Today was the beginning of our adventure and we were about to set out along the Ring Road in Iceland which circumnavigates the entire country. Iceland’s Ring Road total distance is 1,339 kilometers (832 miles) and we were going to be traveling from Reykjavik to Vik on our first day. Most travelers on this route wouldn’t typically make the full trip around the Ring Road in less than 6 or 7 days but we only had 5 days and we decided it was possible and undeniably worth it. If you break down the average number of hours you would spend each day driving, it comes out to about 4 hours per day. However, as I soon came to realize, with the landscape changing about every 10 to 20 kilometers, you would find yourself stopping the car every 20 or 30 minutes and hopping out to do some quick hiking, catch a waterfall or some other sight.
Plus there were many other marked destinations along the route so that 4 hour drive each day could easily extend to 8 hours or more since we were stopping so often or making side trips along the way down gravel and dirt roads to sights not on the main Ring Road route.
As many of you may know, Iceland is definitely not a cheap destination. Accommodation and food are more expensive than you’ll find in mainland Europe but what was most expensive for us was the car rental for the Ring Road trip. And that was not just for the rental but the cost of gas here is especially expensive. So that I wouldn’t forget the cost per liter, I took the photo below to remind myself just how much we were paying.
In the end, the cost of the gas was actually equal roughly to the amount of money it cost for the car rental for 5 days. Rentals are very expensive, especially if you want a 4WD (which you need on many roads off the Ring Road) but we found what I would call ‘the best’ car rental place in all of Reykjavik. Its name…
So what did we end up with?
Ahh, no. It would have been great though. I actually saw many vans and SUVs similar to this one all over Iceland. Many of the roads in the interior of Iceland are not paved and require a 4WD. These vehicles would be equipped with the largest street legal tires available, extra gas cans and even a snorkel for the exhaust so it could traverse in the most extreme conditions. Expeditions in Antarctica use similar type of vehicles for their landscape. So what vehicle did Sad Cars actually provide us? Ladies and gentleman, allow me to present the Mazda ‘Mean Machine’ 323-F in all its glory.
If Sad Cars only knew what we put this car through! Dirt roads, sandy volcanic beaches, gravel roads, mud pits, and a landscape as close to the surface of the moon as you can get… we drove over all it. I honestly don’t know how the car managed to get us back. There were sections of gravel roads lined with thousands of pot holes with a speed limit between 60-70 kph. The Mean Machine pulled through. By the time we were done however, we had several great photos of the car with some amazing backdrops. Too bad Mazda stopped advertising this car in commercials back in the 90’s as we could have given them some great ad material. One of the best things about our trip however was the time of the year that we spent on this road trip. The colors of fall had set in throughout the country and the weather was chilly but not frigid. Also, with the summer at end, this time of year is considered Iceland’s off season for tourism.
So for all the major sites along the way that we stopped at such as a major waterfall there would literally be no one around for miles. Want to stop and chase sheep next to a waterfall? No problem, there would be no one around to think anything of it. There were many times we’d drive for an hour or more at a time and may see just one car along a stretch of road. It was a great time to visit. And just to add in a few fun facts on Iceland, the only native animal (other than many species of whale and birds) is said to be the Arctic Fox though I didn’t get a chance to see one. Everything else had been brought here over the years which included cattle, horses and sheep. Lots of sheep. So many sheep that we came across them at the tops of mountains, in canyons, above waterfalls and even in the middle of the road (more than once). I think its safe to say they out number the people in Iceland by 10 to 1. As for the trees here, there really aren’t any, at least not many species that weren’t brought from overseas.
The trees you see in this picture are typically planted to act as a barrier for homes for protection against the wind. You would usually only find them in small towns and around farm houses. Between the lack of trees and animals throughout the country, I think it is what adds to the barren and isolated landscape that makes up Iceland. You could go hiking up a mountain through some thick brush and never come across anything such as a snake or a squirrel. And that’s good too because I hate snakes and the snakes know this… Ok, so getting back to the start of our road trip, we set out to drive the south of Iceland first then we would head to the north of Iceland following the eastern Fjords before making it back to Reykjavik for our flight out. The reason for this route was the weather between the north and south that week. Typically the south gets much more rain than the north but there were two Glaciers to see along the south route and we just didn’t want to put it off till the end regardless of the weather. So we were headed from Reykjavik to Vik, the first major town along the south route, which was our destination for the day and where we would stay the night. Once we set out, we came across a lot of places to stop and run around. And the falls you see below in this photo was our first stop. It was also one of the few places we saw other tourists. That was likely due to the fact that it was so close to Reykjavik which many don’t travel too far from when visiting. However, once we pulled up and starting walking to the falls, I noticed what appeared to be two bridesmaids off in the distance posing for the camera. Well, upon closer inspection, I was way off….
Turns out it was two brides. Ha, go figure…. I was in Iceland right? It got even better (and confirmed) when they started kissing….
Aside from the brides, what was also nice about this waterfall was that you could walk behind it and out the other side.
The next stop we came across was a bit unexpected. As I’m sure everyone remembers, just this past year, Iceland had a volcano eruption that grounded many flights in and out of Europe. Well, here is the culprit…
Here is a closer photo showing the image of the Eyjafjallajokull volanic eruption in April 2010.
They set up a small container at the site that held the volcanic ash that had spread over the land from the eruption. As we left the site and drove over the bridge, off to the left was an excavator still working to remove the volcanic ash left over in the area.
After a few days of driving, it was not uncommon to see these types of houses pictured below along the stretch of road, especially in the south of Iceland along the coastline.
The next stop that was coming up was actually one of our only planned sights for the day, Skógafoss falls, which means ‘forest falls’. Skógafoss is one of the largest falls in Iceland and has a vertical drop of about 200 feet. You could walk right up to it too as there was black volcanic sand running all the way up to where the water met the ground and there was no pool of water at its base.
However, you couldn’t get quite that close. Since there was not a large pond below to catch falls, the spray coming off the sand was extremely strong as you can see in this photo. My friend Alex is the speck you can see off to the right corner. As you can imagine, he was a bit soaked when he got back.
The best thing about Skogar falls though wasn’t the waterfall but was the hike up above the falls, through the canyon that was snaking down through the meadows. And up in the distance from that, a glacier in the background was feeding this stream as it wandered down from the hills. When I finally reached the top, it was undeniable, this was Viking land.
There was absolutely nothing resembling any signs of civilization up here and you could see for miles in all directions. It was simply a vast open meadow and the ground we walked on was covered in a type of thick moss. Your feet would sink at least 3 or 4 inches with every step you took.
This photo above shows just another changing landscape as we drove out to mouth of a glacier. And driving out here was a bit treacherous for the 323 Mean Machine as the side road we took was a bit rough, quite long and the winds outside the car were howling at dawn, kicking up sand and silt on the car as a storm moved in. We did eventually reach the glacier but didn’t venture too far. It was nearly dark, the winds were gusting 40+ mph and we still needed to find accommodation. Plus, there would be more glaciers tomorrow….
And then finally, dinner that night….