Day 3 | Saturday 4th June
Reykjavik was great, but this is what we've been waiting for.
We wake up early and trudge across the city to pick up our car from Sad Cars rentals. Driving back to the apartment to collect our belongings, there's butterflies in my tummy. This is it! We're off on our road trip!
Soon enough, we're on the open road, heading towards the Golden Circle. Esja looms above us, snow-capped peaks contrasting against a bright blue sky as we head north on Route 1, before turning off in the direction of Thingvellir. Everything is flat, the grass greener than I imagined. Icelandic ponies roam everywhere and mountains loom in the distance which ever way you look.
Thingvellir is somewhat underwhelming and we're not quite sure what exactly it is that we are here to look at. Then we realise that we're parked at the gift shop, and we drive towards the car park. The scenery still isn't quite what I imagined, and this seems a slightly disappointing start to our journey. There's no deep fissure in the earth between the tectonic plates, rather a series of dark cliffs where you can wander along a wooden boardwalk. We admire a waterfall, take in the views and get back in the car. Iceland isn't wowing us just yet.
It's a long drive to Geysir, but worth it. Steam plumes from vents in the ground and we catch a glimpse of the orange soil and greyish-blue water that I expect we'll find more of as we venture north. We keep watching the geyser spouting; it's hypnotic. Dave stands as close as possible and gets covered in sulphur-stinking steam.
Gullfoss. We descend the steps and gasp in awe. It doesn't look real. I've never seen a waterfall of this scale. Wandering towards the main view point, we enjoy the cooling spray on our warm skin before scrambling up rocks to get the best view.
It's a long way back to Route 1 and I'm still not seeing the jaw-dropping scenery that I was promised. If you're planning an Iceland trip, my strongest advice would be to get further afield than the Golden Circle to truly experience what this incredible island has to offer.
Back on the Ring Road, we backtrack slightly to Hveragerði to see our first geothermal area and boil eggs over a hot spring. Double disappointment strikes - the water isn't hot enough to boil eggs that day (in fact, it's OK to dangle our feet in it), and all of the other springs have dried up.
We drive to our guesthouse, stopping briefly along the way at Sejlandfoss. We scramble behind the cascade, taking care not to slip as we take in the view of a waterfall from behind the curtain of water.
Our guesthouse is in the middle of nowhere, resting small in front of towering jagged cliffs with views of the Westman islands from our window. It's like the Isle of Skye on a gigantic scale. Eyjafjallajokull looms somewhere above us, and we experience our first night within close proximity of a volcano.
Day 4 | Sunday 5th June
I think I'll look back and remember today as my favourite day in Iceland, perhaps one of my favourite days ever. There were so many incredible sights that it felt as if we had packed an entire holiday into one single day.
We woke to find the mountains behind our guesthouse shrouded in cloud; quickly eating breakfast before continuing our journey down Route 1. By now, we're used to the huge towering mountains and dramatic volcanoes, but we still gasp as the mighty Skogafoss comes into view, dramatically cascading down a cliff.
I dance in the veil of the waterfall, soaking myself wet through like a gleeful elf clad in a yellow rain mac. Then we climb the rickety metal staircase to peer down from above the waterfall, admiring the rainbow arching over the water. My legs wobble as we make our descent.
Driving through more scenery reminiscent of Scotland, we turn off the Ring Road shortly before Vik to visit the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara. We admire the rocky pinnacles in the sea, climb the basalt columns on the cliff face and squint as we search for puffins.
It's here that I begin to feel uneasy about the level of tourism in Iceland. We've noticed guide ropes at all the major attractions, and everywhere we stop there seems to be a cafe and a wi-fi hot spot. There's nowhere near as many tourists as other countries, but when three coaches pull up one after another, wielding selfie-stick clutching tourists, I can't help but feel that these places should be left to nature.
Our next stop is Vik, where we eat a picnic lunch on the black sand beach. I take off my shoes and enjoy the soft black sand trickling between my toes.
Then it's back on the road, driving for miles and miles through desolate wasteland; flat plains left over from previous volcanic eruptions. It feels like another planet, especially when we reach acres of lava moss covering ancient lava flow. The jagged black folds of lava are almost completely covered in soft, springy pillow moss, unbelievably comfortable to lie upon. We spend some time running among the lava moss and lupin, taking photographs and marveling in our surroundings.
Next stop, the massive Fjadrargljufur canyon, reached by driving down a gravel road that we aren't quite sure if our car can handle. It's worth the uneasy drive to ascend the canyon and to peer precariously over the edge. I stand on the precipice and feel like I'm on top of the world, admiring the huge canyon stretching out beneath me. The scale is staggering and you can see for miles around.
As our drive continues, the scenery begins to change, with icy glaciers crawling out from a huge expanse of ice towering behind the mountains. The road bends closer and we notice a drop in temperature as more and more glaciers snake out from crevices.
Eventually, I spot towering icebergs peeking out from behind a hill and we pull off down a gravel track to find a small glacial lagoon beneath a huge grey and white glacier. We spend some time admiring the white landscape and the floating blocks of ice before we scramble back up the hill.
After this small taster, I'm excited for the main event - and there it is! Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon looms behind a bridge, just off to the left of the road. The icebergs are larger here and more blue in tone. Their shapes are more complex and intricate and the whole scene is mesmerizing. As we're taking photographs, a seal swims past and pops his head up, quizzically looking around at the hordes of tourists that are watching him. Again, this is a tourist hot spot, although the first lagoon we visited had significantly less visitors.
Over the road I feel disappointed. I've long admiring a friend's photographs of the Diamond Beach in winter, when dozens of huge icebergs have been washed ashore. In summer, it seems, they have melted away, save for one solitary blue berg a few feet off the shoreline, bobbing in the water. When we reach the water, we're delighted to find a scattering of small chunks of ice washed up all along the black sand, shining in the sunlight.
Off to Hofn! We're tired and have a snooze in our guesthouse before heading out for a meal. We decide to top off a perfect day with a bit of a treat, and opt to dine in Pakkhus restaurant, by the harbour. I enjoy feta parcels with a delicious tomato-based sauce before indulging in the best chicken salad I've ever eaten; a huge piece of parma-ham wrapped chicken on a bed of leaves, scattered with sundried tomatoes and cashew nuts with a light mango dressing. Dave's meal looks like it's straight off Masterchef, the presentation matching the taste. For dessert, we share a 'Skyr volcano' aka an Eton Mess with black meringue. Everything is quite reasonably priced, bearing in mind the quality.
We retreat to bed with Netflix and JD and cokes. It's almost 11pm and the sun is still shining bright.
Coming soon .... our favourite little village in the East Fjords and arriving in the north.