The jewel in the Atlantic
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Named as a jewel in the Atlantic, Iceland is known for its natural wonders and dramatic landscapes of volcanoes looming above the vast and mighty icecaps, pretty icebergs floating in the lagoons, cascading and crashing waterfalls from the cliffs, moss-clad lava fields, hot springs and geysers. Although Iceland has been on my travel list for a while, there has never been an immediate desire to visit just because it is pretty out of the way. I have always thought of combining it with a visit to Greenland in late summer when the days are still long and the ferocious Arctic mosquito season is over.
But a newsletter received from a British company called Discover The World Ltd showing various destinations in the Nordic countries for hunting the Aurora Borealis caught my attention for Iceland.
In retrospect, we were really mesmerised by the beauty and the vastness of the island, despite the fact that we had only visited the Western and South Eastern part on Route 1.
Of the 7 days spent in Iceland, we experienced rain, gale-force winds, freezing temperatures, snow and beautiful sunshine. And we left just in time to avoid the cold spell where the temperature was forecasted to drop to -8 deg C. The rain and the strong winds had caused us to miss visiting the famous Reynisfjara black sand beach embellished with the basalt-column cliffs and the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar which we managed to see a blur vision of in the dim light of dawn amidst the rain.
We were told that Iceland has a population of ~380,000 but in the peak season during the summer months, there are up to 1.3 million visitors. So we were pleased to have visited during the off-peak season without the hordes of tourists.
In preparation for visit, we came across a website that offered tips for driving the Ring Road in winter. As what the Icelanders consider as “slippery” or “spot of ice”, it may really mean a sheet of ice by the foreigners’ standards. In any case, they recommended having a 4WD with studded tires for icy road conditions. Another advice is to fill up the petrol as and when there are gas stations as they are few and far between. Since the fuel consumption of our 4WD with studded tires was higher than a normal car, we filled up on petrol whenever possible including at times in the rain and cold at the unsheltered self-service gas stations with literally a tank and a credit card machine.
We also downloaded the 112 Iceland app for safety reason as this app helps to send a signal with the coordinates to Iceland’s search and fire rescue. But was a mistake as it wiped out our 2GB data plan within a day. On the hindsight, it was not necessary for us to install this app as we were staying on the main road.
One interesting observation was the smelly hot water from the taps in Southern Iceland. Imagine taking a shower with water smelling like rotten eggs and having a slimy feeling on the body! This is due to the sulphur content as the hot water comes directly from the geothermal origins. On the other hand, the cold water from the tap is pure spring water from the glaciers without any additives such as chlorine without any smell and tastes really good.
It was nearly 6pm by the time we arrived in Reykjavik. A representative from SADCars was there to meet and to drive us the office and workshop about 10mins away to collect our rental car. It was a wet start as it was drizzling and windy and there was still some leftover snow lying on the ground.
We had a recommendation to rent cars from SADCars which is a local company in Reykjavik with some of the best car rental rates. It was only later that we realised that the vehicles from SADCars are older but still in good conditions. The Toyota RAV4 with studded tires that was assigned to us was one of the oldest rental cars that we had driven and it was even without the auto lock function.
After a quick dinner at a 24hrs Subway outlet some 10mins down the road, we were ready to start the drive at ~8.15pm to Selfoss about 90mins away for the first night accommodation at Bella Apartments & Rooms.