A Land of Fire and Ice

Emma Lavelle takes us on a trip across Iceland.

Iceland has always been in my dreams; unpredictable, otherworldly and impossibly beautiful. Last summer, I finally stood on Icelandic soil, ready to undertake an epic ten-day road trip around the Ring Road. After ten days that were both incredibly short (there’s never enough time to explore this ethereal isle) and never-ending (literally, the sun barely set), I returned home with a heavy heart, unwilling to let my time in Iceland end. My adventures have been living on in my memory ever since, until the day that I return. Glaciers snake over mountains, ice running down into lagoons that then washes out onto black sand beaches; all of this overshadowed by menacing volcanoes looming below and above the ice. Lush green canyons give way to ochre landscapes dappled with bluey-grey mud pools. Coastal roads resemble the West Coast of America, before plummeting through never-ending tunnels that reappear on the surface of the moon. Dark waves crash over dramatic rocks, serene geothermal pools emitting steam appear in the most unlikely of places, and wild ponies run on eerily decimated plains. This is Iceland, a place where you can squeeze all of the above into one day. The landscape changes in the blink of an eye as you drive down the remote road that encircles the country. It’s a place like no other.

We took ten days to drive around the Ring Road, concentrating most of our time in the south and the north. In between, we snaked up the East fjords, cautiously driving over a mountain pass in zero visibility to reach the secluded town of Seydisfjordur. Here, a creative community thrives, cut off from the rest of the world by a sometimes impenetrable road. Eclectic bars, interesting street art, independent shops and even a centre for experimental music sit alongside waterfalls trickling the mountainside and traditional fishermen’s huts right by the water.

Of all the places that we visited, it was here that I imagined I could one day call home, surrounded by nature and creativity, so far away from the bustle of city life. Cascades of water dominated our journey, waterfalls appearing so often that we became as used to them as you would trees (of which there are significantly less in Iceland). The south coast teams with tourists clambering to climb above Skogafoss or creep behind Seljalandsfoss, but the further away from Reykjavik you journey, the more remote the waterfalls become. Try driving down the long gravel road to get up close and personal with Dettifoss, or visiting Godafoss under the cover of the midnight sun, without another soul around. Sitting on the edge of a gigantic waterfall, dangling your feet into the abyss, you feel like you’re sat on the edge of the world.

One of the best memories of our trip was discovering a dramatic waterfall in the middle of nowhere with a small bubbling hot spring downstream. Anywhere else, there would be hordes of tourists. In the remote north west of Iceland, we were the only people admiring Reykjafoss, scrambling across the small bridge and over the hill before soaking in the scalding waters of Fosslaug. Despite sticking to the Ring Road for the majority of our road trip, we felt completely off the beaten track, away from the rest of civilisation.

The overall highlight however, not only of Iceland but of all my travel experiences to date, was watching humpback whales breach below a never-ending sunset from the deck of an old wooden fishing boat in Husavik bay. I get a lump in my throat just thinking of these magnificent beasts leaping from the deeps and treating us to the rare sight of crashing sideways back into the water. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland for yourself, make an ethical whale watching trip the top of your itinerary.

There’s nowhere else on earth quite like Iceland. No matter how many tourists continue to flock to the area close to Reykjavik, I urge you to get in a car and drive away from the capital. The further away you get, leaving the majority of tourists in your dust, the more majestic the country becomes. I challenge anyone not to fall in love.

See more of Emma’s journeys HERE 

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