Friday, 26 July 2013

Take Only Pictures, Leave Only...Licence Plates

Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints Licence Plates!

At the end of Tuesday, when we tucked into bed after midnight, Mark said that he had experienced enough adventure for one day to last him the rest of the trip.  His heart had returned to a normal rhythm and his adrenalin levels had reduced; perhaps the shot of whiskey helped! I, on the other hand, was wishing I had another Coke tallboy!
Now this is MY kind of coke!  It was the size of a Tall Boy beer at home!
It was suggested that we visit Landmannalaugar, a region near the volcano Hekla in the southern section of Iceland's highlands. In order to get there you must venture off the smooth paved Ring Road into the highlands.  When Mark was looking into rental vehicles he asked for a 4 x 4, as he was interested in ‘seeing the country’. This didn’t sound all that exciting to me, but we would go along for the ride and take photos of land and rock formations that would appear in Mark’s geography lessons for years to come.  He figured it would be a few steep gravel roads and maybe a puddle to jump. The Ford Explorer that we had ordered ended up being a Dacia Duster upon delivery.  Who makes Dacia anyways? It was quite a bit smaller than the Explorer but was nearly new which was nice or scary depending on how you look at it.  How reliable was this Duster and would it get us through Iceland?
The Duster after it's first river crossing... no problem!
After unloading some of our luggage in the Reykjavik apartment we loaded up the Duster with our camping gear, ready for an adventure.  I checked the map and we estimated it would take us about an hour maybe two tops, to reach Landmannalaugar.

The first few kilometers of our adventure were pretty uneventful and included the expected gravel roads and a few tight turns.  We travelled slowly to avoid gravel chips. We were thrilled when we reached our first river to cross.  It was about six to eight inches deep and had a little current.  Mark had never driven a car through water that deep before and was pretty excited.  Considering that our insurance would not cover us for damage to the chassis or stone chips, we passed through cautiously.  The rental folks said we could driving through water up to our knees, we were in good shape with this river!  I’m not quite sure whether they were referring to Mark’s knees or mine, but still, we had plenty of leeway on this passing.  We thought we should capture the crossing on camera so we turned around and went back through the river again to get a photo and some video.  It is not everyday that you drive your vehicle through rivers! Little did we know what Icelandic backcountry had in store for us.

The big sticker attached to the dashboard of rental vehicle in Iceland, hokey doodle!
The roads became narrower and the signs that indicated a ‘blind head’ made our hearts pump with anticipation.  It usually meant that we would be climbing a one-lane hill and could potentially meet oncoming traffic without warning. We made it through the first few signs without sight of another vehicle, but then, of course we were bound to meet someone on a blind head, weren’t we!  Pfew…we made it through without a scratch but I’m pretty sure I left a few years of my life on the side of that mountain.

The roads became steeper, with more and more switchbacks, as we climbed higher and higher into the highlands. We climbed the range slowly for a couple of hours. Mark told Ally that if she could handle these backcountry roads, she was sure to be able to handle Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland, upon our return. During this whole time Ally had been reading her book; she wasn’t all that interested in Dad's rock formations and this back country adventure either. She finally gave up reading after she had hit her head on the window for the second time and scolded Dad for his driving abilities.  I, on the other hand, was so thankful that I was not behind the wheel.  My tummy was doing summersaults on the crest of every knoll and I couldn’t bare to look out my window, down the steep rock face – do they not believe in guardrails in Iceland for crying out loud? And why were we at the same elevation as the nearby glaciers?

We stopped for lunch and the view was tremendous. A few more brave soles stopped to check in on us to see if we were heading in or out and to ask how the road conditions were.

As we continued on our journey we came across this sign. Hmmm shall we venture further? 

Just as we were approaching our first big hill after lunch, Mark saw horses in the distance. We quickly pulled over to view the most amazing spectacle; cowboys leading a herd of horses through the highlands.  I hopped out of the Duster to capture the scene on video as a horse was headed right towards me.  The sound of the pounding hooves was amazing and there must have been about 15 cowboys and girls on horseback, leading the herd of about 50 or so horses.  I’m pretty sure there weren’t any signs warning us of horse roundups!
Amazing sight in the highlands, see all of those horses in the distance!

They moved off the road around our Duster, then went right back on it.

We were now far beyond our 2 hour estimate and according to the map - not at all close to our destination.  We chatted with a few other travellers and decided to venture on behind a 4 x 4 truck.  We would follow his lead, avoiding the blind heads and any other natural obstacles (like herds of horses!) that we might encounter. Mark locked in the four-wheel drive and we ventured through a few more rivers.  The truck ahead of us would stop and navigate through the river and we would watch intently, learning what to do and what NOT to do. Needless to say there was no need to capture that measly little river at the beginning of our journey on camera. The next few crossings are difficult to witness on our footage as the camera usually knocked off the windshield or roof while trying to capture the moment. 
Yee Haw!
The last of the big rivers was really intimidating. Two trucks of similar size to ours were sitting on the opposite bank coming towards us, with their drivers scratching their heads. The 4 X 4 truck we were following plowed through and we followed (not without water splashing over the hood). It didn’t build a lot of confidence that those in the truck in front of us were videoing us, waiting to capture some famous YouTube footage. I guess they didn’t realize that we had left our licence plate behind! Yikes, how much would that cost us?

Finally, after about 4 hours of tumultuous travel we reached our destination, only to find that we would have to cross the deepest river yet in order to reach the campground.  Many vehicles had given up at this point; they parked on the other side and carried their camping equipment across.  The campground was crazy busy and not what Mark and I had in mind for the night, so we opted to avoid the swollen melt water river. 
The river we chose NOT to was well above Mark's knees.
We ventured around Landmannalaugar, checked out the hot springs, and climbed up a volcano, another opportunity for Mark to break in his new reed, on the bagpipes.  He wondered if anyone had bagpiped on the slopes of the Stutur volcano before? I highly doubt it! The ridge was not the best opportunity for Ally and Meg to dance as it would be a long way down if they lost their footing (it was like walking on a giant pile of red BBQ lava rock). We attracted hikers from far and wide and met a lovely group of travellers from Switzerland who were just finishing a year of travel.  They were filled with information and invited us to stay with them in Zurich; Hanny lives right beside the biggest waterfall in mainland Europe.  We said our goodbyes and would look forward to catching up with them again in November.

The natural hot springs where the fresh cool water mixes with the steaming water
to create a lovely, natural hot tub.

On top of Old Smokey Stutur Volcano

See the van down below!

It was getting quite late; we hadn’t had dinner yet and we still had to get back to the main highway, find a campsite and set up camp. This led us to another hour or two of driving on rough “moonscape” and volcanic plateau, until we reached the main road once again.  It was about 1:00am when we finally tucked in next to Iceland’s famous “Geysir”; we set our alarms to get up at 6:00am for what the next day had in store for us! How dangerous could the biggest waterfall and geyser in the world be, after a drive through the mountains of Iceland?

Red volcanic rock roads.

Geysir - where the name geyser originated from.

The most spectacular waterfall, Gullfoss...and a rainbow to boot.
And… just incase you were wondering, the rental car company was thrilled with the shape we returned the Duster in, and we didn’t even get charged for the missing licence plate!  They said, “No problem, it happens all the time in Iceland!” Silly me...of course it does!


  1. We feel we are there with you!!!!!!!!!!We do not have the sore muscles or heart palpitations though.
    Love Grandma and Papa

    1. Hi Grandma and Papa! We wish you WERE here with us. Papa would have loved the fresh licorice in Hofn and Grandma you would have loved the Blue Lagoon! You have to try and get Papa to venture to Iceland with you - he won't have to worry about the food, it is just way too expensive to eat too much :)
      Love you and miss you already.

  2. great post, I think this little trip may have been off the excitement metre??? I of course liked the pics of the horses although the scenery is certainly spectacular also. Happy travels :)

    1. Oh, Karen...we were thinking of you and Amanda for the next half hour after we saw the horses, it was an amazing sight - one that the pictures doesn't quite capture. Wish you could have seen it! Not sure if Amanda is following the blog but if you see her, let her know we were thinking of her as well.

  3. Great blogging! I'm loving it, but I will need to work harder to keep up. I'm impressed with the river crossings Mark. I tried it in Australia only to get pushed down river and turned upstream with water flowing over the hood. Nothing feels more relieving than driving out of a river in that circumstance. I get the heart palpatations part :)

  4. Thanks John! Yikes, I'll have to keep Mark from driving through the rivers in Australia at that rate.


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