Iceland swan song

Upon coming back to Iceland we quickly made our way back to the north. We had three main items left on our list of things to see: Humpback whales, Myvatn and Askja.

Before we got there, we did a stopover in the Varmalid region for a bit of family rafting. While “only” class 2 rapids, it was the proper experience. We got all kitted out in wetsuits, even Liam. Then we drove up to the entry point and – after a quick safety instruction – went to the water. Liam got his own private rafting guide that would sit next to him and hold him whenever the rapids got a little higher. The guides were from Nepal and steered the boat in a way that alternatingly the left and/or right side of the boat got soaked, which Liam found hilarious. We did two stops: One to make hot chocolate in a hot spring and one to jump from about 5m into the river. It was pretty thrilling to jump! And at the end we – this is Iceland after all – got to use the hot pool.

The next stop was a second go at whale watching. After our previous, somewhat disappointing attempt we picked Akureyri as a base this time, with the goal of seeing humpback whales that feed in the area. The fjord was super flat and with little wind conditions were perfect. We saw three humpbacks in total, going up and down while feeding. This time we had the experience we were looking for.

Next stop was Myvatn. Myvatn is a lake surrounded by lots of geothermal areas and lava fields and a popular stop on the ring road circuit. Unfortunately, the weather turned a little sour and we couldn’t do as much as we wanted, but we still managed to see the mandatory waterfall and do a few short walks around craters and a pretty cool lava field. We also met some other travellers and engaged in truck talk, which is always nice. And last but not least we visited the northern, smaller version of the Blue Lagoon, which was a nice and relaxing experience.

Last on the list was Askja – and we debated a lot about this. The name Askja refers to a complex of nested calderas in a remote part of the central highlands of Iceland within the surrounding Dyngjufjöll mountains, which rise to 1,510 m (thank you Wikipedia). Thing to notice about the previous sentence is “remote”. It is a 100km 4×4 drive to get there and another 100km 4×4 drive to get away from there. The area is so bleak that NASA sent their astronauts there to train for moon conditions. Anyone we spoke to mentioned it as a highlight of their trip, but with an avg. speed of 20km/h on 4×4 roads and a couple of bigger river crossings, was it worth 10-15 hours of driving in what was forecast as mediocre weather conditions?

After much deliberation we decided to go. Scenery-wise, the drive there undoubtedly goes to the top 3 places we’ve been to in my opinion. Miles and miles and miles of bleak black stone desert, lava fields, multi-coloured mountains, glacial rivers, volcanoes… – Iceland threw everything and its kitchen sink at us and even with cloud cover and the occasional rain it was simply stunning and the drive was a true “interior of Iceland” experience.

The weather and the driving got to us though and after a brief hike around the smaller crater we decided to leave a day earlier than planned. On the way out we helped some Israeli tourist with their puncture – they knew less about cars than I did, which is an achievement in itself. The end of the drive out of the interior happened in darkness, which was a really eery experience. And the last 30kms added a clear item for truck improvement: Bigger wheels. The washboard road was generally pretty wide and we saw some cars going quickly. Unfortunately our wheels matched the exact frequency of the troughs, causing massive shaking of the whole car at any speed above 15km/h (believe me, we tried all speeds). I was convinced that something would break and sure thing, we broke the plumbing for the sink, the plastic pipe just cleanly sheered off just above the greywater tank (we only learned a week later though..). Exhausted we rolled onto a camp site at about 11pm.

After nearly 7 hours on the “road” on our way out from Askja we decided to take it super easy for the last two days. After a leisurely morning we drove to a hotel in the early afternoon the next day for relaxation. To Liam’s disappointment there were only 2 Icelandic TV channels, but the Wifi was good enough for Youtube, so he was happy. Food was nice as well and the view was good. On our last day in Iceland we did a tribute to what we had experienced: A dip into a hot pool, throwing stones into a lake, visiting a little museum and a short hike, this time in the biggest forest of the country. It felt weird, especially after the desolation of Askja, to hike in an autumn forest.

The only remaining thing was to roll onto the ferry at Seydisfjördur, but not without one last amazing drive over the coastal mountain range. Iceland kept showing off its immense natural beauty until literally the last minute of our stay, it almost felt as if it was trying to impress us one last time.

Thank you Iceland, I am 100% sure that we will be back some day.

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