I remember the plane slowing sweeping over a landscape that looked like Mars as it approached the runway; it’s dark brown rocky surface and crater-like perforations creating excitement amongst the many explorers pushing their faces against the cabin glass windows as if they were landing on another planet.
Iceland really does feel like another world. Even the bright light of the ‘Midnight Sun’ kept me in awe as I saw it set on the horizon at 10pm from my bus as it made its way to the island’s capital, Reykjavik. It still looked like a new day.
Iceland – The Accessible Geothermic Paradise
Iceland is known for its natural phenomena, where adventure enthusiasts come to play hard. Straddling the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart, the island was built from the bubbling magma seeping up in between. Today the land of fire and ice represents everything you ever read in a science book as a kid, except you can get right up close and hike, climb and dive through it.
With the magma now heating vast reservoirs of water all over, your visit will mainly be based on immersing yourself in the geothermic paradise that exists here. Even for those on a short break (being close to the very centre of Europe and now a popular layover for those crossing continents), Iceland is easy to explore, especially with its western and south-western reaches housing the country’s highlights.
I had three days to explore and get a taste of what Iceland has to offer, except I had an extra challenge to face – I had no luggage. MoneySupermarket.com, in their quest to highlight how over 25% of all insurance claims are from lost luggage, sent me here on a ‘Lost Luggage Challange’ to show how easy it is to continue with your trip, even if you do lose a few hours in shopping for essentials and kitting yourself out for grand adventures. Nothing can stop me from exploring and I soon realised that all I needed was an extra clothing layer as priority (and a toothbrush).
Reykjavik – The Adventure Base
Lucky for me, I landed in Reykjavik in late May when the weather is a cool and crispy five degrees – chilly but not in the minus temperatures which would have had me running to the nearest clothing stores before frostbite kicked in. As much as I would love to see Iceland in the height of its snow-drenched winter, the candy coloured capital was perfect to explore at this time.
With only six municipalities and around 200,000 people (in a country with a total population of 330,000), Reykjavik, or more its commercial centre, isn’t large, imposing, or too demanding of your time.
I loved nothing more than picking out the different hues of the houses, as if chasing a spectrum of rainbow colours. It led me into quiet neighbourhood side streets, boutique stores and tucked away coffee shops where locals took rest bite from the chill and could throw off a few layers.
It’s easy to get into the explorer mood here and you will soon find everything you need.Even a well-known local clothing store (North 66) had a slide in the middle of it taking you down to its lower level. But mainly, this city is simply your base for a bus system that operates a well-run network of day trips and adventure excursions (should you not be here road-tripping to the wilderness, as many do).
The Blue Lagoon – Bathe in the Earth’s Warmth
One of the first stops, and quite possibly the most popular of them all, is the first stop is the infamous Blue Lagoon. Approaching it from the road I could see the stream rising from the 5,000 square metre, 800 year old lava basin like a giant bathing factory.
Local tourism literature describes it as “a turquoise vision in a black basaltic moonscape” and they are not wrong. There’s over six million litres of geothermic water here that replenishes itself every 40 hours; a natural spa fed by sea waters 6,500ft (1,981m) below the surface. At that level, the temperature of the water is a searing 464 degrees (240c), but on its way up it cools down and captures minerals on the way, where it finds humans soaking in its 100 degree (38c) surface temperatures while coating themselves in silica mineral mud.
At only 1.6 metres at its deepest level, there’s no fear of getting lost, except you might feel that way as you glide through the white mists of steam on your way to the waterfall, the sauna room or the outdoor bar.
So in my hired swimsuit (yes, they really do make things easy for you out here), face covered in the healing mud, I sipped a glass of strawberry fizz in celebration of finally being able to say that I’ve experienced ‘One of the 25 Wonders of the World’ (National Geographic). Not a bad way to end a day of city sightseeing.
The Golden Circle Tour – Natural Highlights
It started by driving by the houses of the hidden ‘elves’ of Iceland known as the Huldufólk. Legends of folklore, these tiny wooden dwellings can be found etched in rocks or built into tiny mounds in the grassy cliff faces. We couldn’t stop to take a closer look, but we slowed to peer out at the colourful doors to another world, learning about how even building projects have been altered to prevent damaging the rocks where this special population take cover.
Maybe the bubbling Geysir geothermal area that simmers underneath them, not too far along the Golden Circle route, keeps them warm. The hot springs here lead you in a trail to the Geysir Strokkur shoots a column of water up to 30m (98ft) into the air every five to seven minutes. I found myself there more than once, standing with a stirring crowd hovering next to it watching for the water to bubbled ferociously like a cauldron before exploding into the air.
The natural world never ceases to amaze, and even the waterfalls here achieve spectacular status. The Gullfoss waterfall in particular is the most famous in the country, becoming a protected site after it was once designated as a potential outlet for the generation of electricity.
In Iceland, nature rules. It’s the untouched nature of the land that makes it so unique – in this case a crevice that’s over 20 metres wide and 2.5Km long, where the rapid waters of the river Hvítá plunge right into it. And that’s before you get to Pingvellir National Park – where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres every year.
You can see how the earth has been ripped apart by the pull, creating a fissure in the Earth, uncovering another of its many layers.
Iceland Ring Road Touring
My time was sadly too short on this first visit, but or those looking to stay in Iceland longer and discover even more of its natural wonders, this Iceland Ring Road Itinerary by Luxe Adventure Traveler is a great planning resource.
Nothing But Natural In Iceland
Travelling back to Reykjavik amongst the backdrop of the dominant, snow-capped Mount Hekla (an active volcano that last erupted in 2000) we learnt how resourceful Icelanders really are in using their natural environment, rather than fearing it or resorting to more mainstream ways.
Here, there are no nuclear oil or gas stations. Just hydropower power stations. Over 90% of all the houses in the country use the geothermic method of using the naturally boiling hot water for heating, showering and to make electricity.