A seven-day tour around Iceland [Part 3]
Although you can’t see the Aurora Borealis during the summer season in Scandinavia (it’s almost always too bright out), you may be able witness the midnight sun. I managed only once to observe the sun setting – well, as much as it does in an Icelandic summer – and it was a wondrous sight. It was my last night in Reykjavik before my tour, sitting on the rocks by the harbour shore in the late hour air. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that same kind of sunset again.
June 21st is the summer solstice (usually the winter solstice for us Aussies), meaning the second last day of my tour would be the longest. My plan was to drive pretty far west and find a mountain to hike up to view the midnight sun, dipping down to the horizon and then floating back up while lighting the sky with rich colour and warmth. My day didn’t go exactly to plan.
Having begun this trip with a goal (one of many) to pick up at least one hitchhiker, I was pleasantly surprised when a bloke standing by the side of the road was holding a bike with one hand and stuck out his thumb with the other. I pulled over to offer him a lift, and with not too much effort we got his bike in the back of my car and headed off west. He was cycling towards Reykjavik but the extreme wind prevented him from making any headway – this wind was then unfortunately persistent throughout the entire day. After a few days of driving by myself, it was great having someone in the car to talk to. It also felt great to help an unlucky bugger out of a sticky situation. Without realising, I drove past where I was going to divert from the ring-road, and simultaneously drop off my temporary passenger, but the next town on was fortunately a better place to fill up on petrol, coffee and food. Then I went to find a mountain or something similar.
One of the last (but not least) attractions I intended to see was in fact a mountain. Kirkjufell is (reportedly) Iceland’s most photographed mountain, and I can now understand why – but only from a select few angles; it certainly has a flattering side. I drove past it at first, knowing I would get a chance to investigate it later that night. This was going to be my spot to watch the sunset, I thought. I went to the campsite nearby, met a friendly Canadian couple to have dinner with, and got some rest before waking up close to midnight. Unfortunately, the skies were blanketed in rain clouds and a brief glimpse of the orange sun was all I was able to see that night. Kirkjufell looked awful in the dark. The next morning, however, it was stunning. Paired with its sister waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss, and good weather, it’s a beautiful scene.
One last waterfall was on my list of Icelandic sights. I wish I could say Barnafoss was as good an end to the waterfall circle as the beginning, but it simply wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Barnafoss is worth a visit but it couldn’t compete with it’s previous kin. I moved on reasonably quickly, enjoying some more old podcast episodes as I drove closer to Reykjavik. Before I got back into the city, however, there was a final attraction for me to visit and enjoy. This, unlike many of the attractions around the south west, wasn’t too spoiled by tourism – I still encountered more tourists than locals, but it certainly didn’t feel over-visited. Reykjadalur (meaning steam valley) is an area filled with hot springs and streams, the biggest of which is a hot river you can bathe in. And the further up the river you get, the hotter the water is. It was amazing to soak in the warm swell as water gently flowed past me. I could’ve stayed there for hours.
But I had to eat something. So I got out, dried off, discovered blisters on my heels, and walked uncomfortably back to my car – the hike to and from the river was the better part of an hour. A young couple approached me towards the end of the hike asking whether I’d be heading to Reykjavik and if so, was there space in my car for the two of them. I wasn’t intending to go all the way into the centre of the city, but I gave them a lift anyway. And after they extended an invitation to see a local DJ play (for drinks too), I decided to take us all into the city’s west end for the evening. A night of expensive beer, karaoke and good banter was to follow.
And that’s where my tour concluded. I can safely say sleeping in my car parked behind a Reykjavik petrol station is not how I expected my last night to unfold, but I was content with it nonetheless.
A Rushed Finish
The next day, I returned my car with no issues and (fortunately) hitched a ride back to the city centre. I cannot express enough how refreshing it felt to be able to sit down with a hot meal and then take a long shower, after this week of staying in either a tiny tent or a tiny car. A burger and chips dinner, accompanied with a pint of lager, was a pleasant way to end my last evening in Iceland. I spent most of the following morning waiting for my airport bus and worrying about missing my flight to London. I knew I should’ve peed before I left.