Known for: Geysers Glaciers Great hiking and snow sports Caves Natural hot springs Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
Feel the crisp wind biting at your ankles as you hike up a snowy mountain overlooking a sea of turquoise blue glaciers. Warm your hands on hot chocolate, sing loudly to a great road-trip playlist and take a night bath in a cave. Iceland is the place to be this winter.
WHAT TO DO
1. Visit Blue Lagoon in the early evening to watch the sun go down, or en-route from/to the airport (it’s nearby). Soak your tired muscles and cleanse your face with the active clay minerals in the natural vivid blue geothermal spring. The iconic pool has been running since 1976 and is well frequented by tourists and locals, so try to visit off-peak if possible, but don’t miss it. $65 NZD.
2. Spend a day driving around the Golden Circle. If you don’t have long in Iceland, the circle is a must. You’ll see geysers at Haukadalur and the famous Gullfoss waterfall. Any time you see the word “foss” it means waterfall.
Travel tip: Rent a car from Lagoon Rentals, they will pick you up and drop you off to the airport (and give you the best deal). Gas will set you back $2.70p/l but it’s worth it.
3. If you’re spending a week or longer in Iceland, drive around the Ring Road (the entire country). The first notable spot to stop at is Skógafoss arch waterfall.
Travel tip: Stop for supplies in Vik
4. Continue driving further round stopping at every waterfall and beautiful landscape you see. Once you reach Skaftafell National Park, take a free hike to see the glaciers.
5. Head towards the southeastern town of Hof which has a cluster of farms in the municipality of Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður. Climb up the cliff and look out over the main waterfall for the best vantage point.
6. Continue a bit further and you’ll find Jökulsárlón glacier lake. The ice looks like it’s floating… icebergs can’t actually float, they’re too heavy, but it’s visually very deceptive!
7. As it gets darker (in winter you’ll only have around 3 hours of light) warm up in Myvatn Hot Spring. It’s tucked away in the wilderness and is free to enter. Check each side for the best temperature as sometimes it can reach high 60ºC which is too hot to bathe in.
Travel tip: Pick up any supplies or petrol you might need in the next city, Akureyri.
8. Upon return to Reykjavik, hike Eyjafjallajökull mountain. Notice the animal hoof prints in the snow as you climb up to the snowy peaks. It’s a good idea to take crampons and waterproof pants, in saying this my Nike sneakers lasted the distance! It’s important however to remember which way you came as in severe weather a whiteout can mean losing the track. We experienced this and had to follow some life-saver footprints down to base.
9. Once back in Reykjavik, check out Harpa Concert Hall at night, the architecture is just stunning.
WHERE TO STAY
My mum will tell me off for saying this, but if you’re travelling with companions your car will be a good sleeping option. Just rent some heavy duty sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses and set up beds in the back of a 4×4. If you’re not travelling around Iceland, try Couch-surfing. There are plenty of lovely and hospitable hosts, we stayed with two and it was so nice to experience Icelandic culture and see how they live.
WHERE TO EAT
People aren’t kidding when they say Iceland is expensive. Bonus (the supermarket with the weird looking pig logo) will be your best friend. Here’s our shopping list:
WHAT TO WEAR
I can’t stress enough how important it is to take a good jacket. A waterproof down jacket will not only keep you warm, but will dry quickly when it gets wet from melted snow. Can’t go wrong with a thermal two piece, thick socks, gloves and a beanie. It’s true that if your head is warm, you’ll retain more heat.
To get to Iceland I had a bit of a nightmare with flights (never use WOW Air) but after hours of emails and help from my boyfriend, I booked the flight and it was the best decision ever. Iceland is very similar to New Zealand, but a completely different culture. People are conditioned to dealing with 3/23 hours of light per day, extreme cold conditions and a busy work life. The Icelandic people however are far from cold themselves and will welcome you into their homes with open arms. If you are questioning whether to book the trip of a lifetime, just do it. Worry about the finer details later and use my tips as a guide. You’ll only regret it if you don’t go.
Next post – HAWAII.