After a month of travelling through beautiful and historical European cities, we couldn’t be more excited for some time in nature. Yes, it may be the middle of Icelandic winter, and yes, the days may only be 4 hours long, but we can tell from the moment we step off the plane that we are going to fall in love with Iceland.
Really, I’ve wanted to come here since reading a National Geographic that featured amazing photos of blue ice caves, but it was just luck that brought us here so soon. Flying from London to Seattle to see my family for Christmas, nearly all the flights passed through Reykjavik. And then I heard that IcelandAir offers a free 7 night stopover, obviously we couldn’t pass up that opportunity, so I lovingly mapped out a roadtrip for us from Reykjavik in the southwest, up to the glacier lagoon in the east, and back via the Golden Circle, and even booked in a guide for a trek through, yes, a blue ice cave. Winter is as good a time as any!
On our first day, flying from Amsterdam and then London, we arrive in Keflavik International around 330pm, by which time the sun is setting. We pick up our rental car (an AWD just in case of snow, although we will rarely leave the cleared Route 1) and drive on to our hotel in Hvolsvöllur, about 2 hours east of the airport. After getting past the Capital Region, where 2/3 of Iceland’s 300,000 inhabitants live (the whole country is one-tenth the population of Seattle and barely larger than Wollongong!!), it’s a straight drive on Route 1 to our hotel.
We frequently check online for the aurora forecast, hoping to glimpse the Northern Lights, but there is fairly dense and low-hanging cloud cover, so we cross our fingers that one of the following nights will be better. Another bonus of visiting Iceland in winter: the Northern Lights aren’t ever visible in summer because it’s nowhere near dark enough.
By the next morning, we are super excited to get out and explore. Today’s drive leads us about 170km along Route 1 to Kirkjubæjarklaustur, with heaps of stops along the way.
The first stop on our Iceland roadtrip is a super impressive waterfall (one of many to come) not too far east from Hvolsvöllur. We walk around the back and up the stairs, which is the start of a never ending bad hair day for me, what with all the spray coming off the falls, but I’m too excited to care. Unfortunately, the spray also creates some blur on my GoPro lens, so there’s lots of frantic wiping happening before every picture. One of the great things about Iceland is that most of the main natural draws are within a few hundred metres of the main road, so you never have to travel far off route! There are a reasonable number of people here, by no means crowded, but compared to the 2 or 3 people we share some later views with, it’s quite popular!
Next up is another waterfall, and just as impressive as the last one. We park the car not far off the road so we can get up close to the falls, which means walking up 500 steps to the top of the hill and obviously scampering out onto the edge to peer at the falls from above.
Sólheimasandur Black Sand Beach & DC-3 plane crash
Driving along to our next destination, we see half a dozen cars pulled over on the side of the road and reason that something interesting must be out there. We pull over and walk in the direction of the others and make it a half hour before I finally give in and ask someone what we are walking towards. Apparently the DC-3 US military plane wreck from the 70s is just over the hill another 20 minutes, so we carry on, not too sure what to expect. A total of 4km each way through the strangest lunar landscape, as the road leading closer to the plane has been closed, it’s an incredibly interesting site and we are lucky to only share it with a few others. It’s the black sand beach that stretches as far as you can see that really makes the whole scene so eerie, though the abandoned plane definitely contributes.
Dyrhólaey Arch & Vik’s Black Sand Beach
Due to time constraints (ie. the 340pm sunset), this is our final stop of the day, and it’s a wonderful end to our second day in Iceland! We first drive along the gravel road up the hill, which is the best view of the arch in the cliffs, and then also visit a lower viewpoint on the way down where we can walk out onto the black sand. I can’t help but notice that this chilly beach is the polar opposite to Australia’s golden beaches and turquoise water, but the black sand and inky water is incredibly beautiful in its own way.