Highlands adventure – By Arjan van der Weck

I have to admit, I didn’t share my true objectives with my travel companions until after we rented the Landrover. Contemplating the costly consequences of damaging an almost new but uninsured car during a river crossing is an effective way of killing any adventure in the making. And an adventure was what I was after.

It was the same dedication that didn’t make us stop for long at the warning sign at the beginning of route F88 to the Askja crater, telling us not to continue without proper preparation, experience and gear.

‘Áfram bara!’ we said to each other, the Icelandic version of ‘Let’s go!’.

Photo by Arjan van der Weck

 

And the road turned out to be challenging indeed. We were driving for hours through the lunar landscape of the highlands, crossing rivers with the car we would never consider wading through.

There is video footage of our first river crossing, in which you can hear me giving instructions to myself on how to handle the car while trying to radiate confidence to my passengers – obviously in vain. Every now and then we were overtaken by faster and bigger cars that were ferrying tourists up and down from Akureyri in one day trips. With a nervous grin on my face, I assured my travel companions our self-drive adventure was the better option.

The stops were as welcome as magnificent. Herðubreiðarlindir, Herðubreið herself, Askja and Öskjuvatn exceeded expectations, already raised to astronomic levels by pictures and travel guides.

Photo by Arjan van der Weck

 

But the best was yet to come. As often, the highlights of the trip aren’t the ones predicted in the travel guides. From a chat with one of the rangers of the Vatnajökull National Park, we learned there was a recently risen opportunity to take a natural hot bath in one of the upstream branches of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. Following an unmarked track, she was happy to point out to us, we arrived at a recent extension of the Holuhraun lava field.

None of us is ever going to forget the experience: being absolutely alone in the middle of the highland wilderness, swimming in a warm glacial river next to a steaming lava field at arm’s length of the Vatnajökull ice cap truly was the highlight of the holiday.

Photo by Arjan van der Weck

Unfortunately, some of us weren’t fully prepared for everything. While most of us packed their swimming suits in the morning, some didn’t. Which wasn’t much of a problem while being amongst ourselves.

But when the local rescue team on duty showed up at the site after an hour, the situation turned mildly awkward. Keeping cool already was the theme of the day but doing so when climbing out of a river without swimming trunks under the watchful eyes of six Vikings wearing survival suits and sunglasses is something else.

Fortunately, they planned to do the same as we did, and fortunately some of them were as ill prepared as we were. Shared awkwardness turned into a funny situation.

Never forget to bring your swimming suit regardless where you are going is a lesson not to be learned often enough in Iceland.

Photo by Sara Lind

 

And so, we found ourselves at a distance of more than 150 kilometers away from the nearest paved road early in the evening. It wasn’t going to be dark anytime soon, but we still had to travel quite a distance before we finally reached the Möðrudalur skáli just before closing time.

Our dinner of sandwiches, hot dogs and soda could not have tasted better…

Arjan van der Weck is a geographer, specializing in international projects. He is based in Delft, The Netherlands and his wife Hanna Lára is Icelandic.

More on personalized travel planning on the website of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina

The power of the geothermal dimension of the Iceland experience – By Mike Klein

While Iceland is best known for its volcanic landscape and it’s lively little capital of Reykjavik, the crown jewel of the Iceland experience is the “pot” – a place to bathe in warming geothermal waters, outdoors and 52 weeks a year.

No, not that kind of “pot” – I speak of the kind that produces steam, not smoke.

Now, Iceland’s most famous geothermal sites, the Blue Lagoon near the capital and the Mývatn Nature Baths in the country’s North, are far larger than the average pot, the pot brings that warming sensation to hundreds of hotels, summer houses, and community pools around the country.

Geothermal winter afternoon
Experiencing the sunset, in the snow in a warm geothermal pot with a glass of something sparkling, is an unforgettable experience. Photo by Helga Stína

Summer houses often offer private pots for the use of their guests, making them instantly attractive on a year-round basis to those seeking the chance to see the northern lights while partially submerged with a glass of wine in hand.

A pot transforms a country hotel from a mere place to stay to a place to relax, and potentially, to meet other guests and trade travel experience stories.

Iceland’s dozens of community swimming pools usually have several pots, offering a variety of temperatures and occasionally, some form of water massage.

Invariably, the water is geothermally heated, so the experience is as “green” as it is warm. In areas where geothermal water is available, the water comes in straight from the earth. Otherwise, it is heated by Iceland’s extensive supply of geothermally-fueled electricity.

Hotels with access to pots also vary widely in price. Depending on the part of the country one is visiting, a summer house with a pot can start in price from $200 or €170, per night. Hotels with access to pots also vary widely in price. Community pools offer admission for less than $12 or €10, and a ticket to the Blue Lagoon will run you about $70 or €58.

Geothermal area and steaming fumaroles, Iceland
The smell in the geothermal areas of Iceland is the smell of home… for some people at least – Photo by Helga Stina

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a Reykjavik-based business communication consultancy.  A US native, Mike has lived in Iceland since 2020 and has also resided in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.  He is the former Europe – Middle East – Africa chair of IABC, a leading global communication association.  He is particularly fond of Icelandic cod and the Gull brand of Icelandic lager, and is married to Helga Stina, founder of Iceland Unwrapped.

To arrange your Iceland holiday this year, visit @Iceland Unwrapped at www.icelandunwrapped.com

Happy New Travel Year 2021

This has been a weird year to say the least.

Everything we have taken for granted has been put on hold: such as hugging each other or shaking hands, traveling or meeting up with all of our family and friends at once. Some places have been hit very hard and are still in the middle of this Covid hurricane.

Last month the first vaccines arrived in Iceland. The minister of health, a fine lady, was following the flight on radar to make sure everything would be as it should be and nothing would stop this important cargo to arrive safely to the shores of this rock in the north Atlantic.

There is a relief in Icelandic society now as we can see an end of this situation in sight and possibilities of getting life back to normal, whatever that normal will be.

At the moment health staff are vaccinating our most vulnerable, along people in nursing homes and health personnel, the heroes of 2020 without a doubt.

But what will 2021 look like? 

The travel industry in Iceland and around the world has shrunk, collapsed or been put on hold.

Will we be able to recover from this? I am sure we will. But it will take time,

I also know that people have kept on dreaming about travel and destinations because dreaming is important when you are in the middle of a pandemic. Dreams that might come true in the New Year or in the year after that.

Iceland has been a popular destination and will likely see something of a travel revival. Here are 4 main reasons:

1. Space. People need to get used to the idea of being around other people again and will want uncrowded destinations with space for social distancing. Iceland becomes a strong choice because of its low population density and abundance of open space. All 360.000 of us live in a space the size of the US state of Ohio, twice the size of Denmark and nearly two and half times the size of the Netherlands

2. Hospitality. The Icelanders are aware of the importance of receiving guests with respect and the uniqueness of a small society. That is why all around Iceland you can find entrepreneurs who have built up wonderful businesses with their heart, soul, and bare hands to be able to show the best of Iceland’s nature, culture and gastronomy. You can even visit people in their homes for dinner or a home concert. The diversity in accommodation is also important – you can find any type of accommodation on the island, from a farmer’s guesthouse with animals in sight to a fancy hotel in one of the towns.

3. Diversity. There are few places on earth that offer the diversity in landscape as Iceland does. The land of fire and ice offers geothermal pools that are open all year round, waterfalls, glaciers and lava formations that will make the imagination go crazy. Ocean all around, rivers and creeks with pure water to drink on your hikes. The midnight sun in June and the Aurora Borealis in winter are experiences everyone should have at least once in their lives.

4. Distance management. I always recommend my clients to take it easy even as they take their extraordinary excursions in Iceland. Feeling the culture, nature, fresh air and the purest water imaginable is a part of the experience. And to be able to do that you need to know how to do it. Distance is a big part of planning your trip in Iceland. That is why working with locals is essential to make the most of visitors’ time and money.

Keep dreaming. Iceland will be waiting when you are ready. It will be wonderful to receive you in the coming months – or the coming years.

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy new year 2021.

Helga Stína – Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina