For my 40th birthday, Mia probably gave me the best birthday gift you can imagine: A road trip through Iceland.
There isn’t really much left to tick off on my bucket list, but there has always been one thing close to the top – Northern Lights! At least once in my lifetime I wanted to experience this mystical light phenomena in the northern sky and so in January we went on the hunt.
Iceland is not only worth a trip for the “Aurora Borealis,” as they are called in the local
jargon, but this wild and historically very young country has much more to offer.
Arrived – Hello Iceland!
Upon arrival at Keflavik airport near Reykjavik, the capital of the country with a little over 1/3 of the population – approximately 323,000 inhabitants, we were handed the keys to the SUV we reserved in advance. Outfitted with spiked winter tires, the vehicle was equipped for an off-road experience and wonderfully serviced to bring us to the most remote and adventurous places on the island.
After freeing the car from a little snow and ice, we were on our way to our camp at Hotel Stracta in Hella, which was located approximately 1.5 hours northwest of the capital. It is mostly nighttime for most of the day at this time of year. Sunrise was at 11:00 a.m. and sunset at 15:30 p.m. so it was never really bright outside. The whole day was a sunset or a doom and gloom sort of atmosphere. But once the sun broke through the cloud cover, the sky was rather a shimmering orange; simply beautiful.
Our glacier walk
After we were somewhat acclimatised and became familiar with the road conditions, we started to explore the island on our first day and set off on the first adventure on one of the many glaciers in Iceland. TUI Wolters was so kind as to organize this trip and after we arrived at our destination at the foot of the glacier, Sólheimajökull, we located our guide and were ready to go. We quickly strapped the spikes to the bottom of our weatherproof shoes, armed ourselves with an ice-ax and onto the ice we went. I have, at this point in my life, never seen a more breathtaking winter landscape than this. We captured a little bit of it in this vlog for you but the real experience is hard to depict in images.
Warm up in Iceland’s hot springs
We were chilled to the bone from the first day we arrived so in order to warm up we decided to pay a visit to the hot springs of the Blue Lagoon on the south of the island.
On the way to the hot springs, we made an in-between stop for a chat and encounter with some Icelandic horses. Designed as a geothermal-natural spa on the Reykjanes Peninsula,we arrived for a bath at the hot spring which fit quite neatly into the travel budget, and in Iceland this makes everything just right. The day before, our glacier tour guide told us that the lowest income in Iceland is approximately €2,500 per month, thus the entry fee is €50 euro per head which makes it affordable for the occasional local. However, it is well worth the investment.
Waterfalls and a plane wreck
Before heading back towards Reykjavík, we spent the last night in the area near the airport. Our return flight was quite early but we managed to still have an outing on the last day. The first stop of the road trip was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The backdrop was stunning. Laterally scaled stairs allowed us to even reach behind the cascading waters. The whole thing would certainly prime location for a scene from Lord of the Rings. The local flock of wild geese as a bonus on top everything else.
Don’t linger too long and take what goes was the motto so shortly afterwards, we headed off on our way in the direction of Vik: the city with, reportedly, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We had heard about its black sand beaches and as beach going professionals, in rather warmer climates, we did not want to miss this attraction. However, on the trip, we were told that because of weather conditions the beach would most likely be covered with snow. After Mia had already booked the umpteenth day pass, while we were driving she made a clever discovery online and found a plane wreck not too far from our current position. After surfing further through a few blogs we came across the much needed directions. As luck would have it, just at the moment when we were only a few feet in front of the next turn off to nowhere from the main road, she got the directions to our destination. A little hesitant at first, we fought our way through the snow in our SUV equipped with spikes and then suddenly the plane wreck was in front of us. We gasped. What an adventure!
Explored the plane in the storm; snapped a few shots and filmed; now onto the next stop. A visit to Iceland without having been to one of the many geysers is a no go. The window of time became narrower and narrower but according to our calculations, we had a small but real chance to reach one of the great Iceland Geysers before sunset. So we rummaged through the snow and headed back to the main road which was also snowy. Fueled by adrenaline, we picked up the maximum speed possible and actually even made it in time to see the last rays of sunshine breaking through one of the biggest geysers on the island, which for us was something for the record. The boiling pillar of water, heated by magma chambers in the Earth’s interior water of Strokkur, reaches a height of 25-35m and exploded like rockets in the air within a few milliseconds. Not only Spock would say “fascinating”!
Although we had experienced some sightseeing highlights in a very short time, the real basis for our road trip was indeed the fabled Northern Lights. Upon our arrival, Mia specifically installed an app that predicted when the lights would be visible. The app lured me outside of the hotel on a few nights in the hopes of witnessing the luminous celestial phenomena, but the cloud cover made it impossible to catch a glimpse of the lights.
The best comes last: Northern lights
The loud App promised good chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis near Reykjavík. After a short nap at the hotel near the airport, in the middle of the night, we went out to hunt for the lights outside of the capital. After prolonged period of time unsuccessfully driving around Monterrei, we didn’t even know what we should look out for. Unlike in reality, the Northern Lights are usually visible on long-term exposed photos so we parked our car along the roadside and stood near the camera which we placed on a tripod.The red light glowing on the camera made it obvious what was happening so we stopped a few meters away and layed down on the ground to wait.
It wasn’t long before we saw it. At first the lights were barely visible but with every passing second our eyes adjusted to the darkness and they seemed to become stronger and then they began to dance. Putting my happiness into words is difficult. We had actually checked off one of my top things to do on my Bucket list.
Thanks, my love, for these unforgettable days!