Now, you’ve probably seen ‘Road Trip!’ and lots of excited emojis posted on instagram/facebook/twitter quite a lot and you then realise after delving further that these people are, more than likely, driving one hour up the road to Leeds, and probably back again in the same day. (I too may be a little guilty of this…) However, this April actually marked what I would describe as my first real road trip. No, it wasn’t along the sunny south coast of America, but I’m pretty happy with my Icelandic choice.
Before I start, major thanks needs to go to the Hostelling International group for some wonderful places to stay and more importantly their website (www.hostel.is) which is where I found most of my inspiration and helped me find the route that we would take. So, following on from my last blog post, we awoke slightly hungover in the beautiful Laugarvatn, just in time to see the sunrise. We eventually mustered up the courage to leave around 11am, after taking a walk down to the lake.
Our first stop on the days itinerary was Seljalandsfoss, just under a two hour drive from Laugarvatn. I have to admit, although I had decided an itinerary before I left England, I hadn’t fully researched every stop on the journey, and so other than knowing it was a waterfall (foss is one of the few icelandic words I picked up), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Seljalandsfoss is wonderful. As with most places in Iceland, to find it, you need to turn off the main road down a little side road that looks like it may be leading to nowhere. Google maps on your phone is essential, or if you’re feeling a bit plush, a sat nav may be even better. The reason Seljalandsfoss stands out from the many other waterfalls in Iceland is that you can walk behind the waterfall. If it’s winter, the path is probably closed off but you can hop over the chain that closes off the path. You may worry that you’re risking your life however everyone else seems to be putting their hands in the flame so we decided to do it too. It was definitely worth it, despite getting soaked. We then walked a little further down the path and sat on a lone picnic bench and ate some lunch and drank some coffee whilst we dried off.
Next we drove further along the road to Sólheimajökull, which is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland. I personally had never seen a glacier, and the enormity of it astonished me. It appeared so powerful, and it made me feel the size of a borrower, yet at the same time it really did remind me of a giant Vienetta ice-cream with hikers for sprinkles. We walked down to the glacier and had a little look around. Many people had ice picks and shoes and had joined the organised tours to walk over the glacier. Honestly, I tried iceskating a few years ago and it gave me a slight fear of being too close to any kind of ice so we decided to give it a miss.
Next stop was Vík, to see the famous black sand beach. I love the coast so naturally I loved it here. The beach, with the rugged cliffs, array of birdlife and the view of the rock formations, Reynisdrangar, in the distance was breathtaking. The tide can be quite rough and also quite fast, as Conor discovered when he quickly became very damp whilst trying to take the perfect photo, so care is recommended.
As it was starting to get later in the day and we were both quite tired, we retreated back along the same road to our hostel at Skógar. Now, this hostel might have felt a little bit like we were sleeping in a prison cell, but the location was beautiful. The mighty Skógarfoss was only a few metres from the hostel and having arrived later in the day we decided to climb to the top, beers in hand, at sunset. The perfect end to a wonderful day. There didn’t appear to be many restaurants nearby but fortunately we had a large back of pasta and a well equipped, clean hostel kitchen to cook in.
We awoke bright and early the next morning and onto what was possibly my favourite stop on the journey, Dyrhólaey. I don’t think my words could ever describe how wonderful Dyrhólaey is, or how happy, peaceful and content that I felt when I was here. The drive to Dyrhólaey itself is picture perfect and is a great lead up to the final destination.
We watched the waves crash onto the beach from the rocks above whilst Conor and many other photographers took lots of photos, like this…
Shortly after, when we decided that we weren’t going to become trapped by the tide, we ventured on to the beach. Despite the cool icelandic climate, I could have stayed on this beach all day. Much to the amusement of Conor, I even braved a little paddle in the choppy ocean current. On many occasions, like in some of these photos, we were the only people on the whole beach. Our own, idyllic little piece of paradise.
Next we drove to Gaulverjaskóli Hostel, otherwise known as our favourite hostel of all time. The owners are the friendliest and most helpful people and the location is so remote and peaceful. The rooms are beautifully clean and there is a huge recreational room upstairs, with books on Iceland and its wonders. There is also a little playground with a seesaw and swings outside, which I was so excited to play on that I fell over the step on the way out and cut my knee… despite this, I cannot possibly recommend this place enough. One of the books we found here was about natural spring pools. We had booked tickets for the Blue Lagoon the next day but both Conor and myself were eager to experience a more natural outside pool. With the help of the hostel owners directions, we drove for around an hour into the mountains and spent the evening bathing in this beautiful natural pool. Years ago, we are told that the pools were used for bathing local sheep! The sheep hut is still intact, as you can see in the photos, and is now used for people to get changed. The hostel owners told me that they worried that this beautiful location would be spoiled by too many visitors, and for that reason I am not going to disclose the location. I would however recommend before going to Iceland that you research where you can find these natural pools as they are remarkable and there are many in Iceland (and if I’m completely honest, I enjoyed my time here much more than at the Blue Lagoon).
After our wonderful, relaxing evening we headed back towards the coast to the seaside village of Stokkseyri where we ate in the only restaurant, once again upon the recommendation of our kind friends at the hostel. Here we had the specialty Lobster soup and, of course, a couple of Icelandic beers. The soup was heavenly and the views were wonderful. After we ate, we walked outside to this beautiful sunset. A perfect way to end a perfect day.
The next morning we headed off bright and early as we had tickets booked to go to the Blue Lagoon (more to come about this in another post), then we were driving back in to Reykjavik to drop our rental car off – sob! – before flying home the next day. I was so sad to leave Gaulverjaskóli Hostel. I could have happily stayed for a few more nights! But this part of our trip was over, ready to make way for all our wonderful new adventures, so I will leave you with this little extra note.
Things that make a hostel (or any accomodation really) wonderful:
- The people who work there. Nothing makes a trip to new pastures better than the guidance of a friendly local, they often know the best places to eat, drink and explore. We never would have found the natural pool without the help of the staff at Gaulverjaskóli Hostel.
- The location. Although in Iceland, all our hostels were in beautiful locations.
- A clean and well equipped kitchen, especially in the more remote places!
We were extremely lucky on this trip, as all the hostels we stayed in in Iceland were wonderful. If you’re worried about visiting Iceland on a budget, you MUST MUST MUST stay in hostels. Forget what you’ve heard and put your doubts aside. The extra money for hotels is much better spent on Icelandic beer and hot dogs…