are not so experienced with glaciers yet, we decided that it's best to skip the last stage.
So we went on the short track from the Volcano huts to þórsmörk and build up our tend there. The pass with the bus is also valid from there, so not a problem at all.
Because of the bad weather forecast, we decided to skip the last stage, make a relaxing day and go on a day hike the next day. The landscape is amazing, and there are enough tracks for simple day hikes. And a relaxing day in the tend with a book of your choice has also something very much appealing. End of day 4.
Day 5 - Day hikes around þórsmörk
Sleeping a bit longer than usual, feeling kind of sore but still ok. Our last day in the national park - The plan of today is to do a nice day hike. After 3-4 days of carrying around like half of a ton of stuff on your back, today with only a small backpack felt like flying. We went to a nearby canyon, suggested by the locals. Although not on the trail, the landscape was not missing any of it's wonders of the last days. Honestly, here everything is beautiful.
Be prepared that when you leave the trails, walking becomes way more difficult. The rocky landscape and obstacles like rivers make passing challenging. We were under no time pressure, so it was ok, but if you have for whatever reasons whatsoever to leave the regular trails be prepared to be WAAAYYYY slower!
In the end it was an adventurous day, and a good conclusion to an amazing multi-day hike in the South of Iceland. Back to the hut, eating the last packages, and then with the Trex Bus back to Reykjavik.
So, that's it. This is where our journey in the beautiful Landmannalaugar region in Iceland ends, and the next trip starts. The upcoming 9 days we were on a road trip along the ringroad. What an awesome experience! But that's a different story.
Note: The CampingCard locations for 2018 are here.
For our Iceland trip in Summer we had decided to go camping and purchase the camping card. The camping card offers a large number of possibilities across whole Iceland for a reasonable price. Since Iceland is comparably expensive, this might be a real consideration for most of travellers that want to go camping.
Although the page offers a good overview of all camping places, I wanted to have them offline on my mobile phone. Thus I wrote a small python script to extract the data form the website and extract it as GPX track, that I could easily import into OsmAnd (the app I use for navigation and maps)
In Mini World every minute is like an hour in real time. After 24 minutes you have lived through a whole day.
In the evening (Mini World time) the lights get dimmed and at night switched off. Now all the little mini lights in the city go on, trains and cars are driving with lights and the docks get illuminated.
24 minutes, 24 hours. Amaizing insights into a beautiful world. It's worth a trip there!
Address: Weena 745, Rotterdam.