I relish this part of a trip, the planning stage. I'm seemingly spending all of my free time down on the floor on my knees, crouched over my huge map of Iceland, plotting on all of the things that I want to see.
The route, at least, is pretty straight forward; there's only one road that circles the island, Route One. We're going to spend a couple of days in Reykjavik before heading south-east, sweeping up through the east fjords, spending some time in the north, then briefly touching on Snaefellsjokull peninsula before ending up back at the airport. The tricky part is deciding what to see, where to hike, and where to stay. I want to see everything, but our time is limited.
I've started a list of places I want to see. Vik, Myvatn, Hverir, whale watching in Husavik, Seydisfjordur, Jokulsarlon, Hveragerdi, Skaftafell National Park, Glaumbaer, Dimmuborgir, Lagarfljot, not to mention a lengthy list of waterfalls. At the same time as making this list, I'm making another one of places that I know we don't have time for: Landmannalaugar, the West Fjords. I want to see so much, to completely drown myself in this strange and unfamiliar land that I have wished to visit for so long.
Here is my itinerary thus far. I'll be interested to see how closely we stick to this, or if we just go completely off piste and head off into the Highlands to hike places unknown.
THURSDAY 2nd JUNE
We arrive late Thursday evening, hopping on the shuttle bus from the airport to Reykjavik. During the short journey, my nose will be pressed up against the window, as I wish that I could get off and explore the otherwordly landscapes that surround us. We'll be wide awake in the lingering midnight sun, and will wander up and down Reykjavik's streets in search of the cheapest drinks.
One day in the city might not be enough, but it's all that we have so we'll have to make the most of it. I'd like to get my bearings by partaking on local guide, Eric's walking tour, before seeking out The Sea Baron fisherman's shack to sample what's been touted as the best lobster soup in the world. We'll climb to the top of Hallgrimskirkja to photograph the colourful rooftops, before crawling the streets in search of the best street art and interesting little shops. We'll seek out Babalu for awesome cheesecake and Star Wars memorabilia, browse the records in 12 Tonar, and have a look around Einar Jonsson sculpture garden. That night, we'll kick things off at Kex before hopping around a selection of the city's best bars.
We'll rise early on Saturday to collect our car and set off on our adventure. The first stop will be Thingvellir to admire the dramatic scenery (although we're giving the other two-thirds of the Golden Circle a miss. There are other waterfall I would rather see, and I'm not that fussed about the Geysir), before heading to the 'Greenhouse village' of Hveragerdi to experience the thermal activity and to bathe in the naturally hot river. Driving east, we'll head for Seljalandsfoss to visit one of the waterfalls I'm the most excited to see, before stopping in Steinar where our guesthouse for the night sits in the shadow of that volcano that no-one can pronounce it's name.
Sunday is going to be a long day, but will take in many of the sights I am the most excited about witnessing on the south-east coast. We'll start the day with a traditional Icelandic breakfast at the guest house, before making the short journey to another awe-inspiring waterfall, Skogafoss. En route to Vik, we'll turn down a gravel track into the sand dunes to seek out the crashed plane that resides on a secluded beach. In Vik, we'll head down to the black sand beaches, admire the rocky scenery and stroll through the town, before jumping back into the car for the scenic drive to Jokulsarlon. I'm envisioning venturing into Skaftafell National Park, clambering through moss-covered lava fields and trekking to Svartifoss along the way, but I may be getting slightly ambitious. Once we arrive at the glacial lagoon, no doubt we'll spend some time wandering around the water and venturing down to the beach, searching for seals and photographing the gigantic ice bergs. Our last drive of the day will be to Hofn, where we're settling for the night and sampling their famous lobster rolls.
On Monday night, we have booked a hostel right beside the water in Seydisfjordur, with a plan to spend the day weaving in and out of the fjords and mountains that make up Iceland's east coast. Along the way, we'll hop out of the car if anything tickles our fancy, but Lagarfljot Lake is 100% on our itinerary. Here, we'll try our best to spot Iceland's version of the Loch Ness Monster, before driving up to the biggest dam in Europe to discover the natural hot springs at Laugafell. I've heard great things about our home for the night, and am excited to descend from the mountains into the creative little town that has often been described as Iceland's prettiest village.
Upon rising on Tuesday, we'll make the short trip north-east to get up close and personal to the puffin colony at Borgarfjordur Eystri, before sweeping inland across the north. Along the way, we'll take a short detour to Dettifoss, before completing the final leg of our journey to Lake Myvatn. I'm currently searching for a small cabin in the north to be our base for the next few days, and once we arrive there, we plan to take things easy with a couple of local walks and a soak in a hot pot.
Half of the day on Wednesday will be spent at sea, on a whale watching tour from Husavik. I've had a whale watching trip on my bucket list for years, and cannot wait to finally see my favourite animals up close in their natural habitat. June is one of the best months of the year to spot up to 12 species of whales not far off the coast, including a small chance of catching sight of an elusive blue whale. I'm pretty sure my eyes will start to water if we manage to see whales in the wild. The rest of the day will be spent ambling around the geothermal area of Hverir, photographing the bubbling and colourful landscapes that we discover, before retreating to our cabin for the night.
We plan on spending our final day in the north exploring the area more in depth. I'd love to hike to Krafla crater lake, and around the unusual lava formations at Dimmuborgir, with an aim of discovering the most unusual and dramatic geological formations that we can find. I'm really hoping that we can find a cabin with it's own hot pot, or a small springs nearby, so we can spend our final night in the area drinking wine in the never-ending daylight.
Friday will involve a long drive down to the Snaefellsjokull peninsula, so we're planning on breaking up the journey with a couple of stops. I'd like to head into Akureyri to have a short stroll around Iceland's second largest town before heading south. I'll be expecting a smaller version of Reykjavik, complete with creative street art and cute cafes. We'll be setting up base for the night somewhere around Stykkisholmur, ready to spend our final day in Iceland exploring the peninsula that has been described as 'Iceland in miniature'.
Before we leave the country, we'll have one final day to explore the diverse landscape of Snaefellsjokull, filled with lava fields, mountains, waterfalls, secluded beaches, and dramatic rock formations. I'm picturing landscapes similar to those that we discovered last summer on Skye. At the end of the day, we'll drive back to the airport, find a hotel and give up the keys to our car.
At 8.50am, our plane will take off from Keflavik airport, and I will press my face to the window to catch the last fleeting glimpses of a country that I will no doubt have fallen in love with.