Iceland showcases nature's power and fury
Published: Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 6:11 p.m.
Geysers, glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs — the rugged island nation of Iceland with only 320,000 people is the epitome of nature's power and fury, and has a landscape that makes you think you're on another planet.
Our package through Iceland Travel included car rental and six nights' hotel with breakfast daily. Iceland is expensive; everything costs up to 10 times more than you would pay at home. It's best to just accept the sticker shock and consider it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We drove straight from the airport to do the Golden Circle, visiting Geyser (geothermal area), Gullfoss (a magnificent waterfall that rivals Niagara) and Thingvellir National Park (a historical site featuring beautiful natural phenomena, Iceland's largest natural lake, faults, gorges and waterfalls).
The weather is unpredictable. We had fairly good weather with 37-to-50 degrees, but the wind made it seem much colder. Hurricane-force gusts are not uncommon, and we were warned when opening the car door to hold on firmly.
In May, sunrise was about 4 a.m. and sunset after 11 p.m. so it was great to take advantage of long days. The roads are not dangerous, but you will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle if you plan on going on many of the gravel roads. Route 1 (a two-lane paved road) circles the island; the maximum speed is 55 mph, and there are lots of speed cameras, so be careful.
Hotel Ork in Hvergardi (a greenhouse and garden center with hot springs, a waterfall, hiking paths and golf course) featured hot tubs and a heated swimming pool with a big slide. Even though it was 40 degrees outside, we just had to try it out.
Next, we stayed near Vik, at the Katla Hotel. Sightseeing on this south coast was incredible — Skogarfoss waterfall, Reynisfjara/ Hálsananefshellir for its sea caves of columnar basalt, and Dyrhólaey, a 400-foot headland extending into the sea with enormous holes carved by the ocean.
If time permits, venture further east to walk on top of a 328-foot river canyon on the way to an area of craters called Laki. The next two nights in Borgarnes gave us a chance to tour the Snæfellnes peninsula with its glacier, caves, craters, dramatic coastline, black-sand beaches and, of course, waterfalls. On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped to see two more magnificent waterfalls (Hraunfossar and Barnafoss) and toured the Hvalfjördur (fjord area).
Pronouncing Icelandic names was a real challenge and, thankfully, most people spoke English. There are whale-watching tours, wildlife trips, arctic river rafting and guided tours of glaciers.
Birdlife is plentiful, with puffins being the most iconic. Horse trekking is popular, and we even experienced an exciting jet boat ride with Iceland River Jet while touring the Golden Circle. Thermal baths are everywhere (the most famous being the Blue Lagoon).
Iceland is the place to be amazed by the effects of wind, water, ice and fiery volcanoes.
It is an unforgettable destination.
Claudine Dervaes has more than 33 years of experience in the travel industry. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.