Iceland, 2nd-11th April 2019
A place full of natural wonders and beauty, it was hard to turn down an offer by my friend to be the 12th person in a group expedition around Iceland. Things did not start out smooth though, as the airline that we purchased our tickets from (Wow Air), shut down and cancelled all flights. This resulted in us losing about £110 per person, as well as having to go through the hassle of booking new flights at about £170 per person.
Group photo of the 12 of us and our cars
Instead of a direct flight to Iceland from London, we took the cheaper (but much longer) option of flying to Poland first, before transiting to Iceland. Upon touching down at Poland, Joshua and I were fast enough to clear immigration and catch the train to the nearby town of Gdansk Osawa. Upon finding a small minimart in the town, I stocked up on snacks (which were cheap by European standards). After which we had lunch at Malinowy Ograd, which provided relatively fine dining for quite affordable prices.
Stuff we did in the short time in Gdansk
After lunch, we made a sprint for the train (that only comes once per hour) and joined our friends back at the airport. The flight to Iceland was going to be about 4 hours long, and that's where the adventure starts. Upon landing in Iceland, I was grossly unprepared for the cold, wearing clothing meant for London. Heaving a sigh of relief after obtaining our cars, we drove to Netto (a very common supermarket in Iceland) to purchase groceries to make and meal prep our meals.
It was an hour's and a half drive to our accommodation, so we made several stops along the way to appreciate the scenery, capturing some beautiful shots. Even though it was 8pm at night, the sky was still bright, and that gave us a lot of daylight to reach our accommodation.
Late sunsets in Iceland
Upon arriving at our accommodation, I was impressed at how cosy the room was. It even had its own virtual furnace and kitchen! After making instant noodles and curry wurst for dinner, we went out for a joyride on the cars. Whilst trying to remember how a manual car functioned, Howard shouted to us that the northern lights were visible. The 12 of us ended up spending the next two hours taking pictures of the lights and admiring the sky full of stars. Being able to witness the northern lights on the first night was certainly an extremely fortunate event, and we were looking forward to the next few days.
Northern Lights on first night (Photo by Tiak)
We woke up to make breakfast and meal prep our lunch (mainly just bread and tuna) in preparation for a 5-hour journey to the West end of Iceland. After loading up our cars (and a few snowball fights), we set off for Hraunfossar, well known for their amazing waterfalls. With clear blue waters and a stunning scenery, a few of us decided to walk off the beaten path for some vantage points and scenic shots. A picture speaks a thousand words, and these are a few of the pictures we captured in our time at Hraunfossar.
Following Hraunfossar was a 2hr 30-minute drive to our next destination, Kirkjufelfoss. We stopped by a gas station to consume our pre-packed lunches, and made it through hail, rain, and extremely strong winds to Kirkjufelfoss. Known for being a scenic sight, we were dismayed to find out that the extremely poor weather conditions had made the mountains barely visible.
Strong winds left us mummified
Coupled with the strong winds and endless raindrops pelting on our faces horizontally, we left shortly after for yet another long 3-hour drive to our accommodation. We settled at a nearby supermarket for some groceries and made a sumptuous meal for dinner (followed by a few hours of card games). A chill day with lots of driving, we hoped that the weather for the next few days would be in our favour.
After having cereals for breakfast, we headed off to Ayukeri, a small town along the way about a 2 hour's drive where we were, it served as a pitstop for us to stock up on groceries for our next few meals. Through hills, roundabouts, and a series of mountains, we took a break at a random scenic view along the way. With a small stream flowing between two mountains, the view was breath-taking, and I even had a taste of the freshwater that flowed on the river (as well as a bite of fresh ice kachang).
Tasting some Ice Kachang
Upon reaching the town of Ayukeri, we proceeded to buy some groceries, take some free samples from the supermarket (being the Singaporeans we are), as well as have lunch (peanut butter and bread). After lunch, we headed off to Godafoss, where a magnificent waterfall awaited us. With treacherous terrain of heavy snows and unknown potholes along the way, we made our way to the vantage points of the waterfall to capture some good pictures.
After a few snowball fights, we proceeded to Grjotagja cave, another attraction. Grjotagja is a small cave in Lake Myvatn and used to be a popular bathing spot. Unfortunately, geological activity in the 1970s rendered it unsuitable for bathing, and it now serves as a tourist attraction.
After Grjotagja, we checked it at Vogar travel services and made dinner for ourselves. After a sumptuous dinner, a few of us decided to head out to chase the northern lights, as there were clear skies and high solar activity. It was a great decision as we ended up catching some really candid pictures of the aurora. Satisfied with what we had, we headed back for the night.
Car shot with northern lights (Photo by Tiak)
After having cereals for breakfast, we loaded our luggage onto the car and headed off east towards Hverir. Hverir is a unique wasteland with pools of boiling mud. With a desolate, Mars like scenery, the experience was other worldly, and as intense as the smell of sulphur that flooded the place. We got our shoes completely soaked in the mud and ended up having to do a bit of shuffling in the ice to get rid of it.
After Hverir, we moved off to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It was actually featured in the opening scene of the sci-fi movie, Prometheus. After a 20 minutes hike from the carpark to the viewpoint of the waterfall, the sight of the strength and power of the waterfall was definitely worth witnessing.
Following the waterfall, we hiked north towards the source of the waterfall, where we ended up playing with snowballs, jumping on thin ice (not a wise idea), and getting ourselves wet in the process. Bad decisions make good stories, and I'm sure this trip has brought about many memorable experiences.
Following the hike back to the carpark (and our beautiful snowman), we drove towards Netto to purchase groceries for the next day. I've got to say that the salmon here is better and slightly cheaper than that of the UK, but that's about as cheap as Iceland gets. Iceland still remains as one of the most expensive countries in the world, probably because of how it's hard to have any natural produce and that most things are imported.
After getting our groceries, we drove to the Airbnb (Finnsstadir Horse Ranch) to check in for the night. We were amazed by the quality of the Airbnb house that we were in. With a rating of 9.7 at booking.com, the house didn't fail to impress us with the facilities it provided, such as a washing machine, dish washer as well as a house cat. The cat was simply adorable, and it accompanied us for the night, stepping on us from time to time.
House cat under blanket
With a bit of time to spare before sunset, we drove to a nearby waterfall, Gufu waterfall. It was extremely cold, and all parts of the waterfall were frozen except for the flowing parts. We decided to take a group photo on top of the frozen river (not a very wise idea cos the ice was cracking), and we managed to make it out alive to catch the sunset.
Group photo on top of the river leading the waterfall
After having had fun with the 2 house cats, we made a 3.5-hour drive towards Stokksnes, only stopping for a short break for lunch near Djupivogur.
After purchasing our groceries at Höfn, we checked in at our accommodations (Höfn guesthouse), before driving off to Stokksnes for a hike. The £5 entry fee to enter the Stokksnes hiking grounds was pretty worth it as the sights were scenic, and the land was extremely beautiful. Apart from the extremely strong winds that plagued us throughout our 3 hours there, it was a really breath-taking (literally) experience.
After the hike, we went back to our accommodations to have dinner and a few games of bridge and poker.
After a free breakfast of cereals at Höfn guesthouse, we drove towards Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, as well as the Diamond beach.
With a maximum depth of 248 metres, Jokulsarlon is Iceland’s deepest lake. In addition, the icebergs there are composed of ice that are over 1,000 years old. The diamond beach was not a beach that was literally filled with diamonds, but rather a beach with black sand that was filled with icebergs that are polished by the waves, giving them a shine similar to that of diamonds. It was a really pretty sight, and we had our fun picking up these “diamonds” and checking them out.
Diamond Beach and Jokulsarlon
Following the beach, we had lunch on the car, and set off for Svatifoss waterfall and Skfatafell glacier. It was a long 2-hour hike to the top of the mountain, but the view of the entire glacier was worth it. It was interesting how for certain portions of the hike it seemed so warm, whilst other portions (esp. closer to the top) were much colder.
Svatifoss and Skfatafell
After the 4-hour hike, we were dead beat. We took an hour's drive to Amardrangur Guest House, were we settled for a night of dinner and card games.
After checking out of the Airbnb, we made our way to Reynisfjara Beach. A completely black coastline filled with strong winds, and perilous cliffs, it was a once in a lifetime experience running along the beach that was filled with pebbles and not sand. We had our fair share of photos before setting off for the incredibly windy Dyrholaey viewpoint.
Wei Loon hanging off a cliff at Reynisfjara Beach
After having a quick lunch, we made our way to the Solheimsandur plane wreck, which was a 1-hour hike away from the carpark. The final destination of the plane wreck might have been intriguing, but the miles of vast black sands that laid all around us as we hiked to the train wreck was even more interesting.
Tired out from all the walking, we snacked on the car before heading off to 2 different waterfalls, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Having seen enough waterfalls already, the 2 waterfalls didn't prove to be as amazing or breath-taking as the others. We took a few quick photos before leaving for our accommodations at Campsite Arhus.
It was a clear night with moderate northern lights activity, and thus we decided to head out of town into a desolate and lightless area to take a few shots of the northern lights. Being the third night of chasing the lights, we were more experienced with our photography, and managed to land better shots. We closed the night at 3am, exhausted from a night of chasing and test-driving cars.
Day 7 Northern Lights (Photo by Tiak)
Starting the day off at 11am (the long day hours really warps your sense of time), we set off for yet another waterfall, Hjarparfoss. This waterfall was prettier and more scenic than the previous 2. Following Hjarparfoss, we left for yet another waterfall, Gulfoss.
We then had lunch and made our way to Geysir. With all the geysers in the world name after this place, the Geysir at the centre of the geothermal park was a magnificent one, spouting a huge stream of water once every 5 minutes. Geysir has been active for approximately 10,000 years, with the oldest accounts dating back to 1294. In fact, the English word geyser is derived from Geysir!
After visiting Geysir, we went on to visit Kerid crater. Located in southern Iceland as part of the Golden Circle, Kerid is unique in a way that it was not formed from an explosion as most craters do. The Kerid volcano was probably formed when the magma in the centre depleted itself, and the empty chamber beneath caved in. It was an interesting sight, but we had to leave soon after as the nearby supermarket was closing soon.
We then left for Selfoss, a town a short drive away where our accommodations were at. After a sumptuous dinner of aglio olio and bacon, my friends chilled for the night while I took the car out for a solo drive to chase the lights. It was initially quite daunting driving on unlit roads alone in the middle of the night, but the low crime rates in Iceland, as well as the generally skilled driving of the Iceland nationals made it quite safe to do so. I found a dark unlit spot at the side of a small road, switched off the engines and laid down to view the stars and lights.
Solo drive at midnight
All in all, it was this part of the trip that I was most looking forward to. Just lying down and watching the stars and northern lights dance before my eyes.
Last night catching the lights
We started off the last day by setting off for Reykjavik, treating ourselves to KFC for lunch. The KFC in Reykjavik is terribly expensive at 19SGD for a simple Zinger Tower burger meal.
1SGD is roughtly 90 ISK
Following lunch, we made our way to Hallgrimskirkja church. At 74.5 metres tall, it is the largest church in Iceland, and is one of Reykjavik’s best-known landmarks. Designed to resemble the trap rocks, mountains and glaciers of Iceland, the simplistic design is similar to the expressionist architecture of the Grundtvig Church in Copenhagen. After a short tour around the church (and admiration of the power pose of the statue in front of the church), we headed back to our car.
We were approaching the end of our trip, and we made our way back to Lotus Car rental to return our car, relieved that we managed to get through the whole trip without any accidents. After a short trip to the airport, we waited for our flight to Latvia where another adventure was about to begin.
Riga International Airport
Just kidding, we took a short transit and 5 hours later we were back to London.
This trip was well worth it, and it would definitely be one of my go to locations if I were to retire/ go on a honeymoon. For now, I shall pray that we don't get any speeding tickets for the speeds we were travelling at.
Wow Air tickets that disappeared: £110
Wizz Air replacement tickets: £178
Transport to Luton and back: £15
Car Rental for 8 days: £192
Food: £110 (of which £30 came from a meal at KFC and some Icelandic stew at Gulfoss)
Entry to Stokksnes and Kerid Crater: £7.5
Bring waterproof pants and a windbreaker. Don’t gain an extra kg of water on your clothes like I did.
If you don’t mind looking weird, transition lenses are great for the strong UV rays in Iceland.
Check the financial condition of an airline before purchasing their tickets.
Don’t do a sharp turn at 60 kmph.
Check left before entering a roundabout, it’s a left-hand drive unlike Singapore.
Roads are slippery, don’t travel too fast down slopes and bends that have ice. Your car skids.
Sandwiches every lunch might be depressing, but your wallet stays full.
Instant noodles every dinner might be unhealthy, but it keeps you financially healthy.
Northern lights are best viewed in your car where its warm and where you can push your seat all the way back.
Don’t drive off roads. Cars are heavy. They sink.
It’s ok to slip and fall. It’s not ok to slip and keep slipping.
From time to time if there are nice sceneries, take a short break and admire what’s before you.
Most of the water in nature is drinkable. Except water from the Glacier Lagoon or near the geothermal geysers. They taste saltier than your average Bronze LoL player.