Reykjavik - The land of fire and ice is all that and more. Add any affirming adjective in front of Iceland, and you are halfway to describing this island.
With its popularity steadily increasing within the travel industry, Iceland is still one of the world’s best-kept secrets. I joined Derek and Angie Bezuidenhout from London for this adventure.
The capital, Reykjavik, isn’t much to rave about as far as European capitals and exquisite architecture goes. But it certainly is worth a stop. In a traditional restaurant in a country renowned for its fish, the five courses included options such as sauteed scallops, sauteed catfish, citrus marinated raw fish, fish soup, Ling or Baccaloo. It was terrific.
We packed up the hire car, bid Reykjavik farewell and made our way to meet the Mountaineers of Iceland. In the afternoon we were riding snowmobiles on the Langjkull Glacier.
Supplied with warm overalls, boots and gloves at base camp, we were paired up with our snowmobile and guide.
After about half an hour of single-file riding, we came to an open level area and were allowed to open up the throttle. Being on top of the glacier was spectacular. The whiteness was brilliant, with occasional splashes of antique turquoise ice in the starkness. Apart from the noise of the snowmobiles, it was exquisitely silent. Glaciers are magnificent; I can understand the spiritual attraction.
At the back of the cabin where we left our hire car was the Gullfoss Waterfall, a massive waterfall located in a picturesque canyon. Hundreds of tourists braved the spray to get to the various viewing decks.
We then made our way to our log cabin in Hella, down in the south. En route, we stopped off to see The Great Geysir. Eventually the water rocketed out of the ground. Boiling water gets hurled 70m up into the air, but quickly cools in the chilly Icelandic atmosphere.
In Hella, rumoured to have 500 inhabitants, we easily found the cabin that was home for the next few days. In no time we found ourselves sitting on the deck wrapped up in sleeping bags, sipping Icelandic gin and tonic.
Our itinerary for the next few days was jam-packed, including a visit to a circus of puffins, and more exploring.
In recent times, Iceland has made the news for three things. Their soccer team after their success at the Euro2016, the marvellously quirky Indie Folk-Pop band Of Monsters and Men and their famous volcano that stopped air-traffic control in 2010.
Our humble, traditional two-bedroomed log cabin was situated near the foot of the Eyjafjallajkull Volcano, daunting as the big chap cleared its throat only a handful of years ago.
It is close to the main Icelandic ring road or the number one, a perfect location.
The first morning we stopped off briefly at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, famous but bustling with traffic and tourists.
We made our way to the cliffs of Reynisfijall and Dyrhlaey near Vik in the south, home to a colony of Atlantic Puffins, collectively a circus of puffins. Iceland is home to over half the world’s population of the birds. We spent about an hour in drizzly weather watching these small, feisty characters swiftly dive off the cliffs, or waddle around, or nestle into the grassy knolls preparing their “summer” nests.
We doubled back to Vik and the impressive Black Beach. The cliffs and the stacks make a bold contrast of pitch black sand, the chilly blueness of the ocean and the fascinating shapes of the basalt cliffs topped off by bold green grass. The Slheimasandur Beach was the final resting place of the US Navy’s Douglas R4D (Dakota)airplane that was forced to land over 40 years ago after icing up.
There is one common destination that everyone makes an effort to visit, the glacial lake on the edge of the Vatkajkull National Park, known as JkulsÃ¡rlÃ or affectionately referred to as “the Growlers”. The lake is filled with chunks of ice that have broken off or melted from the massive glacier that dominates the landscape.
The older the chunk, the more brilliant and pure in colour it appears. The younger ice is virgin white and the more antique blocks are mesmerisingly turquoise.
Get away from the bustling parking lot; find a quiet spot on the banks and just sit. Listen! These huge blocks growl as they break apart, and shift. Once they have broken away from the massive icebergs, these smaller chunks slowly precede down the channel towards the open water before beaching themselves on the pebbled beach and gently melt away.
Stopping off at the SkÃgafoss Waterfall, I was in awe of the number of wonderful waterfalls Iceland has spilling over various escarpments. SkÃgafoss is one of the biggest with a width of 25 metres.
According to legend, there is buried treasure in a cave behind the waterfall and on sunny days you can spot a rainbow leading to the Vikings’ bounty.
We returned late one night to the better known Seljalandsfoss Falls, with the entire area almost to ourselves. Visitors can climb up into a cave behind the falls.
The Icelandic landscape is enchanting. One moment you are winding past lush green scenery, the next past a harsh, barren, rocky countryside as though you had transported to Mars.
Hundreds of cairns have been built at various rest stops using the pebbles and rocks littered around. Further along the road, hard mossy alien-like stones greet you, interlaced with fields of lupine.
Throw into the wowness of this island some picturesque Icelandic horses, woolly sheep and character-filled farmhouses, and the outlying areas of Iceland are truly out of this world.