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Trip Report Some great things to do in Iceland

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My husband and I have just returned from a 4WD trip around Iceland. Outlined below are our favourite top ten spots:

- The Snaefells Peninsular, where the narrow road winds between a beautiful coast and circumnavigates the massive Snaefellsnes Glacier (a glacier that fills an ancient dormant volcano) which stands like an immense beacon at the centre of the Peninsular dwarfing the tiny little villages below;

- The rather scary isolation of the spectacular northern Skagi peninsular where we didn't see a single living being (outside of those contrary Icelandic sheep who have a penchant for roaming out in front of your car and standing in the middle of the road - these sheep have real ATTITUDE! You have to drive around them!). It's an awesome, desolate coastal drive where the Atlantic Ocean is at its angriest - huge waves thrashing relentlessly against rugged coastal cliffs with the famous bird sanctuary of Drangey Island looming up on the southern side. The solitude here is absolute and travellers to Skagi really do get the impression that they are the only people on earth!

- The remote volcanic area around Lake Myvatn with its horrendous roads cutting through huge seas of ancient lava flows that fan out, in every direction, for miles;

- The eastern fjords are indescribably spectacular. There are long, lonely, dirt roads with hairpin bends winding endlessly around the base of massive 600 meter treeless mountains that have imposing--almost vertical--basalt cliffs jutting straight down into the boiling Atlantic ocean. The huge massif cliffs off Reydarfjall tower over the narrow roads with clear (and frightening) evidence of recent and frequent rock avalanches! In this area, also, there are huge tunnels that bore through the middle of mountains joining one fjord to the other but we decided to take the longer, "scenic" route around the fjords. It's like Norway sans trees and the more magnificent route to take if you are not prone to car sickness!

- The breathtaking Oxnadalsheioi Pass. The road here runs right through the centre of these immense permanent snow-capped mountains with the peaks of the Pyerbrekkuhnjukur towering over the Pass. The Pyerbrekkuhnjukur is reminiscent of the Torres del Paine National Park in Argentina. The awesome jagged peaks are like a dinosaur's back and stand, like massive sentinels, towering over the road below; they can be seen for miles as you travel through the Pass. The whole area is achingly beautiful and close to the the gorgeous little village of Akureyri (which is a famous skiing resort in Iceland);

- The miriad of waterfalls. It seems that water is everywhere in Iceland! There are thousands of waterfalls pouring over mountains and vertical cliffs straight into the ocean; uncountable rivers and hundreds of fast running creeks forging their way through valleys and across plains everywhere you go. The sheer volume of water here is amazing (and its only autumn). It must be absolutely spectacular in spring when all the snow and ice are melting! The largest waterfalls, Godfoss and Detrifoss, are like miniature versions of the magnificent Brazilian Iguassu Falls. The huge force and sheer volume of water over Godfoss and Detrifoss make the Grade 5+ whitewater rafting (further downstream) the wildest in Europe. I didn't find the courage to do this (whitewater rafting) as the water looked like a veritable washing machine!

- The enormous Vatnajokull glaciar--the largest glacier in Europe and fourth largest in the world--where we decided to hire cramptons and join a guided walk at Skaftafell (one of the glacial tongues of Vatnajokull). I must say I was tentative, at first, as I suffer from vertigo and the thought of clambouring around huge crevasses on slippery ice was terrifying. However, once I got used to stomping around on the cramptons, I became more confident and found the experience rather exciting (although I have absolutely NO PLANS of taking on Everest any time soon!);

- The area around Hofn and Jokulsarlon (Glacial Lagoon) has a real WOW factor. Just outside Hofn, there are steep, almost vertical cliffs with black sanded beaches winding for miles. Suddenly, you come across this amazing fjord, Alftafjordur where there were literally thousands of these gorgeous white Whooper Swans floating about on the bay. It was an amazing sight. The next part of this coastal journey took us around the huge tongues of the massive Vatnajokull glacier which grew more impressive as you drove south. Just pass the huge Skalafellsjokull glacial tongue, you come across the breathtaking Jokulsarlon which looks like a piece of the Antarctic has been transported to Iceland. There are massive iceburgs which have broken off from the Esjufjallarond glacier and form this amazing Glacial Lagoon. This lagoon is being formed by the now retreating Glacier and is an accessible and fantastic spot to watch huge iceburgs literally floating down the river to the sea. You really feel like you are in the Arctic Circle at this point!

- Krafla (pronounced Krapla) to see (and smell) the hot, bubbly mud pools and miriad of steam vents percolating away and letting off a horrendous sulphuric odour. When you see the unique juxtaposition of volcanoes and glaciers, you understand why they call Iceland the "Land of Fire and Ice" - its magnificent! We wandered the set pathways here which did not have the usual OH&S guard rails one would expect to see in such a place! Drove out to see the massive volcano, Viti (which literally translates to "Hell"). There was a huge eruption here as recently as 1724. Fortunately, these days, the scene is somewhat more comforting with the large caldera now filled with a gorgeous, irridescent blue lake. In this vicinity, there is a 2 hour walk circling up and around Leirhnjukur, a huge beige, brown clay volcano with a cauldron of steaming vents and enormous lava flows "flowing" for miles on the far side of the mountain. We followed a little signposted track through the dormant black lava flows and it was like walking on another planet or roaming Earth during the jurassic period! I expected to see some furious T-Rex come swaggering out behind Leirhnjukur ready to devour a couple of tasty tourists!

- Horse riding on the sweet tempered little Icelandic horses on the windy plains and black volcanic beaches of Vik - the Icelandic horses have a unique fifth gait called a a "tolt" which is inbetween the uncomfortable bounce of a trot and the smooth flow of a gallop. The tolt has a smooth back-forwards motion which is at a very comfortable pace for novice riders like us! Icelanders are very fond of telling you that you can hold a glass of beer on an Icelandic horse doing the tolt and not spill a drop --- well, ummm, that may be a slight exaggeration but it is enjoyable and the horses are gorgeous.

We had, by all accounts, unusually good weather even though it was getting nippy at around an average of 7 degrees. There were so many highlights in this beautiful country, it was hard to pick the best. Unfortunately, due to overcast conditions in the north, we didn't get to see the "northern lights" nor did we get time to see the distant West Fjord area (in the far north western area of Iceland). I was extremely disappointed not to get to the West Fjords and am determined to return one day and the next time we visit, I will make sure it is in summer (the bird viewing season). Most of the huge cliffs on the mountains around Iceland shelter millions of breeding birds (including the famous little Puffins) but, unfortunately, at the time of our visit (in an Icelandic autumn) most of the birds had already left on their way south to get away from the onset of the bitter Icelandic winter with its short 5 hour days (the snows start in mid-October). However, the advantages of this time is that you feel you have the whole island to yourself (without all the European tourists that flock in droves to Iceland in June/July and August).

The only negatives are the cost of food and petrol which is rather exorbitant despite the so-called crash of the Icelandic Kroner. In addition, I found the food in Iceland is rather uninspiring with a very limited choice of lamb, chicken and fish cooked exactly the same way in every Hotel and restaurant around the country. The cost for a main course is rarely less than around AUS$40.00 each. Also, the menu did extend to whale and (shockingly) Puffin meat. Ironically, the hunting of whales is still alive and well in Iceland despite the dramatic fall in overseas markets for whale meat and whale products. Tourists to Iceland are made aware (very quickly) that the mention of whaling is absolutely "off limits" in Iceland.

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