It was a cold, misty and gray, overcast day that greeted us upon landing at Keflavik airport. The verdant land that lined the shores of the island as we landed brought hope that all wouldn’t be lost despite the gray of the morning.
As we played around with the futuristic faucets in the airport toilets, the children laughed and squealed (as a gaggle of girls are wont to do) and freshened up. Quickly passing through immigration and retrieving our luggage, we headed to get some sustenance before starting the long day. I must say I enjoyed the wall art, especially, the floor to ceiling murals on display.
Coffee in Iceland is fantastic, dark, thick and just flavorful. At roughly $4.50 per cup, not inexpensive, but a necessity for coffee-lovers, all the same. Dunkin donuts came to our rescue with a few donuts and bagels and then we were off.
First we took the bus to the Sixt rental car center. The skies remained iron-grey, a cold wind swept the desolate landscape around us and it drizzled off and on en route. At the center, after obtaining a number, we waited about 15-20 mins before it was our turn to be helped. The agent was friendly, spoke English well, was very informative and courteous. We were given a Ssangyong Tivoli 4*4, which meant we could drive off the paved roads, if need be. We also opted for comprehensive insurance coverage even though it cost us more, as it offered gravel protection, loss damage waiver and theft protection. An additional driver cost 20 Euros for 5 days. In addition, we got the Internet to go plan, that included a Huawei Hotspot, so that we could download maps, etc. This cost another 40 Euros, split between two families. The crew at the rental center then reviewe the basic functions of the car and general guidelines for car use on Iceland roads.
Essentials all thus addressed, we set off for the first spot on our list, Gardur lighthouse. I must say my initial reaction to the Icelandic nature wasn’t a favorable one. The landscape lay open to the skies, just like one would see in Texas. But there ended the similarities, the soil was rugged black lava rock, with a coating of green moss. A few purple and lavender lupins grew in clumps along the roads but these were much stockier than the ones in NZ and their foliage more apparent. Houses were few and far between, but roads were well maintained without potholes and signage well posted in English. Many houses sheltered beautiful Icelandic horses that stood a head shorter than the ones in Texas, a little more stockier but with flowing manes and tails.
The Gardur lighthouse was easy to locate, the children gamely walked up to the lighthouse despite the shaking cold, posed for pictures and played for a few minutes. We couldn’t access the lighthouse entryway. Gardur hosts a small population of about 1400 residents and is a strong fishing area.
From there, we headed next to the Bridge between continents. The Mid Atlantic Ridge, a mostly underwater mountain range in the Atlantic Ocean, separates the North American tectonic plate from the Eurasian plate. Because of continental drift, the two plates are constantly moving apart at a rate of about 2.5 cm per year in the east-west direction. This ridge traverses Iceland from the Southwest to the Northeast. At this location in the Reykjanes Peninsula, there is a major fissure which is an above ground testament to this geological occurrence. The Leif the Lucky Bridge spans the two tectonic plates and its thrilling to walk across this unique divide. I have read that diving in Silfra in Þingvallavatn Lake in the Þingvellir National Park gives a similar opportunity to see this phenomenon underwater. Perhaps, an even better view, but none of us are PADI certified divers, so this Bridge was it.
Moving ever onwards, we reached the Gunnuvher mud pool. This highly geothermal area of the peninsula boasts the largest violently boiling mud pool in Iceland. There is a viewing platform quite close to the mud pool that displays information about this mud pool and the legend of Gunna, the lady for whom its named. At 65 feet width and with a maximum temperature of over 300 C, this area requires caution while traveling with children. The mud spews into the air and mixed with the steam creates a mystical aura. Edgy and beautiful with its own musical boiling sounds to boot! There are few places on Earth that make it to the Atlas Obscura list and this was one of them!
For some peace and quiet, we next headed east on Route 425 to the Brimketill Lava rock pool. I read on several sites that this area is hard to find but we had little trouble locating it. After parking in the designated area, we made our way up the stairs to the viewing area. Looking down, one can see the lava pool also called the “white cauldron” or “pool of Oddny” named after the troll who supposedly bathed here. Water erosion caused by years of pounding surf over lava rocks led to this natural pool formation. Iceland is filled with many such unique gems that could be easily missed, if one isn’t keeping an eye open.
By then, it was just past noon and we had a 1:00 pm appointment at the Blue Lagoon. We intended to finish lunch at Grindavik before reaching the Blue Lagoon. After driving around for a bit, we located a place called Papa’s Pizza that served vegetarian options. I liked the ambience of the restaurant and the service was efficient. With garlic bread, Margarita and Vegetarian pizza ordered, we waited quite a while before the meal was served. The food was fresh and appetizing and well worth the wait.
Sated from our lunch stop, we headed to the Blue Lagoon to while away the next couple of hours in the renowned geothermal spa while giving our skin some much-needed rejuvenation. Mr. JJ and Sonny JJ were able to rent swim shorts for their time in the pool. They also bought one T-shirt each for use the following day and hoped the luggage would reach the hotel room soon. I will add a separate post on the Blue Lagoon in the near future.
Three hours later, a relaxed group of travelers left the Blue Lagoon in search of a bit more adventure before settling in for the day. We first drove to Krisuvik Geothermal area which is about 45 mins west of the Blue Lagoon. Like the other geothermal areas, Krisuvik has multiple volcanic vents and boiling springs but its made way more spectacular by the yellow, red and green colors of the rocks and the soil. There is a boardwalk that allows one to climb upwards and get a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. It also allowed us to safely view and enjoy the boiling pits and steaming vents. The older girls fell asleep by this time and missed this beautiful spot. But Sonny JJ and Missy T very much enjoyed it. Krisuvik reminded me a lot of WaiOtapu in New Zealand.
Our drive to Kleifarvatn lake was our last stop for the day. This lake is the largest on this peninsula with no known surface drainage. As we stood on the shores of this lake while a gentleman played with his drone helicopter nearby and others fished, there was a sense of peace and tranquility. Iceland had been a land of constant surprises. We had traversed lava rock strewn plains and some lush green grassy fields, beautiful lakes and interesting rock formations. The wind and the wind chill continued to hound us mercilessly but this only added to the charm of being on such an island. There were several amazing landscapes to capture photos of, and from several different angles. But I knew in my heart of heart, the best images lay behind my closed eyes, in the recesses of my mind. Photos can do little justice to the wild and rugged beauty of this land. Like a decadent treat, Iceland has to be explored with all the senses, to be tested and tasted and teased and tried before passing judgement.
We drove north once more to reach Reykjavik and our hotel. After checking in and freshening up, we ate a simple meal of rice and gravy cooked right in the hotel room. A nearby gas station offered us Skyr, the Icelandic yogurt and milk for our breakfast the next morning.
By 11 pm, we were ready to retire for the night but the sun was shining strong and bright, and we spent several minutes wondering about the midnight sun. Our room had long dark drapes to keep out the light. Although we carried eye masks, we were sufficiently tired to fall asleep without needing them. After reaching the hotel, Mr. JJ called the local Icelandair office to see if they had received our luggage. He was told that they had no information but the agent promised to call before leaving her shift that night. We went to bed not knowing whether our luggage would reach us or not.
I have to admit that the children, ages 11, 12, 15 and 16, did amazingly well that day. Of course, they are used to traveling to different countries and across varied time zones but to stay awake a whole day after a short night’s rest, to stay physically and mentally active and to enjoy such a day needs a different mind-set. That’s why traveling with children is important. They learn a lot by diffusion but more importantly, they learn how to adapt, to improvise and to be strong and happy no matter what the circumstances.