A Circuit of Iceland

 husavik north iceland

husavik north iceland

In May/June 2013 we spent 10 days circumnavigating Iceland. There were three of us – Cally and I and my brother Pete.

 pete and ken

pete and ken

We chose to travel at that time of year as the weather is starting to warm up (average daily maximums were between 12 and 15 degrees during our trip) but the large numbers of tourists that are increasingly visiting Iceland each summer have not yet arrived.

Iceland has Europe’s biggest and most spectacular waterfalls and in late spring are in full throttle.

 gullfoss

gullfoss

We flew from London to Reykjavik – a flight of around 3 hours.

 reykjavik

reykjavik

Because 10 days is a relatively short period of time we decided to get some local assistance to organise the trip. We used a local travel company Iceland Unlimited who were very good. We told them that we wanted to do a circuit and that we had 10 days to do it. They suggested an itinerary, listed places of interest and different accommodation options. We then did our own research and settled on an itinerary.

 Harpa - Reykjavik's concert hall and conference centre

Harpa - Reykjavik's concert hall and conference centre

Iceland Unlimited also organised the hire car. The road that circumnavigates the country is sealed, so unless you want to get seriously off road to visit the centre of the island (which isn't recommended unless you really know what you're doing and are well prepared) a conventional vehicle is more than adequate.

 the blue lagoon

the blue lagoon

After 2 nights exploring Reykjavik we headed off on our anticlockwise circuit of Iceland. The first few stops were on what is known as the Golden Circle. This small loop, not far from Reykjavik, along with a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon, are Iceland's most popular tourist sites.

 pedestrian street reykjavik

pedestrian street reykjavik

 leaving reykjavik

leaving reykjavik

We started the Golden Circle at Thingvellir, the site of the world's first parliament, established by the Viking settlers in AD 930.

 thingvellir

thingvellir

It is also the spot where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.

 cally between the plates

cally between the plates

Next was Geysir, the original hot water spout that gave it's name to this phenomena.

 building up

building up

Nowadays the Geysir is not as impressive as it used to be, but next door is the geyser Stokkur which blasts 15-30 metres into the air every 6 minutes or so.

 goin' off

goin' off

The third and final major stop on the Golden Circle was Gullfoss, Iceland's most famous waterfall (foss is Icelandic for waterfall). It has two cascades in it's 32m drop.

 gullfoss

gullfoss

 heading east along the south coast road

heading east along the south coast road

We overnighted at a little hotel on the south coast near the famous Eyafjallajokull volcano which wreaked havoc with European air traffic a couple of years ago.

 eyafjallajokull is out there somewhere

eyafjallajokull is out there somewhere

 our accommodation first night out of reykjavik

our accommodation first night out of reykjavik

 southern iceland

southern iceland

The trip along the south coast road was truly spectacular: moody black sand beaches with thundering surf; a succession of waterfalls cascading off the plateau that parallels the road on the inland side; the Vatnajokull permanent ice-sheet with it's glaciers; and Jokulsarlon Lagoon with it's blue icebergs and resident seals (the lagoon was frozen for the high speed car chases over the ice in the 2002 Bond film, Die Another Day). We then overnighted near the town of Hofn.

 south coast

south coast

 there are waterfalls all along the south coast road

there are waterfalls all along the south coast road

 vatnajokull

vatnajokull

 jokulsarlon lagoon

jokulsarlon lagoon

Heading up the east coast the fjords are rugged and beautiful with the occasional, hardy Icelandic village putting in an appearance. We overnighted at Egilsstadir.

 eastern iceland

eastern iceland

 boathouse egilsstadir

boathouse egilsstadir

The next leg included a diversion to Dettifoss, which is probably Iceland's most spectacular waterfall. It is 44m high and the volume of water that runs over it is massive – the greatest volume in Europe.

 road into dettifoss

road into dettifoss

We were lucky in that the road into Dettifoss had only just recently been opened due to the clearing of the snow covering it through the long Icelandic winter.

 dettifoss

dettifoss

From there it was on to Lake Myvatn, a walk around a volcanic rim, and a visit to the lava fields of Dimmuborgir before arriving at our guesthouse just outside of Laugar.

 lunch, lake myvatn

lunch, lake myvatn

 on the volcano rim

on the volcano rim

 dimmuborgir

dimmuborgir

We stayed here two nights as we wanted to do a day trip to the north coast town of Husavik for whale watching.

 husavik

husavik

This turned out to be a great day with fantastic weather, in an amazing setting and plenty of whales were spotted.

 whale spotting outfits

whale spotting outfits

Unfortunately the photos don't do it justice - whales are tricky things to photograph.

 yes, its a whale

yes, its a whale

Next stop was Akureyri, Iceland's second city, but still with only a modest population of 16,500. An easy place for a stroll (weather permitting).

 Akureyri pedestrian street

Akureyri pedestrian street

 viking women have amazing strength

viking women have amazing strength

Last stop was the Snaefellesnes Peninsula on the Western side of the island. On the way we stopped to see the very unusual Hraunfossar which is a cascading waterfall that is overlaid by an ancient lava flow.

 hraunfossar

hraunfossar

There is a lot of geothermal activity in this region and we were surprised to find roadside stalls selling fresh tomatoes. Iceland grows a lot of it's own vegetables in glass houses kept warm by geothermal energy.

At Snaefellesnes we stayed on the southern side of the peninsula at Hellnar. Here the sea bird colonies provided a constant noisy backdrop while nesting on the dramatic cliffs.

 hellnar

hellnar

Finally, it was back to Reykjavik and a visit to the Blue Lagoon before departing.

 driving back to Reykjavik from the North West

driving back to Reykjavik from the North West

 beer o'clock in the blue lagoon

beer o'clock in the blue lagoon

Iceland is truly a unique destination – the geologically young, wild volcanic landscape contrasts impressively with glaciers, pounding waterfalls and icebergs, and inhabited by a hardy people with a fascinating culture and history.

Ken