I looked at the dainty rope tied to wooden poles separating myself and the edge of Kerið, a volcanic crater lake in Iceland. Common sense would have you stay well back, but the nosey in me wanted an unobstructed view.
Wandering to the edge, I marvelled at the depth and breadth of the entire formation and the deep, aquamarine water frozen over from winter. As I took photos and did my best “over the shoulder” pose, a huge gust of wind swept by unbalancing my friend and pushed me closer to the edge, giving me the face to face encounter with Kerið I had been looking for.
Iceland in winter isn’t for the faint-hearted; Temperatures plummet, winds send you flying and you feel like you’re being slapped across the face when it rains. We summoned every ounce of willpower to get out and explore during our tours despite the grey skies and blustery conditions.
I don’t normally like succumbing to travel trends and following the crowd, but everyone seemed to be flocking to Iceland. It had to be worth the visit though seeing as people went so far to plan marriage proposals over there, which ignited the curiosity and little adventurer in me.
My brush with death (and severe injury) continued, which made the trip all the more memorable. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach was an absolute must and I could see why. There was a wild beauty about the place, which only heightened when you factor sneaker waves into the equation. Sneaker waves can be unpredictable and take you by surprise – in some cases, they been known to drag people back out to sea. This is why you’re told to never turn your back for too long.
I got to what felt like a reasonable place before the winds picked up in strength. Turning back, facing the full force, I panicked when I realised that with every step I took forward, I was being blown two steps back. I couldn’t look up and focus my sight on our coach. The air was so cold it forced my eyes shut. The only way I could have visibility of my surroundings was by squinting and looking down. All the while I could hear crashing waves behind me, unsure whether or not they were edging closer.
The relief was all I felt when I got to the gravel car park and climbed on board our coach. I’m sure the driver saw me frantically clawing my way back. He caught my eye as I buckled up and with a slight smile said, “If you can survive this, you can survive anything.”
So Much To See In Such Little Time
If you’re thinking of how to plan out your time in Iceland, here’s a little break down of what we did. Everything listed on day one should be included when you book the Jokulsarlon and Diamond Beach tour.
One of my favourite moments was wandering Þingvellir National Park where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet above the Earth’s surface. It’s not something you can see just anywhere and I was pretty much numb to the spitting rain at this point. I asked our guide “so where’s the North American plate?”
“You’re looking at it,” he said.
My other moment – feeding horses of course! Animal encounters always make it onto my list. Our Golden Circle tour included a stop where we could come face to face with some Icelandic horses. I was more than happy to trudge through rain and mud to feed and spend time with them. (Side note: They don’t like it when you pretend to have food and will head butt you so don’t do that.)
I could go into detail about the rolling landscape and the pristine waterfalls, but I think I’ll let the photos do the talking for this adventure.
Of course, the question everyone asks when you get back is whether or not you saw the Northern Lights. After all, it was one of the main reasons why I said yes to this trip. In order to prepare, I downloaded an app that would use longer exposure times on my phone and I invested in the right clothing to go Aurora hunting. You usually get two attempts at going to seek out the lights, but because of poor weather and visibility, our tour cancelled.
There was something almost humbling in not seeing these lights. It reminds you that not everything is in your control. Nature doesn’t operate according to our needs and wants.
Don’t Forget – Girl’s (and guys) Gotta Eat
What was in our control though was our taste buds. I didn’t know what to expect with the local cuisine other than fresh seafood. Rather than asking for recommendations, we decided where to go on a whim depending on what we felt like eating. Not only did we uncover a great sushi spot, Sakebarinn, but we also had a very flavorsome lunch at Krua Thai. I would personally recommend Apotek Kitchen and Bar. The mixture of Icelandic and European dishes makes for an exciting menu. We tried the waffle bites with duck confit, the Icelandic Landscape which consisted of lamb tartar, pickled red onions, and smoked cream cheese, and a good old helping of truffle oil and parmesan fries. You can’t visit here and not try their desserts. Pastry chef Axel Þorsteinsson is the genius behind some of the most delicious pastries and sweets.
If I had to condense this trip into three main takeaways I’d say:
- Do your best to ignore the crappy weather – it’s just part and parcel of the winter season there. There’s so much to take in and as someone who hates rain, investing in the right clothing will make all the difference
- Ditch the phone – I know that’s rich coming from me and my selfie-loving, boomerang snapping self. By all means, take photos but don’t forget to simply walk around and take in your surroundings
- Reserve a chill day – Trust me, you’ll need it. On this day the only thing my friend and I planned was the Blue Lagoon. Afterwards, we used the rest of the day to explore the town, see local landmarks and window shop.
The Final Verdict
So, is the popular destination worth the hype? Absolutely. Book on to tours if you’re visiting during winter because driving conditions can be really dangerous. If you’re opting for summer, spend a solid seven days, rent a car and explore at your own pace.
Iceland definitely throws you out of your comfort zone. I found myself relying more on my intuition because at the end of the day you have to respect nature. It’s something bigger than you. Plus if you play your cards right, you’ll come back a bit more venturesome and most importantly – alive!