Monday, January 15, 2018

a road trip around Iceland, an itinerary

In 2009, we flew from Paris to Seattle via Iceland, and ever since, I have been dying to explore it properly. What captured my heart and imagination was our January descent into Reykjavik; the Northern Lights were on full display, and when I looked out of my window, I felt like we were astronauts landing on the moon. In 2015, we road tripped all over New Zealand's north & south islands, and I am dying to drive down more roads like the one pictured above, which I took on our way to Mt. Cook. For us, July 2018 - July 2019 is all about reconnecting with family and friends, planning and preparing for our next overseas post, and fun, so why not an Icelandic road trip too?

ABOUT OUR ICELANDIC ROAD TRIP
We will be in Iceland from September 5th to September 17th. While there, we should have 13-14 hours of daylight. The average temperature will be below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and quite chilly. Since it is Iceland we are talking about, the weather can be very unpredictable; however, it would be unusual at this time of the year for snow to be a problem for us. Instead, rain and wind will be our nemeses. One thing I am hugely excited about? September is the beginning of the Northern Lights season, and I read many reviews of our AirBnbs from travelers who stayed in September, and many of them mention seeing the Northern Lights!

Originally, we planned on renting a two person campervan for our road trip, but then we decided to take our daughter with us instead of leaving her with the grandmas (because, let's face it, we would miss her way too much). After we decided to bring her, we looked into renting a motorhome that could fit all three of us comfortably, but after doing a lot of research, we decided against it. Icelandic motorhome rental companies appear to be giant rip offs charging renters who bought insurance 1,000+ Euros for minor scratches in the rental, and I could not find one company that had positive reviews. Also, wild camping is no longer legal in Iceland, so we would have to pay $30+ a night to stay in campgrounds scattered around the island, which takes away much of the appeal of renting a motorhome in Iceland. Further, I read way too many stories like this one and this one of motorhomes literally being swept off the road by high winds in the autumn, and that was not a risk I was willing to take with our baby on board.

In the end, we rented a midsize car and different AirBnbs scattered around the island. Truthfully, I am not sure which would have been cheaper-- the motorhome or our way. I know our way will save us a lot of money on gas and monstrous excess liability on the motorhome's insurance; however, there is no such thing as a cheap place to stay in Iceland. That said, all of our AirBnbs have full kitchens, so we will bring quite a few dried goods with us and shop at grocery stores for fresh produce so we never end up spending $50 - $100 on two entrees for a basic lunch at a restaurant.

A WORD OF WARNING
If you are interested in going to Iceland, you have to book accommodations and car rentals far in advance. Iceland is a small island country; there are literally only so many cars and so many places to stay, especially considering the population of the island is 300,000, and last year 400,000 tourists visited. Coupled with the fact that it is one of the most popular tourist destinations, you could really find yourself in a bind if you wait too long to start booking things. I have never booked accommodations or car rentals so far in advance, but I may have actually waited too long because many of the nice and affordable AirBnbs were booked already. When it comes to Iceland, planning ahead will save you a lot of money, time, and stress!

ROUTE 

We will use Route 1, which is more commonly known as the Ring Road because it encompasses the whole island, as the foundation for our road trip. It is possible to drive all of Route 1 in less than one day if weather conditions permit; however, going as fast as possible is not our goal. There are sections of Iceland that I am not that interested in, though, like the north, so we will move faster through some areas and slower through others. We will also take some major detours off Route 1 to explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the Westfjords, and Iceland's east fjords.

NIGHTS 1 &2: THE SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA in WESTERN ICELAND
After we land in Reykjavik and get our rental car, we will head to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which is a 2 hour drive. While there, we will explore the rugged coastline by the small fishing village of Arnarstapi, head to Mt. Kirkjufell, and visit a small natural hot springs in Landbrotalaug. Our AirBnb has a hot tub overlooking Mt. Kirkjufell, and I expect I will be spending a lot of time in it. Plus, it is right by a grocery store so we can stock up on produce. One thing I am super excited about? I have read many articles that state this peninsula is a great place to see wild Icelandic ponies! I am totally going to buy some carrots and bring them with me wherever I go just in case!

NIGHTS 3 & 4: THE WESTFJORDS in WESTERN ICELAND
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Our next destination is the rugged & remote Westfjords. We will take the ferry from the peninsula to the fjords, and then drive two hours to reach Isafjordur. We could drive the route above, however, it would take 5 hours and we would have to drive the same roads out of the Westfjords. In the end, we decided to just take the ferry so the drive out of the Westfjords, despite being long, would at least be new. We splurged and rented a beautiful apartment on the water with amazing views of the mountains. We will explore the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, see the mighty Dynjandi waterfall, and take a dip in the Hellulaug hot springs. Note: if you go in the late spring or summer months, this is a great place to see puffins! Sadly, when we are there, the puffins will be out to sea.

NIGHT 5: AKUYERI in NORTHERN ICELAND 
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After leaving the fjords, we will head to the northern city of Akureyri. This is going to be a long day of driving taking six hours, but luckily this will be our longest drive time by far of the whole trip. This is the region of Iceland that I am the least interested in, and likely, we will just stroll around the city, stock up on more produce, and relax after such a long day in the car. Truthfully, I considered skipping northern Iceland altogether, but there are so many things I want to see in eastern Iceland, so what's a girl to do?

NIGHT 6: EGILSSTADIR in EASTERN ICELAND
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From the second largest city in Iceland, we will head out to Egilsstadir in eastern Iceland to stay in a cottage, which should take 3 hours in the car. Along the way, we will stop to explore Lake Myvtan to soak in a nature bath. Once in Egilsstadir, we will drive a short 25 minutes to visit one of eastern Iceland's most beautiful fjords, Seydisfjordur.

NIGHT 7: HOFN in SOUTHERN ICELAND
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From eastern Iceland, we will head south and drive 3.5 hours to the village of Hofn to stay in a cozy cabin. Along the way, we divert from Route 1 so we can see more of Iceland's eastern fjords, which is something Sean is really looking forward to!

NIGHT 8: VIK
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From Hofn, we will drive 3 hours to Vik. Along the way, we will stop at the famous glacier lagoon for a boat tour of the glaciers and icebergs (and hopefully see some wild reindeer in the area too). While in Vik, we will explore caves, black sand beaches, and waterfalls!

 NIGHTS 9 & 10:  THE GOLDEN CIRCLE in SOUTHERN ICELAND
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From Vik, we will drive 2 hours to a cabin along the Golden Circle with a hot tub! While here, we will explore the national park, geysers, and waterfalls as well as some less popular places along this famous route. Well, that and sit in the hot tub hopefully seeing the Northern Lights. That wouldn't be terrible.

NIGHTS 11 & 12: REYKJAVIK  in WESTERN ICELAND
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The last leg of our trip will be a 1 hour drive from the Golden Circle to the capital. We rented a flat downtown so one day we can explore the city. Then, we will use our last day to explore the Reykjanesfólkvangur Nature Reserve on the southern tip of the island.

A FINAL WORD
Our three week road trip though New Zealand cost us $6,000. I was expecting our two week road trip to Iceland to be comparable. When I was finished with all the bookings for airfare, the rental car, accommodations, and travel insurance, I spent $5,000. That says nothing of the costs of groceries, gas, and a few select tours. If you are pinching pennies, Iceland is not the right destination for you!


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