You buggers never read stories about international locations. We know. We have in-depth analytics on every page you read. So don’t lie and tell me you like to go anywhere other than the Cape, Kimberley or the High Country. But indulge me for a second. Read this story, and I promise you won’t regret it. Unless you have a phobia of cool tracks and waterfalls, in which case, move on…
You can’t get much further away from our burnt brown land than Iceland. Yet while the flights are long and arduous (think 30 plus hours), after 10 days on the island, I can safely say that it is worth it. In fact, if I were allowed to swear on these pages, I would say it’s very feckin worth it. Wheel out your bucket list peoples, and carve an icy Viking onto your list.
You have never seen so many amazing waterfalls, incredible glaciers, or driven through the fresh heart of a lava field until you’ve hit the tracks in Iceland. What I loved, was the incredible differences between Australia and Iceland. I have always been told that Australia is an ancient land, our mountains and ranges worn down by sheer time – time measured in millennia. Iceland is comparatively new, both in its land and its people. Fresh fields of lava are common, as are black beaches made from volcanic sands. And by fresh, I mean loads of volcanoes that have formed landscapes as recent as 2015.
The Vikings landed here a mere one thousand years ago. The locals reckon when they landed, they decided to call it Iceland, to deter others from coming to settle. While they named the comparatively icier northern neighbour Greenland! The locals also tell me that when the Vikings pillaged England, they only took the good looking girls home, and left the ugly ones in the U.K. Which is why the women in Iceland are so gorgeous.
Everything in Iceland is expensive, so for my 10 days I hired a 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It cost me around AUD$1500 for 10 days, which was the same price as a new Jimny or a new two-wheel drive sedan. I picked it up from Icerental 4X4, and it wasn’t fancy (no Bluetooth, a ding on the back and holes in the carpet), but it was functional. The stock suspension was rubbish, but that’s the case for most Jeeps of this era.
Iceland is quite interesting in terms of topography. Much of the mountainous middle of the island is covered in snow and glaciers. The ice melts over the summer months, and the resulting waters literally sail off the side of the cliffs and onto the coastal flatlands below. And I’m not talking about just in one place, but on the whole damn island. We saw literally thousands of waterfalls, and I never got sick of them. Although my travel buddy Angus (my 15-year-old son) did tire of my exultations every time we would see another one. “Really dad,” he would say. And “I can’t tell if you’re joking getting so excited”. No son, not joking, just fizzing out my bunghole…
Our trip started in the capital Reykjavik, and we made our way anti-clockwise around Iceland. With a population of just 348,000 at last count, there aren’t a lot of humans here. But the highest population you’ll see is between the capital, and the South Coast. Here, you can embark on drives with names like the Golden Circle, where you’re guaranteed to see some of the biggest and best waterfalls. But the South Coast was one of our favourites, as we visited waterfalls like Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, which were really off the wall. We saw plane wrecks on black sandy beaches, and watched tiny little puffins dart around the sea cliffs before diving into their burrows.
Further along the coast, you’ll watch glaciers break up, and flow into the sea. The resulting blocks of ice then wash up on the black beach, creating an incredible scene. It’s no wonder they call it Diamond Beach. Still travelling east, we darted inland towards Laki, and saw incredible gorges, and spent the day driving through amazing lava fields, crossing rivers and seeing even more stunning waterfalls (this one was called Fagrifoss).
Winding our way to the north coast, we visited the stunning harbour city of Akureyri. It’s often called the prettiest city in the region (and who am I to argue?). The north coast offers a better climate than the south, and it also has more than its fair share of thermal pools. We visited the pools at Mývatn, but beware, they sting you in two ways. First, they stink with the pungent smell of sulphur. Second, they sting your hip pocket. $50 for a thermal pool? I’ll go to Mataranka thanks! w Although the local (non-touristy) pools are much cheaper.
On the north west of the island lies the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s a special place with an incredible coastline, a cool little black church and again – more nice waterfalls.
With shows like Vikings, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Game of Thrones and Interstellar being filmed in Iceland, the place is rapidly being discovered. In fact, 1.9 million tourists come to visit each year. But believe me, there’s more to Iceland than the northern lights.
- Fuel isn’t cheap. Petrol was on average around AUD$2.60 per litre. Lucky it’s a small island. Oh, and restaurant food is pricey too, so stick to supermarkets if you want to save your Króna.
- They drive on the left-hand side, mostly in left-hook vehicles. Although you can register right-hand drive vehicles.
- You’re not allowed to drive off the tracks (off-road), although in the middle of winter in the highlands, you can go for it. The thick coating of snow ensures you’re not going to damage the delicate alpine environment.
- Get good curtains or blackout your swag! In summer, they only have three to four hours of darkness. Winter is the opposite, with only four to five hours of daylight. Although that’s the time to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).
- The currency is Icelandic Króna, and 1000 Króna equates to around AUD$13.00.
- Their beer is very tasty. I didn’t have a bad one (and I tried to sample many in the interests of research). They’re unpasteurised and infused with herbs like arctic thyme.
- The national language is Icelandic, which has Norwegian and Germanic origins. But thankfully they can all seem to speak English, and even understand Australians. Bewdy bottla!
I was in the midst of filming for Season 11 of the TV show, so my son Angus did most of the research of the cool places to visit. Thanks Gusso, you uncovered some absolute gems that I never would have found!
Next edition, Pat and Gus go glacier driving in Arctic Trucks! But beware, expect much more bunghole fizzing.