I spent four nights over the Easter weekend in Iceland with my family - a wonderful early birthday present from my impeccably brilliant genius of a wife. I have long wanted to go there.
But four days in Iceland is like dipping one crispy salted pretzel in Nutella and eating it. You can’t stop there. You need more (try it, if you haven’t – you’ll never be the same again). You can see the highlights of our trip in the video below but first, a few notes and a word of warning from the Land of Ice & Fire.
The nature of our trip meant we could only scratch the surface of this amazing land and it wasn’t enough. It also wasn’t enough to do it by car an dit left me feeling a little guilty at this whistle-stop tourism.
Those wide open spaces. Those utterly foreign landscapes. The silence and stillness should be broken by the sound of boots crunching over spring snow. The babbling rivers and crashing waterfalls should be the rhythms that send me to sleep, under the therapeutic light-dance of the Aurora Borealis. This is how I now imagine communing with this extraordinary land.
Over four days and four nights we did what many others do: flying in with the likes of EasyJet and touring in the so-called “Golden Circle” an area of spectacular natural attractions in the southern part of the island that reads like a roll call of Icelandic highlights: The Blue Lagoon, Geysir, Skógafoss and Eyjafjallajökull.
There has been talk of Iceland limiting visitors of late*. The vast number of tourists who fly in every year saved the economy but what is the potential impact on the environment? Iceland surpassed 2 million tourists in 2017. This on an island with a population of less than 350k.
Limiting Visitors in Þingvellier National Park?
Þingvellier National Park is a good example of this. Site of Iceland’s earliest parliament and the literal division of tectonic plates, this astonishing scenery was filled with busloads of people in brand new outdoor gear.
I shouldn’t get too precious about it – we were in a car not a bus - but we weren’t so different.
Of course, it is probably true of all nations that the very eye of every tourist hot spot is packed but if you brave that turbulence, and with a little effort, you can get away from it all. Even in Thingvellir, it takes a few minutes of purposeful walking and you can be away from crowds.
Not that I need to stress the benefits of a good hike, do I?
Getting (ever so slightly) off the beaten track
We joined hundreds of others in visiting the vast curtains of water that are Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Again, a few hundred metres of tramping beyond the latter and there were suddenly very few people at our shoulders and a vast wilderness in front.
It would appear that the lava fields south of Rekyavik lack a single magnetic attraction to draw the swathes of tourists. On a sunny afternoon we drove down through the moss-cushioned basalt flows to Kleifarvatn lake and the nearby hot gurgling sulphurous springs. There was barely a soul to notice the eggy stench in the air for miles around. The itself lake was still. Quiet and lonely. Ripe for skimming stones and uninhibited laughter.
The weather was typical. Perfect in fact. In four days everything from warm sun to snowflakes the size an old penny.
At the end of each day the dream was a quick drive out to the lighthouse to gaze at the Northern Lights and ensure an Icelandic "full house".
The reality was the three of us huddled in our car, wrapped up against the cold, wrestling with our conscience as to whether we should start the car engine just to warm up. All the time we wondered if there really was a chance that the tiny patch of clear sky on the distant horizon could ever coincide with the Aurora Borealis. It couldn't and it didn't.
Ah well, you can’t have it all! Apparently it takes a few atmospheric circumstances beyond me turning up with my family for this epic light display to grace the skies. And perhaps it was Iceland’s way of chastening us. Teaching us we must come back with more patience and just work a little harder for the best bits.
Iceland, I’ll be back. If permitted.