One of Kev’s dreams was to see the northern lights. He looked into when was the best time to see them, and with the new moon after New Year’s eve, we decided to head up to Reykjavik in Iceland, the cheaper alternative to Tromso, Norway.
My first impressions
My limited knowledge of Iceland stemmed from years of re-watching the Mighty Ducks – D2. In the Disney classic, I remember first hearing about Iceland when someone said ‘Iceland is actually green, and Greenland is full of ice.’ Since then, it has just stuck. So this was the ample opportunity to put that statement to the test!
When we arrived, both Kev and I didn’t have a clue what to expect. So when we walked out of the airport and were hit with strong, icy winds bellowing across a vast and untouched volcanic black and snow white land spanning across the horizon with peaks jutting out and very little trees, I was very wide-eyed, awed and curious. This was nothing like any other place I’ve seen in my life. I’ve seen the dry, dusty, red Australian dirt in the outback, seen the humid, luscious greens in the tropics, the magical winter wonderland of the Austrian Alps. But this, this was completely foreign. Similarly to visiting Exmouth in Western Australia, there was a feeling that we were out in the wild, with only the small town-like-capital-city of Reykjavik as ‘civilisation’.
We intended to stay for 7 days. We ended up staying for 11. Iceland is just amazing. It also helped that we have been lucky to find cheap accommodation on Airbnb.
Within the first day, it was clear that Kev and I needed more appropriate clothes. A local mentioned to me that ‘in Iceland, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.’ I really liked that piece of intimate Icelandic thinking. When I looked around, I saw that everyone had top quality wool beanies, scarves, sweaters, gloves, top quality snow jackets, pants and shoes, and the men had stunning, healthy, full beards which looked both wild and refined at the same time.
So our new purchases included a ‘snood’ as Kev calls it. This is worth a mention as it has been one of the most useful purchases we have made. It’s a merino wool tube which can be made into a scarf, beanie, headband, balaclava, hood, mask and other awesome head-face-warming-wear.
The things that Vikings do
Being in Iceland, Kev and I wanted to take advantage of all the things that the Icelanders do here that we could not possibly do back home. After reading through all the pamphlets and websites we decided on doing a northern lights tour, glacier hike with ice climbing, the golden circle tour (this the most popular tour in Iceland) with snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, visit the Blue Lagoon and then a tour around the lava fields on the Icelandic horse!
Seeing the northern lights
Kev is drafting a detailed post on our northern lights experience so I’ll keep this one really short.
We went out on a super jeep, and our tour guide, ‘Gilly’ pulled over and took his camera out. I followed suit and took a 15 second shot in the same direction that he pointed his camera to see what my little Canon s95 could do, and to my surprise, my first shot was this:
I was so surprised and squirmed in excitement! I didn’t care that it was blurry, I was just so ecstatic that there was a real aurora there, and that my camera could capture it! Kev who was busy setting up his tripod and camera next to me, grabbed my camera to have a look got instantly excited, and then went back to setting up his beastly camera (but a lot faster) to take the beautiful photos and time lapse that he will include in his post later!
Glacier hiking on Sólheimajöku and ice climbing
One of the incredible highlights of our trip was to go hiking on a glacier and go ice climbing on the glacier wall! It sounded so ‘cool’ and it was something I know I needed as a physical challenge!
The glacier hiking experience was so much fun! We learnt how to walk up an incline and down an incline, and transverse parallel on an incline too. From what I could see, I just had to stomp my feet a little harder than how I usually would when walking so that the crampons could cut into the ice and grip. After that, hiking was a breeze. I enjoyed hearing the crunch of the ice with each step while watching the ice change from a milky, to misty, to glass coloured. The formations of this frozen body reminded me of rolling waves that were frozen in action.
When we reached the ice wall that we were to climb up, both Kev and I were eager to give it a try. An American couple volunteered first, and so Kev and I watched in excitement to see them go. As you can imagine, as soon as they were near the bottom of the wall, Kev and I prepared ourselves to jump on right after them! As the day progressed, it appeared that the climbing wasn’t for everyone who took the tour, but luckily for us, both Kev and I enjoyed the challenge and the thrill of the height as we trusted our ice picks, harness and crampons to be free enough to climb to the top without fear. I say that if you have done rock climbing, bouldering or abseiling before and enjoyed it, it is very similar to that!
I quickly learnt from watching the American couple that the trick to climbing up the wall was to ‘abuse the ice’ as I whispered to Kev. What I meant was, you needed to assertively hack into the ice to create your holding point deep enough. If you were too gentle, you wouldn’t even make a mark into the wall.
After we finished our climb, Kev and I had a while to wait for the other tourists to do their climb. So we played around with Kev’s new mobile phone which has this cool animated photo setting.
Once everyone had their turn to climb, we started the last part of our hike. This allowed us to appreciate the beautiful sun which only shines from 10.30am till 3:50pm and to see more formations on the glacier.
Bathing outdoors in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon was the one thing that we heard about Iceland before we arrived. It was everywhere on the internet and everywhere in the airports. So we made a trip to this natural spa telling ourselves that it was for the purposes of ‘experiencing what the locals do’, but knowing that we both craved a bit of pampering after the hike and climb on the previous day.
We decided to try night time so just in case the northern lights decided to make an appearance. Unfortunately, they did not, but that did not spoil the night. Bathing in the 30 degree waters at 0 to – 3 degrees celsius in Iceland at night was magical! It felt so surreal and relaxing at the same time.
Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure and the Golden Circle
I’ve been lugging around my underwater housing for my Canon for this moment. For the snorkel in glacier waters between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates in the National Park of Thingvellir. This was an experience that both Kev and I were keen to give a go, but also we were unsure how this would work. We never experienced extreme cold diving (2 degrees celsius), and never had worn a try suit before. Luckily for us, the tour that we went on and Ian, our snorkel guide, had everything prepared for us.
Ian told us that the waters were from the glacier, and that they have spent over 30 years trickling through the underground volcanic soil system to reach this silfra fissure. This process has created the purest water that we would ever swim in and taste! Let me tell you, it was such a refreshing sensation when I pulled out my snorkel to taste the lightest, cleanest water ever! Because the water is so pure, visibility is up to 100 metres. I kid you not, there were numerous of times when I put my face under the water, and I almost forgot to put my snorkel back in. Ian mentioned that those who go scuba diving sometimes experience vertigo when looking down below them!
Snorkeling in the teddy and dry suit made us extremely buoyant. We all clumsily bobbed like apples in a bucket of water. I tried to dive down to Ian’s amusement, only to find myself bouncing up back to the surface. The gear given to use kept us really warm but our faces, fingers and toes suffered a bit.
After our snorkel, I embarked on being like my childhood hero, James Bond. Have a look see in the video below.
Ok, so perhaps I need more practice.
After snorkeling we visited the geysers and the Gullfoss Waterfall. These were all part of the golden circle tour, and were very beautiful and interesting to see.
On Friday night (10 January 2014), Kev and I finally experienced our first snow fall! I was soooooo excited! It was so beautiful to see the snow flakes float in the wind and whirl around the light poles. After cooking dinner, I asked Kev if he would mind to come on an after dinner stroll. He didn’t hesitate. We ended up walking the streets for hours enjoying the moment, and playing in the dark unashamedly.
Riding Icelandic horses
You can’t get any more Icelandic than riding the Icelandic horse. The Icelandic horse, which you can see, smell, touch and experience, is a unique specimen of the horses that the Vikings brought over from Ireland and Scotland and used during their reign. Apparently, these horses have changed very little since then!
When I was younger I always loved horses, so horse riding was always a must for me. Kev however, had (and I emphasise the had) a preconception that horses were, and I quote ‘death traps’. His opinion changed as soon as he walked up to the cute and cuddly Icelandic horse. We met Blondie and Fakyir, our two horses for the tour. Blondie was so sweet natured and had these large loving eyes that connected with you when you approached, and she met you half way. She was gentle and I loved her! She definitely warmed Kev’s feelings too! Fakyir was a character. He was licking my hand and nibbling at my fingers immediately. He was a little stocky and pudgy looking, but I liked him. We were told that out of the two, Blondie was the easy going one. So eventually Kev took Blondie who was very nice to Kev, and I took the mischievous Fakyir who I had to pull back into line a few times.
Due to the snowfall from the previous night, our ride on Blondie and Fakyir at sunrise was exquisite. No words can describe it. Just these photos taken by our guide Andreas.
Andreas was amazed at our luck. He could not believe how beautiful the trail was. He kept saying ‘This is amazing,’ ‘you guys are so lucky,’ and ‘this is the best, and I mean the best tour this in the past year!’ As we explored on horseback, I could not help but grin the whole time. We were doing what the Vikings did!
The Icelandic horses were happier and more playful than the horses I have ridden back home. When we finished the trail, as soon as the saddles were taken off them, Blondie and Fakyir could not wait to roll around in the snow! They neighed and grunted in happiness while doing so. Kev and I just stood there amused at such large animals enjoying the pleasures of what my little dog Coco would do on my lawn in the backyard.
Iceland has been an adventure.
Iceland does have some green on it (Disney is correct on that point). However, Iceland is more than that. It is that magical place where fire meets ice. Where wild wilderness is less than a 10 minute drive outside of the city.
Iceland is expensive. We have spent a lot of money here on tours, clothing and food, but we have not regretted one thing.
I’ve gotten used to the egg smell in the hot water (from the sulphur), and I’ve become accustomed to expect glacier water from my tap from now on (big expectations now!).
I’ve given up on trying to speak Icelandic. To be honest, I didn’t really start as the sounds are too foreign for our tongues. The command of English here is outstanding.
I have become intrigued by some of the locals’ strong belief in elves and the hidden folk who live in rocks and caves around the area. I kid you not. It is a thing here. Check out this link : http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/22/22009310-icelands-hidden-elves-delay-road-projects?lite
The seafood here is excellent. They love their hotdogs here (What?) Yup, they do. Hotdogs too, are a thing here.
After being here for 11 days and doing the things that Vikings do, it is hard to avoid becoming just like the locals. As such, I sign off with our last photo taken in Reykjavik before leaving Iceland.