Freestyling Iceland in July

imageDuration: 17 days
Expenses: AUD$1097 or AUD$65/day

Iceland, the land of fire and ice, black and white, green and grey and sometimes (if you’re really lucky) blue skies. A weird and wonderful place where volcanoes have ruled since it’s creation and, in fact, they were its creation. The ice, wind and water may have carved the landscape, but molten rock put Iceland on the map as the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates pull apart.

This was the second time I’d been to Iceland and certainly not the last. The scenery and landscapes are just incredible and much of it unique to Iceland. The hoards of American, French and German tourists may be annoying, but they won’t keep me away. Nor will the cold of winter that tries to freeze even the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

Iceland is bloody expensive though and that doesn’t seem to deter people enough. Last time there were four of us so it made sense to hire a car and drive the ring road. This time I was on my own, so I planned on trekking and camping. Camping alone saved me about $800 and hitchhiking might have saved me another $100 where buses were actually available. Though the biggest bonus of hitchhiking was the convenience and time saving (that will sound odd, but I’m serious).

Camping, hitching and busing really was the best way to do it though. This was the most fully flexible trip of my life, even more so than Myanmar or my South American bus tour earlier this year.

I planned everything depending on the weather which is very handy in Iceland. If it rained, I rested. If it was better somewhere else I’d move there. You never have to book a campsite so it’s easy to pick up and move. If there are no buses, then you hitch. If there are no hitches then you camp. Nice and simple.

I really enjoy this kind of travel. I think this is how travel should be. With some or even no idea where you’re going or when you’ll get there.

Difficulties finding information online

I found it quite hard at times to find information online about campsites, services or facilities in various Icelandic towns. I also found it hard to find the location of supermarkets and natural sights (sometimes, but more so in 2012) as Google is apparently not very good at Icelandic translations or Iceland in general.

I found it much easier to use this website to find camping info and also search Google using Icelandic words e.g. tjaldsvæði for camping.

The good news is that pretty much all towns seem to have at least a campsite and a supermarket (you can always resort to N1 petrol stations), but not always a hostel. There was a great cycle touring map showing everything in the Reykjavik Tourist Information Centre.

I never saw a case where there wasn’t camping friendly food available, but there may not be everything you want.

Where I went and what I saw

I flew into Reykjavik from Toronto and spent a day in town preparing. Whilst super expensive, Reykjavik has a nice vibe and plenty of chic places to eat and hangout.

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Funky Reykjavik knitbandits

The next day I went to Landmannalaugar to start the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls treks all the way through to Skogár. This was easily the most amazing trek of my life and I can’t imagine how one could be better or more varied. Patagonia, the Alps or the Himalayas might have more impressive mountains, but they can’t match the amount of contrasts.

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Some of the weird and wonderful landscapes on the trek(s)

I stopped to keep tabs on my rock on Reynisfjara black sand beach and for the first time (and unexpectedly) I saw puffins filling the cliffs of Dyrhólæy near Vik.

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Tiny puffins in the cliffs of Dyrhólæy

I tried my luck and succeeded at hitchhiking to see the canyon that got away in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Then tried my luck and failed at hitchhiking, but at least I scored some free bus rides.

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Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon near Kirkjubæjarklaustur

I reviewed the Vatnajökull glacier at Skaftafell and saw a few things again. Third time lucky perhaps.

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Walking on the Svínafellsjökull glacier

I wild camped at the stunning Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to get a view of sunrise. Not the best light, but wow it’s amazing on a good day.

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Jokulsarlon and the Vatnajökull glacier in the background

And finally, I gallivanted around the remote eastern fjords of Austurland. A great place to get away from the crowds.

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The blue church of Seyðisfjörður

At the end of it all, I have to say I’ve become an all weather camper. Maybe not an all weather hiker, but if I’m going to keep going through Europe and North America then I guess I’d better get used to it.

I really do need to post some more of the great places we visited last time. One day. And one day I’m coming back here in winter. It’ll be fookin’ cold, but I’ll bet it all looks incredible covered in snow and topped with the northern lights.

Well I think that about sums it up. Next stop: Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands.

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I love Iceland

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