Iceland: waterfalls, snow storms and galciers!

Iceland has been one of our bucket list destinations for quite a long time, primarily because of the Northern Lights. Having never been to a Scandanavian country we really only expected a few things, it would be freezing and expensive but to our surprise, it was so much more than that! The Icelandic people are super friendly, have excellent English and the majority of locals there look like hipsters. I do feel however that the men here grow beards more out of necessity (due to the cold) rather than to be Instagram-worthy.

We stayed in the city of Reykjavik, which happens to be the ONLY city in Iceland, as all the other towns are too small to actually be classed as cities. Its a small city made vibrant by the endless murals on the side of all the buildings.

Here are a few facts that we found interesting about the country:
– Population is roughly 300,000 and about 60% live in Reykjavik
– There is currently an endless supply of geothermal hot water, one way they maximise it’s usage is by placing pipes under the main footpaths to prevent snow from building up
– In Winter the amount of daylight can be as little as 4 hours and in summer it can be as much as 23 hours
– There are no native trees in Iceland, the trees that are there have been planted
– Water in Iceland is some of the freshest you can get, only thing is it does often smell like Sulphur (fart smell) when the tap is first turned on

Glacier Hike (21,000 ISK = AUD$215) – GeoIceland
One of our most highly anticipated activities was the glacier hike. Now I’ve got to say, we could have picked a better day to be climbing up an already slippery surface – it was non-stop rain! Thankfully our guides attached crampons to our shoes which are like metal spikes which helped us grip to the ice.

The hike itself was somewhere between easy-moderate difficulty, it was nerve racking at times walking up or down steeper sections of ice but overall not too bad. The scenery was spectacular; the glacier was blue which is exactly what we wanted. Blue signifies a denser part of the ice, which is usually only the case in extremely cold weather (lucky for us!). The entire hike was incredible and I kept having to pinch myself because I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing was real.

Golden Circle (9,900 ISK = AUD$97) – GeoIceland
This is probably one of the most popular tours in Iceland. It covers a small circle along the south east portion of Iceland. The main attractions on this tour include:

– Gulfoss waterfall – one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland. Back in the day the government originally wanted to use this waterfall to create a hydraulic power plant but due to acertain female activist, their plans were halted, and now the waterfall is one of the biggest tourist attractions with over 500,000 visitors a year

– Geysir – the most active geyser in the world erupting every 5 minutes

Road Trip
We decided to hire a car on the worst possible day with Storm forecasts predicting heavy snowstorms all day, but we thought, hey YOLO. So we went ahead and hired the cheapest small car and were thankfully upgraded (for free) to a 4WD which is pretty lucky given that we would have likely blown off the road had we stayed with the other car.

Our route was along the Western Peninsula which had a coastal view on one side and mountains on the other, very spectacular when the snow storms subsided. Now we really underestimated how bad the weather was going to get, there were points where we had zero visibility so it was actually more unsafe for us to pull over because of the likelihood of either going down a cliff or a frozen lake. Luckily none of that happened and Jason’s trusty driving pulled us through.

Northern Lights (6,400 ISK = AUD$63) – Gray Line Tours
Also known as Aurora Bourealis, the Northern Lights is a phenomenon that is also visible from other countries such as Norway and Canada. Unfortunately the lights can be very unpredictable, but the general rule is that it has to be a dark cloudless night with a lot of sun activity during the day.

1st attempt – tour was cancelled as it was too cloudy. Unfortunately this was the only night our 4 friends were able to attend
2nd attempt – the tour went ahead with a record 1200 tourists attending (this is because the tours had been cancelled 7 days in a row). Managed to see the glowing green lights for about 2 mins before an extreme snow-storm came in forcing all the tourists running back to the buses. The bus moved to another location where the lights appeared again but this time a much fainter green appeared.
3rd attempt – the tour company gave us a free tour because the lights didn’t stay out long enough on the previous night. We stood out in a snow-covered farm for about 4 hours, did a lot of stargazing but unfortunately the lights didn’t appear despite a perfectly cloudless night

Icelandic Horses (11,800 ISK = AUD$116) – Islenski Hesturinn
This was certainly a highlight of our trip. Neither Jason or I had ever ridden horses, so it was probably a good thing our first attempt was on Icelandic Horses which are shorter and fluffier than ‘normal’ horses. The staff were incredibly friendly and after an hour induction we were off riding through dried volcanic lava fields covered in snow. It was a magical experience. My horse ‘Grouna’ was a little bit stubborn and often slow, which was good for me because I freaked out every time she galloped. Jason on the other hand was stoked that his horse was faster! Definitely an experience to remember.

Blue Lagoon ( 5250 ISK = AUD$52)
Apparently listed as one of the 25 wonders of the world (I thought there was only 7 but anyway…). The entire lagoon is heated by volcanic activity and the water is naturally blue. Its located quite close to the airport so most people will either go straight from the airport or before they fly out. A great way to relax at the end of the day! They even had free mud mask stations all around the lagoon as well as a bar right in the middle which there was always a massive queue for! There is one section where there is a powerful man-made waterfall which I somehow embarrassingly got whiplash from when standing under it, but that’s another story. Definitely a place to visit for anyone coming to Iceland.

Overall one of the most exciting trips we’ve ever been on. It was quite expensive to dine out (average AUD$30-$40 per person for a basic meal) so we opted to make our own sandwiches and had 2 minute noodles for 3 of our 5 nights. This actually saved us about AUD$300-$400 to spend on the tours which we were very happy with! Please visit this country if you get a chance, you won’t regret it.

Til next time
Ann & Jason xo

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