For solo travellers, getting out of Reykjavik can seem scary when on an Icelandic adventure. The ring road is an amazing journey, but driving alone on roads that are so often subject to fast and drastic weather changes can be daunting. As a result, many solo travellers stay in Reykjavik and don’t explore too far outside the city and nearby surrounds. While Reykjavik is an absolutely enchanting city and definitely warrants oodles of time spent within it, travelling far from it is also incredible, and is more than worth the extra effort.
I will be the first to admit that I am a truly horrendous driver, and as a result, there would be no way that I would be game to travel the ring road on my own. Instead, I decided to jump on board a 45 minute domestic flight to Akureyri (pronounced Ak-coo-eh-ree) and explore a bit more of northern Iceland.
The awesome team of guys at Saga Travel took me out for a wonderful few days, showing me the best of what the region has to offer, which included the Diamond Circle and a trip out into the remote and desolately beautiful highlands. The Saga guides are entertaining, informative and extremely fun, if you are not in a position to self drive, then these are the people to show you all the Icelandic wonders you desire.
An early morning start on a gorgeously grey and overcast day set the perfect tone for what would prove to be an amazing few days.
The first stop on day one was the famous Goðafoss waterfall. Goðafoss translates to the waterfall of the gods and looks as spectacular as you’d expect with a name like that! However it didn’t get its name from its undeniable beauty; according to legends, in the year 999, a Christian holy man named Þorgeir decided to make Christianity the official religion of Iceland. During this conversion to Christianity he threw many statues of Norse gods into the waterfall; kind of like a ‘screw you’ to anyone that didn’t support the change in Icelandic religion.
Unlike Dettifoss or Gullfoss waterfalls, if you visit Goðafoss in the early hours of the morning, you’d almost be certain to have the place to yourself, which is amazing if you are anything like me and prefer to avoid throngs of other travellers!
After I was done admiring Goðafoss, it was on to Hverir – a site of rolling terracotta slopes, bubbling mud pits and steam wafting across the valley. If you want to visit a place that feels like you’ve stumbled into another galaxy and stepped foot onto a foreign planet, this is the place for you. The smell of sulphur is intense here, but don’t let that put you off visiting, your nose will adjust before you know it.
Hverir is the definition of other worldly and I fell head over heels in love with it. If you only see a few geothermal wonders in Iceland, this should definitely be one of them.
Next it was on to the insanely powerful Dettifoss waterfall. While Dettifoss isn’t the largest waterfall in Iceland in terms of size, it is by far the largest in terms of water volume discharge. This waterfall will blow you away with its strength and if you venture close to the edge (like I did – because of course I did) it will leave you looking like you just jumped into a river.
Unfortunately, the only downside to this intense output of water is that even my trusty weatherproof Olympus OM-D E-M1 was unable to withstand the torrential output, so none of my pictures come even close to showcasing the areas true beauty. Thank goodness for my LifeProof phone case though, as otherwise I think my iPhone would have had to make the trip to iPhone heaven.
This video I took is shocking quality but it gives you an idea of how much water I am talking about!
After a thorough soaking and giving up trying to get the tangles out of my hair, it was off to the completely deserted Hljóðaklettar – also known as the echoing cliffs. A short walk led us to an enormous rock formation known as the petrified trolls. Icelandic folklore suggests that these huge formations were once two trolls who had hoped to wed. In their excitement, time got away from them, the sun rose and they were turned to stone. Whether you believe folklore or not, you have to admit that these rock formations are beautiful.
This area reminds me enormously of similar basalt rock formations in Ireland and Scotland, such as the Giants Causeway and Fingals Cave, respectively.
The last – but certainly not least – stop of the day was Ásbyrgi canyon. This lush, green and wondrous horseshoe shaped canyon is said to have been formed by the foot of Odins’s eight legged horse, Sleipnir. You could spend hours gazing at the walls of this canyon. The longer you stare, the more faces, shapes and creatures you begin to see within its walls. Quiet, unfrequented and enchanting, if you are visiting Iceland’s north, this is definitely worth a stop.
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Akureyri: Air Iceland flights between Reykjavik and Akureyri run several times per day and cost depends on when you fly
The Diamond Circle: A day trip with the wonderful Saga Travel will cost ISK 34,000 (AUD $365) and I cannot recommend them enough
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-40mm lens and 52mm HOYA polarising filter and iPhone 6 with LifeProof case
Remember: Waterproof clothing, warm gloves and your sense of adventure!