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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 23 February, 2019
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My Best Road Trip: taking in volcanic views, glaciers and geo-thermal pools in Iceland

Taking in all the breath-taking scenery Iceland has to offer with my mates in a Land Rover Defender.

Iceland Route Our planned route

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MY BEST ROAD trip was driving a Land Rover Defender around Iceland.

Who: Thomas Fanning, Dublin

Route: South West, Iceland

Distance: 1,235km

Time: 6 days

When: November 2015

Vehicle: Land Rover, Defender

Having fallen in love with Iceland in the summer of 2014, I decided to return to experience wintertime Iceland in November last year. The general consensus from Icelandic travel veterans is that summer and winter are two unique but equally incredible experiences.

Planning your trip well in advance will ensure you get the absolute most out of an Iceland trip. We booked Airbnbs each night and these were our target destinations and we tried to limit each day’s driving to 200 kilometres. The Icelandic scenery is so rich and diverse it’s important to leave lots of wiggle room for stops.

For this trip we hired a modified Land Rover Defender billed by the rental company as a SUPER DEFENDER. In general the main roads are quite good and a two-wheeled drive vehicle would suffice but there were a couple of occasions where we wouldn’t have been able to proceed without a 4x4.

SuperDefender The mighty Super Defender

We arrived around lunchtime on a Friday, collected the Defender from the rental company beside the airport and made the short drive to Reykjavik to grab supplies. I highly recommend renting a MiFi hub. It was cheaper than renting a GPS from the car rental company and having constant internet access is very useful when trying to decide between local attractions.

After a long day travelling and getting prepped for the trip, we eased into things by driving to the Blue Lagoon and spending a few hours chilling in the geothermal waters.

stuckbehindahouse We got stuck behind a house being moved which almost caused us to miss the ferry

Our destination for day two was the Westmann Islands. We caught a bit of luck here when our host told us the ferry wasn’t sailing from the intended port but had to be moved due to silt. I had foolishly ignored text messages (in Icelandic) from the ferry company thinking they were related to data roaming charges. This meant we had a much shorter drive and gave us more time to explore the south west of the island but also meant we were on the boat longer and would have less time on Vestmannaeyjar.

Vestmannaeyjar became internationally famous in 1973 when Eldfell erupted and the entire island had to be evacuated. Our Airbnb had a hot tub with “a volcano view” and it was very reasonably priced. I think they underestimate the premium “a volcano view” could bring in.

vestmannayjar The sun setting on the Westmann Islands.

The closer ferry port back to the mainland had reopened on Sunday morning so we were able to do the shorter crossing and continue with our trip. Not everyone in our group had done the Golden Circle so we were going to spend most of Sunday following the most famous tourist trail in Iceland.

The Golden Circle contains three primary stops but there are dozens of other points of interest. Kerið is my personal favourite, it’s a volcanic crater lake located in Grímsnes. When you climb down to the shoreline it’s eerily quiet and the red gravel makes it feel like it belongs on Mars.

horse selfie Famed for their emo looking haircuts and friendly temperament the Icelandic horse loves a good selfie.

We did did all the big hitters on the Golden Circle with the exception of Þingvellir which we were saving for the following morning. Our accommodation for the night was in the national park and as with all the Airbnbs we booked for this trip, it contained an outdoor hot tub to help ease stiff bodies after a long day driving.

After a short drive to Þingvellir to gawk at the earth literally tearing itself apart we were all set for the longest drive of our trip. A 230-kilometre drive to Snaefellsjoekull National Park.

Double rainbow at Þingvellir

As we were leaving the National Park I noticed Google maps was offering an alternative route that didn’t involved driving on the main road (Route One). Being the adventurous type I lobbied for the new route and after a quick vote we decided to change course.

This turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip. We travelled for hours barely seeing any signs of life and being completely blown away by the diversity of the landscape. At times it felt like we had landed on the moon but a few miles later we were in green farming valleys that almost made us homesick. It’s worth mentioning we would not have been able to complete this leg without the Land Rover. At times the road was barely deserving of that title and there were a couple of steep inclines and declines. The Super Defender took it all in stride and we made it safely to our destination.

We were staying two nights in Snaefellsjokull but you could stay here for weeks and not got bored. We did a snowmobile tour up the glacier which while expensive ended up being worth every penny. We drove into a cloud and couldn’t see more than a few metres ahead. Our guide said it was too dangerous and we would wait a few minutes for to see if it passed. After ten minutes he indicated we would have to go back down but just as we started the snowmobiles engines the cloud lifted and we were greeted with the most amazing view of the Westfjords.

snow mobile In our defence, our guide asked us to pose like this

On our last night in the Snaefellsjoekull we were driving through the park in total darkness when the Northern Lights decided to make and appearance. We’d been desperately hoping to catch them and had all but given up. We pulled in to the side of the road and bore witness to the cosmic ballet taking place directly over our heads. It’s one of the many experiences from this trip I will never forget.

The following morning we drove back to Reykjavik, the Airwaves music festival was on and we were using it to wind down from the road trip. The Super Defender was no longer needed so with heavy hearts we said goodbye.

goodbye super defender Last squad photo with the SUPER DEFENDER

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