Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: HEADING NORTH
A light drizzle taps on the window of our guesthouse in the heart of Reykjavík. It’s only 9 am but we need to rush to start our adventure and head down to Lagoon Car Rental to pick up our vehicle. We’ve got a hard day of traveling the ring road in Iceland, the longest of our tour on our Kia Sportage. The coffee, so loved by Icelanders as by Italians, awakes us and makes us reconnect with reality: it’s time to refuel, pick up our camping equipment for the week and buy all of what we might need in the middle of the wilderness around the country.
Out from Reykjavík we finally enter into the real magical dimension of Iceland. All around us nature is poetry. A dazzling green from above the volcanic hills goes down until it touches the road, horses with thick fur peek out and waterfalls welcome us everywhere, looking like tears from the mountains.
Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: Hvammstangi
Four hours later, when we reach Hvammstangi, the sky finally is partly cloudy and the light struggle to come out. We would love to spot some grey seals. 11 kilometers North from the village we meet a lighthouse instead. It’s the first one that lights up our adventure. Skarð Lighthouse is more than 50 m high and dominates the bay. It’s just adorable, so we decided to test our drone in the Icelandic sky. From above this country is even more beautiful!
After a brief “aerial distraction” we are back to our safari in search of seals, therefore we continue along the mud road that runs all around the peninsula. It’s our first day of driving and our red machine has already become brown as all the vehicles we encounter!
Suddenly, just like it happens in Africa during a safari experience, we spot a certain number of cars and a group of people staring at the sea. We immediately join them and finally we meet the first seals. There are seals on our left side who play in the water, others on the right resting on the rocks. All around us the atmosphere is just magical and an endless peace dominate the bay.
Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: Húsavík
On our second day of traveling the ring road in Iceland we wake up in Húsavík, in the North of the island, 472 kilometers from the capital; the city now is a distant memory. The Bay of Húsavík is known throughout the country for an intense whale watching activities, mostly concentrated from April to August, before the migration of the mammals to warmer seas.
The North Sailing oak-boat named Hildur takes us on a unique sailing tour combining whale watching, puffin watching and a sailing adventure. Thanks to the visibility, there’s a big chance to see whales, but today we are even luckier than we expected, ‘cause after a couple hours sailing we are literally surrounded by humpbacks! Look like they are posing for us getting closer and closer! These gentle giants are from 12 to 15 meters long and when they come to this bay in the summer months they are super hungry. Watching whales out in the wild it’s truly a unique experience and feelings are difficult to describe. Maybe pictures will help…
But Iceland is also known for the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula Arctica). Their funny expressions are widely popular and we would love to see them, too! Our tour includes also a bird watching experience, so our vessel brings us to Puffin Island (close to Húsavík), where over 300.000 puffins come to nest during breeding season. At this time of year, however, the cute birds are about to migrate offshore (the migration time is around 15 August), so even if we succeed in spotting some, they fly so fast that they are almost impossible to photograph.
Sailing back to the base we couldn’t ask more than a hot chocolate accompanied by simple cinnamon pastries. Now that we are hot, we are finally ready to continue traveling the Icelandic Ring Road and head to Góðafoss and Myvatn region.
Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: Goðafoss waterfall
Goðafoss, the “Waterfall of the Gods” is just the first of a series of wonders we encounter in Mývatn region and it’s our next stop as we are traveling the Ring Road in Iceland. It’s almost time for a new sunset when we get there. A low dazzling sun surprises us with a magical rainbow rising from the waterfall, which is huge compared to the smaller waterfalls we have met along the way and it vaguely reminds me of the famous Niagara Waterfalls.
It’s easy to believe in legends and histories here. One of them tells about Thorgeir Thorkelsson, the law Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament, who threw his heathen gods into the falls opting for the conversion to Christianity from Norse paganism (the name Goðafoss comes from this fact).
Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: Mývatn
Traveling the Icelandic Ring Road in Iceland resumes eastward in Mývatn region until we get to the lake. Mývatn Lake covers a 37 sq km volcanic area. The Icelandic name Mývatn means “Lake of Flies” due to the high presence of these small insects. Apart from the flies the colony of ducks that populate its banks the lake is flawless; maybe photos will help me to show the enchanting beauty of this landscape.
We’re so magnetized by its atmosphere that we decide to camp here. After some research, we finally find a spot in Bjarg camping in Reykjahlíð on the east side of the lake. Once we have put up the tent, we’ve just to enjoy the warm glow of the sunset, one of the most beautiful endless sunset I’ve ever seen in my entire life. In June practically the sun never sets in Iceland, and at midnight there is still light, but even in August you can enjoy the long lasting brightness given by waters mirroring the glowing sky.The day after we wash our face and teeth in outdoor sinks facing the lake and continue driving in the direction of the nearby cave of Grjótagjá, Mývatn Natural Baths (the “Blue Lagoon” of the North), geothermal area Námafjall and volcano Krafla, which now houses an emerald water basin. It is in Namafjall next to hot spurts and fumaroles where I touch firsthand what it really means “Land of Fire…” because in this country the underground talks and heats (the Icelanders also use this heat to bake bread)!
We proceed in traveling the Ring Road in Iceland and head eastward among rivers and moonscapes. Soon the landscape around us changes again, and we find ourselves surrounded by boundless prairies, mountains in the distance and the middle row of our road which breaks the landscape creating a split from right to left. A look at the dashboard and we have already passed almost half of 1332 kilometers that characterize traveling the Icelandic Ring Road. The beauty of this country has distracted us so that we hardly notice distances!
Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: Borgafjordur Eystri
As soon as we get closer to the eastern region, we spot the mountains’ peaks, so the first fjords and we leave the Icelandic Ring Road to take the 925 towards Borgarfjörður Eystri. This small village is known through the country as the land of Elves and puffins. No need to say that we would simply love to see some closer.
In the way to Borgarfjörður Eystri, just in the middle nowhere, we see one of the most interesting historical buildings of our entire adventure. Geirsstaðakirkja is a Viking Church dated 10-13th-second d.C. (the Viking Age) built following the traditional technique of the “Turf house” with thick turf as a thermal insulation material. In this lonely and magical scenery, we don’t meet the crowds you can find in many other landmarks around the country. The church was returned to its former splendor in summer 2001, after a major archaeological excavation and restoration work.
Even if it’s closing time, the door is still open, and we can visit the interior of this chapel. Nonetheless, we cannot stop from flying for a while above the area with our drone: the sheep here and there don’t seem to be scared, but curious.
It’s late afternoon when we finally head to Borgarfjörður Eystri. Here almost the entire colony of puffins has already gone, and all we have to do is to spend a few hours in the bay, strolling among the colorful
houses that populate the village and relax in a small spa. Tonight we don’t sleep in a tent, but in the welcoming Blábjörg Guesthouse, a former fish factory now converted to cozy accommodation. The guesthouse has 11 clean and tidy white color rooms, a communal kitchen, an apartment and a little spa with outdoor pools, hot tub as well as a sauna. Please leave me here!
Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: Egilstadir and Höfn
Today our on the road starts under the rain in Borgarfjodur Eystri. Luckily one of the few rainy days encountered during our adventure in Iceland, but we are not worried considering we need to spend the entire morning traveling the Ring Road in Iceland through the Eastern fjords protected by our car. We leave Borgarfjörður Eystri surrounded by rhyolite peaks and continue traveling the Icelandic Ring Road and head South stopping in Egilsstaðir. This new town in the Eastern Fiords has everything we were looking for: a gas station and a big supermarket (that’s fantastic considering this region is mostly uninhabited). Our shopping cart obviously doesn’t lack of the Icelandic Skyr, but also of Barilla sauce to give taste to our pasta and to our existence, after all we are Italians!
We continue traveling the Ring Road in Iceland and head southward. The rain seems to follow us even when we drive on a gravel road that runs along the wavy fjords. In addition to the rain, a thick fog prevents us from enjoying the surrounding landscape from our windows. After 3 hours of traveling the Ring Road in Iceland among waterfalls, mosses, sea, and land, we finally arrive at our first destination of the day Höfn. Höfn literally “port” is considered the capital of langoustines. Here we find a mist instead of rain, it’s 2 pm and lunch awaits.
Pakkhús is the restaurant we choose to try the langoustines which made famous this quiet port in the southeast of the island. The restaurant is named after the vessel catching the fish you order. The place is overcrowded by tourists and prices are quite expensive, but it is a guarantee for those who want a warm place and tasty seafood. My travel guide is right: soups and langoustines are delicious but above all very fresh.
Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland: Jökulsárlón
After our lunch, an hour later, we’re already elsewhere in the lagoon of Jokulsárlón. Here some scenes of the film James Bond Die Another Day (2002) were filmed. This landscape I’ve seen many many times on pictures and videos it’s not anymore a distant mirage and it gives way to deep blue sea with floating icebergs and seals swimming in the lagoon. But the funny snouts of these creatures cannot distract us from the beauty of this icy view.
Jokulsárlón is a rare and fascinating phenomenon that comes from the detachment of ice from an offshoot of Vatnajökull glacier floating down to the sea. Meanwhile, the sun has come and I even dare to wear a t-shirt for a few minutes! “The sea is half of our country,” words an old Icelandic saying and in this part of Iceland now it’s clearer to me: the sea is nourishment, connection and drains for rivers and glaciers. It’s so relaxing to watch the icebergs floating placid into the sea, then to lay down on the nearby black beach.
We love so much this place that we decide to spend here two days, suspended between the lagoon of Jokulsárlón and the Park of the Vatnajökull, the largest glacier as well as the largest national park in Europe, with an area of more than 13,000 square km. Two days of photography, exploring the hiking trails from Skaftafell (where you can find is a helpful visitor center, American style) to the pristine nature. At last, during a clear and cold night, even Northern Lights have come to greet us while we were camping close to the glacier. What else?
As you probably know, all things must come to an end. We end traveling the Icelandic Ring Road in Lagoon Car Rental Keflavik office. It was an amazing journey!
A travel story on traveling the Ring road in Iceland by Michela GarosiBack