If you like scenery, Iceland is like scenery porn. It’s like having 17 Christmases worth of scenery to open, all beautifully wrapped in landscaped paper every bit as nice as the gift. One only has to drive short distances for the vista to change from moss-covered volcanic plain to moraine-stained glaciers to verdant alpine lupine meadows to iceberg-strewn lakes. Living in New Zealand I thought that I wouldn’t be too impressed, but I was wrong.
But first, some advice: if you go to Iceland thinking that you’ll stay on the ring road then you’re missing the coolest stuff. We rented a proper 4WD capable of driving through rivers and it was well worth it because in the interior there are some stunning places. Of course, you can always do tours, and you might meet interesting people, but then you spend a lot of time waiting around and we like to adhere to our own schedule.
Once we arrived in Iceland (after almost missing the plane thanks to some rail delays to Gatwick) we took the bus from the airport to the rental car company. The airport is 45 minutes from Reykjavik, but the bus is convenient and not too expensive. We had already hired this 4WD. It took them quite a while to check us in – not very efficient – and the fridge smelled badly of fish (which we didn’t realise when we picked it up, but for which we negotiated a small discount when we returned the car). Other than that, though, the car was great.
This story is going to mainly cover the scenic wonders of Hverdalir Kerlingafjoll. If you want to read about Reykjavik, Geysir, Jökulsárlón, Solheimasandur, Basar and various waterfalls, click the links which will come live as I finish them.
We arrived in Iceland in July and this meant that the sun set at 11:45pm and rose again at 3am. It only just disappears below the horizon, which means that you can still read a book unaided at 2am. The brilliant thing about this is that you can arrive anywhere and do whatever you like whatever time. Find a mountain you want to climb and it’s already 10pm? No problem because 10pm is like 2pm in most countries and, in fact, that’s what we did one day…or should I say ‘night’.
Hverdalir and Kerlingarfjoll
One of our best finds was after driving through increasing elevation and decreasing vegetation cover to finally find a green valley with a hot stream and some chalets at Kerlingarfjoll. We only ended up here because our route to Landmmananaugur was blocked by snow. The trusty Pajero didn’t have snow tyres and what you can’t see is a reasonably steep drop off to the left, so we backed 300m back down the single lane road as there were no turning opportunities.
So we drove all the way back along the south coast and tried F35 after a quick stop at Geysir. We didn’t plan on staying overnight as we wanted to explore the Vatnsnesfjall peninsula, but we did want to climb the mountain to see the hot pool at the top.
To get there you can chance it with a normal car, but I wouldn’t punish a normal car on F roads. F35 has boulders the size of rock melons in places, and then you have to turn onto F347 where you’ll find a mixture of stunning barrenness and raging torrents. There are several river crossings if you come from the south, but not from the north (which is where we headed afterwards).
The road gradually ascends, the vegetation becoming increasingly sparse as the elevation increases.
But eventually you come over the crest of a hill and see a beautiful green valley with a warm river flowing through it – an oasis of obvious life in the badlands of Iceland.
In many places in the world you might look like you’re alone but there’s the distant sound of a motorway or passing aircraft, or maybe someone’s poor taste in music. Here, though, when the wind dropped to nothing all you could hear was your own tinnitus. It’s a place where you simultaneously feel like you’re completely alone, but completely connected.
Kerlingafjoll turned out to be the best accidental find in Iceland. If we hadn’t have been blocked at Landmmananaugur we would likely have not discovered this amazing place.