Days: 443 (11 September 2015)
Total distance travelled: 116,204.2 kilometres (72,176.5 miles)
The gentle pitter patter of rain on the roof.
Often that would seem a lovely manner in which to describe such an event… although in our case it was admittedly, not a dull roar on the ceiling above, but rather a steady fall and heavier than desired on the morning of our third day in Iceland (and the first of our planned circumnavigation of it).
Thankfully there was eventually a break in the clouds, time in which Sarah and I brusquely strode to the hire car office to collect our vehicle.
Much to our surprise (primarily due to the general lack of tourists we’d thus far seen), the office was full.
We had a reservation already, we just happened to be at the back of a queue of several parties, many of whom were quite disappointed to discover there weren’t any vehicles available!
Turns out a cruise ship, possibly one of the last for the season was in town and day tripping was on the agenda for many.
We sipped a couple of cups of free coffee, eventually got our wheels (free upgrade from hatch to sedan), and got on our way… after swinging by to collect Julie and all of our bags of course!
To get out of Reykjavik, we had to pass a roundabout… then another… then another… then another… you get the picture.
Finally, we left ‘the big smoke’ and two thirds of the country’s population behind us, and the rest of the island lay ahead.
Rolling fields replaced the corrugated buildings of the capital, as livestock began to quickly outnumber people, and on the distant hills, small patches of snow became intermittently visible.
We were headed towards Hvalfjörður, a glaciar carved fjord where a relatively new, roughly six kilometre tunnel takes the highway underneath the waters and across to the other side.
Sure, that’s what we could have done, but instead, we opted for the scenic (and toll free) option, and drove around.
We stopped to check out icy rivers, before a bit of military history (of which I was previously unaware) snuck into proceedings.
It turns out the British constructed a naval base here during the Second World War, which was later manned and controlled by American forces once they’d entered the European theatre on the side of the Allies.
Little actually remains, however there are the ruins of several structures and a large pier does still jut out into the water.
It would have been a shit posting come winter!
By late morning we’d hit the small town of Reykholt, where we stopped for a few minutes to check out its wooden church, and the moss covered headstones of the attached graveyard.
I should point out that we had no GPS to guide us, rather I was navigating using screenshots I’d captured on our camera from Google Maps, where we quickly discovered that the names listed online, were very different from reality (a little tip for any fellow road trippers, would be to learn what road numbers you need, not the name).
Fortunately, many of our destinations were signposted, so just as we began to wonder if we’d taken a wrong turn, almost on queue appeared something to guide us to our next destinations (as they were basically side by side), Hraunfossar and Barnafoss.
After the only bench seat in the vicinity was nicked from under our noses, we sauntered back to the car to both prepare and consume our lunch (cheese and Vegemite sandwiches it was, so very Australian of us).
Rather than then venture to the falls nearest, we wandered to the farther of the two options (by farther, I mean a couple of hundred metres distant) to first take in Barnafoss.
The name, Barnafoss apparently means ‘children’s waterfall’ and there is a deeper story behind that.
According to legend, two children drowned here when they tried to cross the river walking over a natural rock arch. The mother of the fallen children ordered the arch broken down to prevent others experiencing the same fate…
A little further downstream sits Hraunfossar, falls of a completely different kind.
Here, the waters have seemingly tunneled their way through the porous rock beneath the basalt crust, almost looking as if it simply oozes from the earth.
It wasn’t a half bad place at all for our lunch stop.
Iceland is famed for its thermal activities, indeed in the very heart of Reykjavik stand several vents which you can watch belch forth steam all day long, whilst the large thermal lakes that form the Blue Lagoon are probably the country’s most famed attraction.
Well we were by now a fair distance from either of those, but we weren’t far at all from Deildartunguhver.
Just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it.
In fact it’s fairly indicative of most Icelandic names, so you can imagine the amusement I must have generated for Sarah and Julie as I attempted to pronounce names such as these in my role as navigator!
So, what’s special about this place?
Why it’s only the most powerful hot spring in the world, pumping at two hundred litres of boiling water (yes, that is one hundred degrees celcius) per second!
You could get close, but you certainly wouldn’t want to touch.
It created a pretty cool, almost eerie landscape, as you could see the water winding its way through nearby fields, a trail of steam in its wake.
Indeed, some of this heat is used to allow them to grow vegetables in adjacent greenhouses year round, even during the frozen winters!
Our road took us back towards the west until we again hit Route 1 (the islands ring road) and veered again towards the north.
As a place with such a violent natural history, the scars are truly everywhere, and it wasn’t long before we were driving through one such vestige in Grábrókarhraun, a large lava field.
This rocky lava field looks like a pretty inhospitable place, however there are touches of age about it as well, as the carpet of mosses and lichens growing atop its stones do their best to give it a slightly softer appearance.
It doesn’t really work.
Then, in amongst all of this, sits Grábrók, a really damn big crater.
You can climb to the top, a task made all the easier thanks to an extensive wooden boardwalk and stairway which saves on the hassle of scrambling up its rocky slopes (and probably saves the walls from being ruined by tourists as an added bonus).
Obviously once up, you can gaze down into the craters not very deep depths, but the better view is probably what you can now see tucked behind the crater… another crater!
When we’d had enough here, and walked our way back down to the car (after being buzzed a few times by some dickheads flying a drone), it was back on the road for the final leg of the day which would see us to Blönduós.
But then I (as chief navigator and route planner) remembered there was one last hurrah that this first day had in store for us!
Just shy of our ultimate goal, I directed us off the highway onto what became in short time, a dirt track.
There didn’t appear to be anything around, just flat rolling grassland, then suddenly, this flat land was cut in half and we’d found Kolugljúfur, another set of falls to cap off what had been a pretty epic first day on the road.
We were now on the home straight, and to our delight, by the time we pulled up outside our destination for the night, the land was bathed in sunshine.
An older gentleman stood at the doorway to what we assumed was the reception office, a look of puzzlement on his face.
His line of questioning (basically “what are you doing here?”) simply mirrored the look.
Turns out he was the father (or possibly grandfather of the guy who ran the property), the younger guy having completely forgotten about our booking!
With dumb luck we’d arrived just in time, as minutes after he’d checked us in, he was gone.
A short walk was sufficient for us, gifted with a beautiful afternoon that none of us could have expected after the mornings weather, we were content to just sit and soak up the little warmth the sun was still projecting.
With the addition of a little red wine of course!
* Our hire car for our loop around Iceland cost us $144,590.97 ISK ($1,553.96 AU, which breaks down to $258.99 AU per day, or $86.33 per person, per day)
* We purchased $27,846.00 ISK ($299.49 AU) worth of fuel during our island loop, which was 141.81 litres of fuel.