Iceland is a fiercely proud Nordic nation; they are the smallest country ever to have qualified for the World Cup. They number just 330,000, slightly less than Ealing!
Drive two hours east from the airport along the principle Icelandic highway appropriately numbered ‘1,’ and a ranch style hotel appears over the horizon, a shining light amongst the volcanic black boulders, the occasional steaming borehole and carbon-grey skies. It’s called Hotel Ranga and it’s a haven in a rather challenging environment.
We’ve come to see exactly what this fascinating land has to offer and so after a hot breakfast our guide Magnus arrives on time and in a vehicle straight from the Wild West! It has several feet of ground clearance, massive 44” wide tyres that can be inflated and deflated from the cockpit.
He heads off to a guilty volcano crater, the one that stopped hundreds of thousands of flights in 2010, Eyjafjallajokull. The drive is not for the faint-hearted, it’s an hour and a half. The monster jeep climbs clumsily over rocks and boulders, crosses rivers, slithers over snow and ice at crazy angles.
On arrival, standing still in the frozen caldera is impossible; the winds reach 70mph! The visit is therefore brief although one of the party much to everyone else’s amusement, needs a comfort stop.
Down is as adventurous as up, just quicker.
On the way to Geysir, the route is accompanied by glacier-sculpted cliffs lined with fluffy lime-green mosses and sparkling waterfalls. Trees and wildlife are almost non-existent.
On arrival, just park and walk up to the geyser playground. It looks like a First World War battlefield; steam billowing from muddy craters. Occasionally and without notice, superheated water erupts 20-30 metres into the air. Onlookers ooh and aah.
Gullfoss is next, Europes most powerful waterfall rapidly followed by a monster coach ride up to Langjokull glacier for snowmobiling. Exhilarating and fun.
Last up, Magnus heads for Thingvellirvatn, home of the 930AD Viking parliament, the oldest in the world. Also meeting here but still clearly visible, two major tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the North American.
Finally, a snorkel has been arranged. The water is as clear as any mineral water you have ever drunk, and about the same temperature, 2 degrees. Getting into the human duvet and the dry suit causes much hilarity which quickly evaporates on entrance to the lake. Breath-taking…literally.
Hotel-bound to warm up in our cosy surrounds, smoked puffin is on the menu for dinner.
I think you’ll agree, the Land of Ice and Fire is full of surprises.
*Snorkel image courtesy of www.dive.is