TWO LET LOOSE IN A KUKU CAMPER, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE AND A BIT MORE.

 

We were all set, our Kuku camper was booked, return flights organised and we were looking forward hugely to our trip to the land of ice and fire.    Our enthusiasm was tempered a little with reports in the press of the volcano Katla threatening to erupt and Hekla appearing to be similarly grumpy.

“No problem, we’ll just drive swiftly by and hope for the best”, said I, ever the optimist.

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Wednesday 21st September 

We arrived in Reykjavik early evening and, being dark, we didn’t get much chance so see the lava fields on our taxi drive to our guesthouse.   Still, there was plenty time.   8.30 am the next day saw us eagerly stride forth to experience the delights of Reykjavik – there wasn’t a soul around, no-one.  It was eerily quiet.   We discovered later that Iceland doesn’t surface until 10 am so we were lucky to find a café open for breakfastP1040090.    I say lucky, but after blowing £20 in Icelandic Krona on lukewarm coffee, 2 tiny waffles and a bit of squirty cream we began to wish it had been shut along with the rest of the shops.  Our mission for the day was to visit the Church, Hallgrimskirkja and the Saga Museum.  .  The church was inspired by the shape of basalt lava flows and is spectacular, both inside and out.   We’re not big on churches but this one will always stay with us as the elegance and majesty of the interior is something to behold and it’s got a chuffin big organ with over 5,000 pipes. 2

The Saga Museum was a bit more elusive.   Unfortunately my guide book was out of date so we walked the length and breadth of Reykjavik many times until we ended up at same place on the harbour where we had begun our search.  The Saga Museum was behind us!  It was like a mini Madam Tussauds and gave us a sense of the history of Iceland’s population – and a scarey lot they looked too. Iceland 010

Our experience of the café and also reading various menus around the city woke us up to the fact that Iceland is very very expensive.    The decision was made to buy some food at the supermarket and cook in the well-equipped kitchen at the guesthouse that evening.   This seems an easy enough task but when you don’t speak or read the lingo it is very much a case of pot luck when you buy tins or packets at the supermarket.    We both love fish and the beloved picked up a packet displaying a salmon – “Salmon pate – great” said he triumphantly.     We purchased a few other items to accompany our salmon pate and enquired as to where we could find the wine aisle.    Now here’s the thing, supermarkets in Iceland don’t sell alcohol – this is the territory of Vinbudin, an off licence open for around 2 minutes a day.  Our enquiries at the checkout revealed the whereabouts of the nearest Vinbudin, a mile or so away and it would close in 10 minu……..!!  We didn’t hear the end of the sentence as we were out of there – sprinting down the street at a rate of knots.   We fell in the door at Vinbudin, just in time and selected a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to accompany our salmon pate.

We took our booty back to the guesthouse and sat down to enjoy our salmon pate – after all Iceland is famous for its fish so this would be an outstanding pate.    The salmon pate was opened with much flourish only to reveal a beigy goo – a bit of sniffing and a bit of tasting identified this as dill sauce, intended to bling up a tasty salmon fillet – that will be the tasty salmon fillet which we had omitted to buy.    Oh well, dill sauce on toast it was that evening – the wine was good though.Iceland 008

We retired early as my fitbit said we had walked 28,000 steps that day, the equivalent of 12 miles.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 22nd September

Our task today was to find the Kuku camper depot which was on the outskirts of the city.   Iceland 075We located the relevant bus and had much discussion about how we were going to find the exact money for the fare when we didn’t know a) how much it was likely to be, and b) the value of the coins in our possession.     Luckily the bus to Hraunbrun was free as it was a free bus ride day.  To this day we still have no idea why but we were happy to take advantage of this initiative and the bus dropped us off around the corner from the Kuku depot.

We had booked a camper van for 5.   Yes, there were only 2 of us but we figured the extra room would come in handy.   This, as it turned out, was the best decision we could have made and if you ever book a Kuku camper (we can recommend it) it is worth considering paying the extra.   Unfortunately our camper wasn’t ready as the previous hirers had overlooked the fact that they had to return it.   Oh duh!!     The staff at Kuku couldn’t have been more apologetic and showered us with extra goodies – blankets, pillows, a satnav, free food and lots of advice on where best to visit.    “You must go to the shhh!!! Secret Lagoon, shhhh!! not many people know about it” said our guy furtively.    Remember this dear reader – it’s important!   The tomato farm at Reykholt and the ice lagoon at Jokulsarlon were also flagged up as worth a visit.    We were privileged to get this insider information and excited about the shhh!!! Secret Lagoon.

The waiting room was full of student types, young carefree youths and us middle aged adventurers.    We figured it was a young person’s thing this Kuku camper lark which made it all the more exciting and we couldn’t wait to get going.   We occupied our time waiting for our van doing our cryptic crosswords book (we wouldn’t travel without it) visiting the local supermarket and buying yet more food for our trip and were delighted to find Vinbudin open – a wine box of Shiraz was swiftly purchased – we weren’t going to risk a wine free holiday.Iceland 050

Our camper finally turned up 3 hours late, it was cleaned and we loaded up with our gear and set off.

Icelanders drive on the other side of the road which made the beloved a trifle nervous.   We hadn’t planned to go any further than Thingvellir, the first stop on the Golden Circle, and there bed down for the night.

“I’ll be fine, so long as I don’t have to negotiate a roundabout”, said the beloved through gritted teeth.     No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a roundabout loomed up ahead.   We both held our breaths and negotiated this obstacle without incident only to encounter another roundabout and another and another.   Seven roundabouts later we were out of the city and on our way to our first night in our lovely van.   Talk about a baptism of fire!

Time to try out the cooker and all the various cooking implements – these were basic but did the job admirably.    The van heater was fantastic and we had a very cosy evening.P1040264

 

Friday 23rd September

A big day for me, my 60th birthday, and I looked forward hugely to the adventurous day that we had planned.    We skipped out of our toasty van to line up outside the shower block.   All the youngsters washing dishes and cleaning their teeth in the outhouse were kitted out in arctic gear – 3 layers of gortex, leggings, hats, scarves, gloves and thick woolly socks.    We were wrapped up in dinky little towels, making polite conversation to our fellow travellers.  They must have thought we were either very hardy or very stupid!

Thingvellir is the place where the tectonic plates have been pulled apart thus causing a rift.  On one side in the Eurasian plate and on the other is the North American plate.   It’s pretty spectacular and although a very popular tourist destination it is still worth a visit.  P1040174 The weather was glorious as befitting this special day.     We walked the rift and then met up with our Icelandic Adventure crew for the next bit of our itinerary – snorkelling the Silfra rift.

The Silfra rift is full of glacial melt water which is, not surprisingly, absolutely  baltic but luckily we were given a fleecy undergarment to put on, followed by a dry suit.   A neoprene balaclava and thick waterproof mittens completed our outfit and we, after much giggling at each others appearance, were ready to go.P1040189

There were 20 or so folk, similarly attired and we all entered the rift with a dive master at the front and a dive master bringing up the rear.   No-one was going to get lost as we manoeuvred our way underwater down long shallow channels, winding fast flowing sections and lagoons.     There wasn’t anything to see in the way of wildlife but to snorkel between two tectonic plates is an unforgettable experience.

Back on the road and our next stop was Geysir to gawp at Strokkur, a very active geyser which spouts water 100ft into the air every 10 minutes.     This was our first experience of standing on ground steam pouring from every orifice, the smell of sulphur in the air,  surrounded by boiling mud and steaming puddles, all adding to the sense that the earth’s crust was very thin at this point.  We bought a fabby Icelandic woollen blanket in the shop to keep us warm and toasty on the cold nights in the camper van.  It is as itchy as hell but oh so warm.Iceland 019

We had a lot to see this day so pressed onto Gullfoss to see a spectacular waterfall – there are waterfalls and there is Gullfoss – wow!   It’s a big ‘un.    A well trodden path saw us on the edge of this amazing spectacle and we marvelled at the beauty of this amazing island.

A quick stop off at Kerid to see the volcanic crater was perhaps one too many tourist attractions and we were happy to return to our van and find a campsite for the night at Selfoss.P1040207

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 24th September

It is not always necessary to camp in campsites in Iceland and many travellers pull over and camp on the road side but we preferred the amenities of the sites so tended to head for the nearest campsite each night.   This gave us wifi access, which enable us to touch base every so often, and of course it give us flushing toilets and showers.    At Selfoss the showers were communal which came as a bit of a surprise.  I was happily chatting away to a girl from New York in the queue, swapping travelling tales.  It was just as well that we got on well because we got naked very quickly!

I did wonder how the beloved was getting on in his gents communal shower.   He disclosed that he had looked everywhere except in the direction of his fellow bathers, resorting to counting the holes in the showerhead – there were 52 apparently!

Our first stop was the tomato farm Fridheimar at Reykholt.   Acres and acres of greenhouses covered the landscape, most of which are filled with tomato vines, all heated by thermals underground.  We did get a little lost trying to find the entrance so enjoyed the alternative tour of villager’s back gardens and towering heating installations but eventually found our way in and treated ourselves to a pint mug of freshly cooked tomato soup accompanied by warm crusty bread – delicious.P1040227

We were a bit excited that day as we were on a mission.  To discover the Secret Lagoon at Fludir – the secret lagoon that the Kuku camper employee told us about, the secret lagoon which was ever-so secret.  How were we going to find this very secret lagoon if it was secret?  We arrived in Fludir and drove around a bit but weren’t too sure what a secret lagoon would look like.

“Ask at the garage” said I, pointing down the road “only you might have to use a bit of subterfuge because they probably don’t want anyone to know about their secret lagoon”

“We don’t need diesel so I’ll buy something and try and extract the information out of them” said 007 and set off.

5 minutes later, clutching a bunch of bananas our secret agent emerged triumphantly.  “I know where it is”, he said, pointing in a southerly direction.

We set off, barely able to contain our excitement, to very quickly come across a huge signpost  “SECRET LAGOON THIS WAY”.     Our destination lay ahead, we just had to follow the bus loads of tourists to this very secret lagoon.     A hefty entrance fee, café, bar and changing rooms were negotiated before we entered the heavenly thermal spring water.   It was glorious, both invigorating and relaxing all at the same time.     The temperature was perfect – varying between warm, very warm and hot according to how close you chose to go to the very active geyser erupting regularly in one corner.      We stayed in the water until we were both resembled the Shar Pei breed of dog.P1040237

Our stopover that evening was a site at Hvolsvollur which was at the foot of Mount Hekla.   That was the Mount Hekla which was a bit grumbly and that same Mount Hekla which we were going to avoid at all costs!P1040260

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 25th September

Breakfast was a leisurely affair in the van and a time to read the traveller guide and peruse the road map.

“It says here that we need to look out for the sharp mountain ridges”, said I, reading the tourist book.

“Sharp mountain midges!” said the beloved alarmed.   He sat bolt upright.  “No-one warned us about the sharp mountain midges!”  So speaks a Scotsman who is often beleaguered with the not so sharp variety of midge during his many fishing excursions.

We laughed, boy did we laugh when I repeated what I had said and we spent the rest of the holiday warning each other about the sharp mountain midges which we expected to encounter around every corner.

This was our waterfall day.  We had experienced Gullfoss which was spectacular and were keen to see the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss.  It was a huge affair, tons of water hurtling off a mountainside and the walk behind the curtain of water was quite an experience.   P1040268We ventured further along the route to the nearby Glijufrabui which was inside a cave and could be accessed by carefully negotiating slippery rocks, taking you into the interior every closer to this thundering mass of water.   I was the only person dressed in a frock but this didn’t impede my progress and I managed to stand on the whoppin’ big rock in front of the waterfall, getting a tad wet like everyone else.   It is part of my mission to prove that the dress is the most practical of clothing whatever the occasion.  It is easy to put on, very warm if you also wear leggings, practical, quick drying (much quicker than jeans), takes up a tiny space in luggage (very important) and incredibly comfortable.     I never pack trousers and travel much of the world on hand luggage as a result.P1040273

Our next waterfall (this was definitely a waterfall day) was at Skogfoss which was accessed via an iron walkway.   Yes, you had to be quite fit to get to the top but then Iceland isn’t really a place to visit if you don’t like walking.     We bounded up to the top and were more than a little smug when we passed many a younger person, clutching the fencing, out of breath.    What they don’t know is that I “train” each day by walking 5 miles to enable me to yomp effortlessly when travelling.

We pressed on to Vik which has the highest rainfall in Iceland.  It was raining!   To avoid getting soaked we sought shelter in the large woollen shop which promised a “free factory tour”.  This  turned out to be a walk along a balcony overlooking the stock room but we bought a couple of souvenirs nonetheless.

Vik is interesting but it was a little too soon to stop so we headed further east to Kirkjubaejarklastur where we were going to spend the night.    Er, the navigator (that’ll be me then) was too busy admiring the spectacular scenery that I forgot to er…..navigate.    We ended up driving many miles past Kirkjubaejarkastur before realising and ended up staying the night at Skatafell and by this time we had run out of adjectives.  Iceland is spectacularly beautiful and we have never experienced a quality of air like it.  You can, literally, see for miles and the clarity of what you are looking it is something to behold.  Even if a mountain is tens of miles away you can see every contour, every ridge, every colour – amazing.      This makes distances deceptive and it is easy to miss destinations – well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.P1040324

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 26th September

Skatafell was, as it turned out,  a great place to stop as it gave us access to many trails inland.   We chose to walk to the foot of the Skaftafellsjokull glacier.   It was early, the weather was glorious and there wasn’t a soul around.   The glacier is magnificent and there were lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” with no sign of those pesky sharp mountain midges!P1040359

Our mission that day was to explore the ice lagoon at Jokulsarlon which had been recommended to us by the guy at the camper van depot.    Just when you think the previous visitor experience can’t be surpassed, it is surpassed.   Large floating chunks of ice, towers of exquisite turquoise loveliness gently sailed down the lagoon , under a bridge and out to sea.   We followed their progress and walked to a black sand beach to witness the icebergs venturing out to sea – words fail me and it was one of those days that you remember forever.

After taking many photographs we wrenched ourselves away and travelled onto Hofn, a fishing port.  It was to be our most easterly destination and the town where we decided was the place to turn back.    It is possible to drive the ring road in a week, i.e. the road that circumnavigates Iceland, but we prefer a more leisurely holiday without schedules or pressure .P1040397P1040387

Hofn is well worth a visit, with its lovely harbour and free maritime museum housed in a large wooden shed, unmanned but stuffed full of interesting fishing exhibits.

We were hopeful of seeing Aurora Borealis that night as we were at the eastern edge of the island, the day had been brilliantly clear with not a cloud in the sky and the night promised to be clear also – perfect Aurora Borealis weather.P1040429

Sure enough, we were just finishing off our wine box when Adrian pointed heavenwards to an amazing green colour.    Waves of light pulsated across the sky and everyone was outside, gazing skyward.      It was beyond words!P1040580

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 27th September

Sometimes boys will be boys and although we were planning to head back west, the beloved wanted to experience the road tunnel through a mountain 10 km due east of Hofn.   So we drove east, drove through the tunnel, turned around, drove back through the tunnel and headed back west.   It kept him happy!P1040481

This was our “rock” day.  We had done waterfalls and icebergs so this was all about rock and Iceland has loads of the chuffin stuff.   A brisk walk up a mountainside to the canyon at Fjardrargljufur (by the way, the pronunciation of Icelandic names escaped us) was made even more enjoyable by the fantastic blue sky and the exercise gave us a voracious appetite.P1040499

Lunch was poached eggs cooked in our camper van in a lava field near Laufskalavarda.   We loved our Kuku camper which enabled us to do just that – cook poached eggs in a lava field.   This was at the foot of Katla, that very same Katla which we were going to avoid at all costs!   It was only when we returned home that we found out there had been an earthquake at the precise place where we had stopped, only by that time, early afternoon we were back on the road so didn’t notice it.    The beloved and I “do” earthquakes.  We don’t seek these out but in Japan a couple of years ago we had clung to our bed as the hotel room rock and rolled around us.  Btw San Francisco, look out as we are heading your way next year!P1040528

I have no idea how to describe lava fields except that the landscape is lunar.  Apparently the Apollo astronauts practised their lunar landing in Iceland and I am not surprised.   The lava fields are other worldly, black petrified fields of lava covered by a vibrant green moss – truly stunning and we stood there with our mouths open at the wonder of it all.Iceland 032P1040318

The weather continued to be glorious and this time our stopover at Vik yielded a trip to the Black Beach nearby.    It is not unlike any beach anywhere in the world except that the sand is black.  The basalt rock formations were truly spectacular and again we ran out of adjectives to describe the scene before our eyes.P1040549Iceland 060

Despite its proximity to Katla, that’ll be that threatening to erupt Katla then, we decided to stay over at the campsite in Vik.    We bought some Hardfiskur from the local supermarket, wishing to experience this local delicacy.  Hardfiskur is wind dried haddock, sold in packets,  a greyish colour, stiff like cardboard and smelling er…fishy!     The Icelanders eat it spread with butter so we followed suit.  It was okay really and although we didn’t eat the whole packet we did both have considerably more than a mouthful.   It is great washed down with the local beer.Iceland 063

We were hopeful of seeing Aurora Borealis again and again were not disappointed.   This time it was even more spectacular with vivid green, pinks and yellow pulsating in waves across the heavens – spectacular doesn’t even being to describe it.

 

 

 

Wednesday 28th September

Stuffed to the gills with a hearty breakfast we set off on the 6 mile walk over black sands to the wrecked DC 3 airplane at Solheimasandur.     Iceland 069An eerie sight but not macabre as the pilots escaped injury.  The plane has remained on the beach since 1973 and although worth of a quick visit, it is worth the 6 mile trot to witness the spectacular surf off Solheimasandur beach.    The smell of ozone and the noise of the crashing waves was something else and although we live on the west coast of Scotland are used to such things, Iceland does it bigger.

We retraced our footsteps back towards Reykjavik and took the opportunity to mop up those things that we hadn’t experience on our journey east.

The thermal park at Hveragerdi was a little disappointing because the latest earthquake had capped the thermal pools so what once was milky white/bluey bubbling pools of thermal water were now streaming craters.   Never mind, we were not here at Hveragerdi to witness this particular tourist attraction we were here to do the hot river walk.P1040640

The hot river walks commences a few kilometres out of the village and is well trodden.   This is just as well because it is extremely hazardous with boiling thermal pools and frequent blasts of hot steam emanating from orifices along the route.     This, I think, was the highlight of the trip to Iceland.   The route was an hour and a half of fairly intense hiking and many folk were on the mountain that day but we were all on a mission and all clutching our swimwear and towels.

Up and up we went, the smell of sulphur around us, the spectacular view unfolding below us and the ever present blasts of steam billowing out from crevices in the mountainside.   P1040670   The final path was a little tricky to negotiate and took us perilously close to a large boiling mass or sulphurous water but we manage to reach out destination without incident.     A few modest wooden cubicles lined the riverbank and we quickly donned our swimsuits and entered the water. P1040662 It was wonderful, truly sublime.   To lie in a wonderfully warm babbling river, snuggled up to a small waterfall which cascaded hot invigorating waves of water, surrounded by steaming rocks and incredible views was probably the most intense experience of my life.P1040654P1040658

We floated back down the mountain feeling light footed, serene and not a little hungry.  My fit bit displayed 39,000 steps i.e. 18 miles, 3500 calories – time to eat.

Our last night and time to blow our Krona on an Icelandic feast and taste the dreaded fermented shark.    The restaurant of our choice in Reykjavik was called Laekjarbrekka as it specialised in Icelandic cuisine and Icelandic cuisine was what we wanted.      The first course was a wooden board of tasty things – hardfiskur which we had already sampled so we wolfed that down, gravad lax, various pickles and a small kilner jar of the infamous fermented shark.    We couldn’t put off the moment any longer and opened our jars.  The smell of ammonia was overpowering but we dived in.   We had 6 small pieces each and although truly disgusting we were determined to send empty jars back to the kitchen.   The beloved described it as eating “a soiled baby’s nappy” and I can’t even find words to describe its awfulness   It was bad – truly bad, but we did it!   Whoop!!  High five!!!!P1040673

The evening yielded another display of Aurora Borealis which was a befitting end to our last night.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 29th September

Time to return our Kuku camper to the depot and unload out gear back into rucksacks.   It had been the perfect way to see the island and suited our relaxed adventurous style of travelling.   We don’t like an itinerary, don’t need to be absolutely sure of where we are going to spend the night and like to take advantage of serendipitous things on the way.

A taxi took us to our last experience, the Blue Lagoon.   P1040676It is built amongst the lava fields south west of Reykjavik, a huge pool of milky blue deliciously warm water.   It is an expensive visit, is very manufactured,  but worth a visit nonetheless.    We preferred the naturalness of the Secret Lagoon at Fludir and the wonderful hot river at Hveragerdi but two and a half hours of floating around in this womb of warm water was a very  pleasant end to our holiday on a remarkable island.   What surprised us was the blueness of the water and yet the sand upon which we stood was black.

Our flight was delayed at Reykjavik but a cryptic crossword book gets us through many a moment and we were quite happy holed up in the departure lounge combining our brain power to solve the puzzle in front of us.     We had £25 worth of Krona left which bought us fish and chips and chocolate before we boarded our flight and travelled home

 

It is difficult to sum up this remarkable place.   We went in the autumn and I have never seen colours like it – a palette of orange, russet, olive green and purple.   Every turn in the road yielded yet another spectacular view which prompted more “oohs” “wows” and “ahhs” then I have ever uttered in my life.   It is definitely the little country with the big scenery.     We don’t generally return to a place once visited as there is so much to see but I do wonder what Iceland is like in the snow!!P1040342