Winter of 2018 / 19 saw Frankie, one of our core team of campervan converters, fly to Reykjavik for a rather different kind of campervan adventure. An adventure that took them to some of Iceland’s most incredible landscapes and to nights spent gazing up at the northern lights, in temperatures as low as -15c. This is his tale. We flew into Reykjavik and, upon touchdown, headed straight to pick up our steed for our adventure. Our chosen camper was a little Mercedes Citan, with a fold-down bed and a pull-out kitchenette at the rear. While not as big as we might have liked, it did come with a diesel heater - we didn’t know just how much we’d need it!
Our drive out of the city began with the obligatory tuning of my brain to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, turn my head to look at the central mirror not left but right and attack roundabouts anticlockwise. Once I had the basics remastered, we popped into a small supermarket to stock up on supplies - and then we were off. It’s worth noting at this point that Iceland’s supermarkets are eyewateringly pricey!
The first night we didn’t actually venture that far, heading to a spot on the outskirts of the city, famed for its nightscapes. Unfortunately, the lights didn’t come out for our first night, so we cooked ourselves a simple dinner, had a beer and relaxed for the evening, beginning to wish we had gone for a ‘proper’ campervan-sized vehicle.
The next morning we were up with the lark - or whichever bird it is that rises earliest in Iceland - and back on the road. We headed northeast, bound for Thingvellir National Park with its stepped waterfalls. The journey was not a long one but it felt even shorter, as the views got more otherworldly than we could have imagined. Iceland really is a moonscape in places, with very few genuinely familiar sites.
The falls at Thingvellir National Park were incredible - the result of tectonic plates shifting and splitting below the island.
Once sufficiently blasted by the icy spray from the rushing waters, we jumped back into the camper, leaving the site that housed the country’s parliament right up to the 1800s and heading to Geysir.
As the name of the place suggests Geysir is home to the famous geyser, the first-ever known to modern Europeans. Excusing the sulfurous air, we walked to see what the fuss was about. Again, we were struck by the otherworldliness of the place, even beset by tourists, like ourselves, as it was. Like clockwork, the ground spewed boiling water into the air, before settling down to a broiling soup for a time and beginning the process again.
It starts to feel that Iceland’s ground is far more alive than the simple dirt we have at home.
We continued the day with a trip to Gulfoss Waterfall, just a short drive from Geysir. Another incredible site, where a frozen waterfall sits paused in mid-flow. With the sun out, it’s hard to look at, with the glare from the ice.
We ended our day with a relatively long drive east, to Vik. Staying the night at a local hostel, we found our door being knocked at some time around 1am, by the owner, who invited us to join him to see the lights - which were out in full force. Strange and hard to focus your eyes on, the Northern Lights is a phenomenon that the lens can’t quite capture - you really have to see it. You’ll find your eyes wandering, attempted to focus us something so ephemeral as to entirely outwit the proper viewing. To say the very least, we felt lucky, as we tucked ourselves back into bed over an hour later.
The next morning we said farewell to our host and to Vik, and headed to the famous Sólheimasandur plane wreck. The wreck itself is not something you’d see every day but what makes the sight of the US Navy DC, gently corroding away so incongruous is that it sits on a dark black sand beach. It’s hard not to play the consummate tourist and snap away endlessly.
We then headed to the outdoor pool at Seljavallalaug. We had seen this place referred to as a ‘hot spring’, it’s not! It’s fed by a hot spring and is warm-ish. As a location though, it is quite incredible.
The night in the camper was a chilly one, as temperatures dropped below -15c - thank the Icelandic fairies for our diesel heater - which kept us nicely cooked.
On our return journey to Reykjavik, we stopped at a glacier, before heading into the city to watch locals skate on the frozen lake, visit a local baths and wander down the main shopping street.
The city is tiny and has a great feel to it, we’d love to have had time to explore it further.
All told, it was a busy few days and we probably returned home thinking we could have done the same with an extra day to relax but we saw a lot and enjoyed the warm Icelandic hospitality. We’d recommend a visit.
TIPS FOR THE ROAD
1. Wrap up warm - Iceland seems to have its own bone-jangling kind of cold 2. Pack a snack or two - the food options, even in Reykjavik, are a touch limited, we found that packing a few road snacks kept the bill down by a few quid too WHAT WE WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME
1. Since returning home, it has been suggested to us that we really should have seen the Blue Lagoon. Although quite the tourist trap, the waters and the setting and the calm of the place make the wallet-stripping prices worthwhile - so we are assured 2. We rent a bigger van
3. We’d travel further. We really only saw a corner of the island, with more time we would love to venture into the interior
4. We’d give ourselves more time
Most people that go on a campervan trip in Iceland do so with a rented camper but if reading Frankie's account has given you a taste for ownership, take a look at our range of ready-to-roll VW campervans here.