I heard on the grapevine that for many, West is best. As the five regions go, it ranked in my top five. Still a relatively hidden pearl by today’s standards, West Iceland stretches from the Botnsa river in the lush serenity of Hvalfjordur to the Gilsfordur fjord. Watersheds and glaciers border it.
From the frigid expanse of Langjokull glacier to the depths of the lava caves, it was a region rich in just about every known and hidden gem. What attracted us was the stark and shapeshifting lava formations of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula where the border between mountain and shore became narrow, and Iceland is distilled to its very own miniature version of the island country.
On the northern shore of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula not far from the town of Frundarfjordur, we found Kirkjufell. Meaning “Church Mountain”, the 463-metre mountain was entrancing. Broad and flat-topped from one angle, it jutted up from the earth from another.
Entirely outside of the Ring Road’s loop, the Westfjords gave us some of the prettiest landscapes in the island country. Peaceful and remote, it’s Iceland’s largest peninsula. Gloriously, we encountered endless coastlines, bird cliffs buzzing with life and at the foot of the mountains, the oddly quaint little community.
The roads were carved into an endless sequence of vast flat-topped mountains, which sloped sharply down to tiny towns in narrow fjords serrating the shoreline, often with hot pots and cosy spots in which to make camp for the night. It was utterly unique. It was also the most sparsely populated area of the country, save the masses of seabirds. About as good as it gets to get away from people.
Arctic fox mission
Having not seen an Arctic fox in the wild by this point, we spent an afternoon at the Arctic Fox Centre in the Westfjords. The only land mammal native to Iceland and famously elusive, they’re among the hardest to spot in the wild.
A unique atmosphere befalls North Iceland; it’s a bucket-list of must-experience majesty. Deep in the ruggedness of the North, everything – weather included – seemed rougher and stranger but more beautiful because of it. As the capital of the North, Akureyri lies at the heart – it provided us with a base from which to explore the wilds of the Diamond Circle. Characterised by hills, the volcanic fantasia of Lake Myvatn, a plethora of glacial waterfalls, frozen meadows and magnificent mountains – venture into the frozen North if you dare.
Our first stop up north was Godafoss, a waterfall named for the pagan god statues that Icelanders launched into the waters after they converted to Christianity. Looking down into the seething torrent of the semi-circular cascade, my mind flooded with understanding as to why a near-religious significance was ascribed to this place.
Lake Myvatn is situated eastwards. Technically, it’s just one lake, but it was so pocked by outcrops and islands that it felt like many more. We stopped at Skutustadagigar and walked on marked trails amid the pseudo-craters – unusual rock formations caused by lava violently exploding when it reached the lake water. From the top of these craters, Myvatn seemed to stretch on forever; the outcrops like strange boats on a misty grey sea.
Another stunning waterfall, Aldeyjarfoss is situated midway in the glacial river Skjalfandafljot. At this one, peculiar columns of ancient basalt formations and rock bowls are hollowed out by water, like a giant organ suspended in a snowscape. Positioned on the northern edge of the epic highland road Sprengisandur, it has been under threat of disappearing for a while if potential hydropower dam construction is approved.
Probably the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss tumbles glacial river at 500-cubic-metres per s-e-c-o-n-d over its lip. Hard to imagine, I know. But if you’ve seen the opener of the film Prometheus, it’s easy to see why. The power of Icelandic nature was at its most vivid display here. Even from the car park – a good ten-minute walk away – you can hear the deep thundering of Dettifoss.
Fierce spray emerged beside this torrent as the iron-grey water churned relentlessly over the edge. Utterly awe-struck, were the earth flat, this is surely what the edge would look like. A profoundly elemental side of Iceland – this made a mind-concentrating sight.
One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, Krafla erupted nine times between ’75 and ’84. Teeming with vibrant moss and ribbons of bizarre lava formations, we happened upon the Krafla Geothermal Centre, one of Iceland’s world-leading geothermal power plants. The abundance of sustainable energy in the area is a blessing, providing warmth to homes in the bitter wintertime.
The pair of us can vouch that a soothing dip in a hidden hotpot will warm even the coldest fingers and toes. A stone’s throw from Krafla, we chanced upon a geothermal heated outdoor shower. Not one to miss an opportunity, I jumped in without overthinking the consequences. Man alive, refreshing is a weak understatement!
End of part 2
A wise man once said that in just one moment, you are not in pursuit of joy anymore. Instead, life becomes an expression of your joyfulness. For us, that joyfulness stemmed from a heart-possessing, mind-engrossing, addicting love for the country. Take my word, or better still, find out for yourself.