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“Whale watching, touring on a snow mobile, seeing a geyser erupt.”
In a couple of hours, we are to embark on our honeymoon, the destination is supposed to be a surprise for me. In the background my brand new husband is making not so subtle gestures to his friend:
– Cut.It.Out. –
who is blabbing about all the sights we are going to see.
Of course “the geyser”, so typical for Iceland, gives it away. It does not really matter, yes the surprise is spoiled but my partner could not have chosen a better place for our honeymoon.
White nights in Iceland
It is evening when we arrive, or more accurate almost midnight, as the alarm clock in our hotel room shows it is five minutes to twelve. Outside it is still light, the sun is about to kiss the horizon. A white night on the edge of the Arctic Circle is a novelty for me.
The first night, albeit it short, is full of promises. This country is romantically isolated, empty and beautiful. We are to embark on a short but epic journey, driving our hire car all the way up to the north of the island, and back.
Our first stop is Reykjavík.
This charming city is relatively small with only 123,300 inhabitants, which is, by the way, almost half of the island’s population. Truth be told, there is not that much to see. Nevertheless, it is a great place to start if only because it is a heaven for foodies. Reykjavik has numerous restaurants that specialise in seafood, which is not entirely unexpected for a country completed surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean.
It is also a good starting point for excursions like a snowmobile trip or a whale watching tour. And of course, there is the Blue Lagoon.
What the tower of Pisa is to Italy is the Blue Lagoon to Iceland, this enigmatic man-made landmark with its blue water (hence the name) draws the masses. The geothermal spa is rich in minerals; the water temperature of the lagoon is around 38 °C (100°F). Even though it looks beautiful as we drive by, we leave it to others to enjoy as there are so many natural sites to admire in this country; like the geysers, which can be found close to the capital.
Geysir is a periodically spouting hot spring. The word geyser derives from “the Geysir”, which is located in the southwest of the island, the first one to be documented and one of the highest spouting ones.
An eruption of the Geysir is a sight to behold, but can at the same time be frightening, as this geyser can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions are infrequent and have in the past stopped altogether for years at a time (source).
Another famous geyser in this area is Strokkur; it is located 100 meters from its brother in a geothermal area beside the Hvítá river. This particular geyser erupts once every ten minutes with heights up to 40 meters.
In the same area, you will find mighty waterfalls, like Gullfoss.
The island is dotted with waterfalls, large and small. The smaller ones can be delightful, but in my view, the highlights are the bigger ones:
- Gullfoss is one of the most dramatic waterfalls. The water has an average flow of 140m3 a second but during glacier floods, it can rush up to around 2000m3 per second. The upper drop is 11m and the lower 21m (source).
- More remote is Dettifoss, but well worth the drive up to the northeast. It is, after all, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. The impressive sight is preceded by the sound of thundering water caused by a drop of 44 meters, which can be heard from miles away.
- The third one is the horseshoe-shaped Godafoss, which is located in the Myvatn area in the north. Here the blue water of the Myvatn Lake contrasts sharply with the volcanic landscape. Its surrounding wetlands are home to many birds, especially ducks.
Snæfellsjökull national park
Whilst driving north, we make a detour to Snæfellsjökull national park, which lies in the westernmost part of the Snaefellsness peninsula. It is the only national park in Iceland that reaches from the seashore to the mountaintops. The glacier stands at 1446 metres, one of the highest mountains in the country. The mountain is an active volcano, built up from many lava fields and eruptions over the last 800 thousand years. It is a marvel for those interested in geology.
Fun fact it provided the setting for Jules Verne’s famous Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Up in the north is the perfect spot for whale watching. Nestled on the edge of Shaky Bay, the town of Húsavík is globally recognised as one of the best locations in the world from which to watch whales. Humpbacks, Minke and Blue are typical whales that can be spotted in the Skjálfandi Bay.
Of course in the wild, there are no guarantees. The whales might appear or not, we are lucky and see some.
The one regret that I have is that I did not go ice climbing while in Iceland. This must be the ultimate way to get an intimate look at the lunar ice formations and crevasses of the ancient glaciers. The feeling of being alone in a vast, empty world of ice and snow is something I will certainly plan for my next visit to Iceland.
Actually, I have two regrets, the second one is missing out on the Northern Lights.
This extraordinary natural phenomenon is high on my bucket list, but of course, our timing is wrong. In order to see the Northern Lights or “Aurora Borealis”, you need a dark, clear night. Winter in the north is generally a good season to view the lights. Apparently, there also need to be solar flares or solar wind; the Aurora Borealis happens when particles from the sun are attracted by the earth’s magnetic field to the North and South Pole and collide with gas particles to emit light.
Anyway, I have plenty of reasons to go back, if only for a trip down memory lane. Who knows, perhaps my husband will surprise me as there is always some anniversary around the corner.