If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll undoubtedly know how I celebrated my 40th birthday! Well when it was Mr S’s turn (erm three years ago), I arranged a surprise long weekend to the land of fire and ice – Iceland.
Prior to the kid invasion our holidays always had an undertone of adventure and discovery. From donning crampons and trekking glaciers in Patagonia, getting drenched by the Iguazu Falls in Argentina to enjoying the great Oslo to Bergen rail journey in Norway – naming but a few.
After the patter of tiny feet holidays took on a tamer approach, partly because of the girls being so young and partly due to being an exhausted mum in need of only sun, sea and sand. After five years we were in need of a break from the lounger on the beach and ready to add some adventure back into our holiday life.
So this time, with the kids safely deposited at the grandparents, we flew from Manchester airport to the outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Did you know it’s only a two-hour flight away? Travelling in late August meant we were experiencing Iceland in its summer months. The warmer and brighter days open up a whole host of activities, some which are unavailable if travelling in winter when travellers are keen to catch the Northern lights.
Our trip was flawlessly organised by Scott Dunn, beginning in South Iceland we stayed at the luxury log built Hotel Ranga before ending it in Reykjavík at the 101 Hotel, a member of the Design Hotels.
Here are eight things we enjoyed on our summer trip to Iceland:
Horse back riding
Our 2 hour horse ride with Skálakot farm meant we could get up-close to some of the most incredible, breathtaking landscapes. Icelandic horses are a unique breed, small and almost pony-sized. Even for a beginner the rides are very comfortable and the farm cater for all abilities.
Once you’re introduced to your horses. Vinter and Honey in our case, you’re geared up with a riding helmet, gloves and waterproofs. The tour had us wading through streams and takes you past glorious open pastures, tiny picturesque farms and beautiful churches. Our final destination was the stunning Íráfoss waterfall, plunging 135 feet in a narrow plume.
After a little time taking in the spectacular surroundings we trotted back to the farm. I have to admit I was sad to say good-bye to our cute companions Vinter and Honey.
Lava tube caving
Experiencing Iceland’s underground world is probably one of my best holiday activities to date. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. We explored tube-like caves hidden right under our feet in the vast ancient lava fields that covers much of Iceland.
When pretending to be Lava Croft, you’ll need to be prepared to walk on uneven ground and at times even crawl through gaps less than 50cm high. And when your helmet light is switched off, it quickly turns into a scene from Descent, minus the human gobbling freak of course. It’s so pitch black I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.
Surrounded in an alien environment exploring natures magnificent formations in the depths of the earth was absolutely mind-blowing. Crawling back up through the small hole back towards the bright light and fresh air was exhilarating.
Iceland is a paradise for hikers. Famous for its stunning, unspoiled scenery, summer is the best time to explore the country by foot. The country is filled with mountains, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, volcanoes and glaciers in every shape, size and colour.
Instead of roads and habitation the heart of the land is over-flowing with hiking and trekking trails. There are walking trails around most neighbourhoods and it’s not unusual to find a hidden gem in the form of a canyon or waterfall around the corner from your own accommodation.
The Golden Circle
If you’re on a short stay completing a Golden Circle tour is the best way to get a taste of the Icelandic countryside beyond the city limits. It comprises of three well-known attractions – Þingvellir, Geyser and Gulfoss. In one day you can tick off your sightseeing list with the country’s most historical and geological site, a spouting hot spring and an enormous waterfall.
Þingvellir National Park was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. It’s where the Vikings established the AlÞingi – one of the world’s oldest extant parliaments in AD 930. Most importantly for me, it’s where you can see the incredible separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates with a clearly visible rift valley.
I was blown away to be stood where the earth had basically cracked open and continues to do so. It’s been something I’d wanted to see it ever since Mrs Jones’s geography classes at secondary school. Bucket list. Ticked. Another winner walking around was trying to name the scenes from the hit TV series Game of Thrones. They set up camp there to film its Night’s Watchmen & Jon Snow scenes (swoon).
Geysir is the original hot water spout after which all the geysers around the world are named. It once gushed water up to 80m into the air, eruptions today are infrequent.
Luckily though its neighbour Strokkur does powerful earth burps as high as a 100ft above the ground every 5 – 10 minutes.
Gulfoss means Golden Falls and is Iceland’s most famous waterfall. It’s an unbelievable sight with water rushing down three steps of lava layers, dropping 32 metres which throws up a sheer wall of spray before it roars down a narrow ravine. No photo can do the immense size and power of this natural attraction justice.
This geothermal spa with milky blue waters has become the island’s leading attraction. Set in the tortured black lava fields, with a slightly futuristic backdrop you can revel in 38 degrees of heat. Bliss. The warm water is rich in blue algae mineral salts and fine silica mud, which conditions and exfoliates the skin. It left my skin feeling as soft as a baby’s bottom.
You almost feel like you’ve stepped into a different world. The visible silver towers of the geothermal plant from where the spa receives its rich blue water, rolling clouds of steam and people covered in white silica and mud. It’s like no other place I’ve ever been, but then that’s Iceland all over.
There are also two steam rooms, a sauna and a massage pool for your enjoyment, you could easily spend the whole day there. It’s so close to Keflavik International Airport we headed straight there as soon as we landed – Eager beavers!
I was very excited about this particular activity, knowing that in the summer months the shores of Iceland are primary feeding grounds for whales and other large marine animals. However, after experiencing the very cold Atlantic ocean constantly splashing my face while sporting some dashing orange warm overalls, followed by the death of yet another iPhone in the waters. We failed in our quest.
There were no Minke dolphins, Humpback Whales, Orcas or Killer whales on our watch. With the tours relying on wild nature, sightings can obviously not be guaranteed. Regardless it was a great experience and quite invigorating standing at the helm of such an incredible vessel facing the onslaught of the Atlantic Ocean. Hopefully on your trip you’ll be luckier than us.
One of the tallest structures in the country is located in the middle of Reykjavík. The huge concrete church can be seen from almost every point of the city. Once at the top you can take in some amazing panoramic city views.
Due to Iceland’s northerly latitude the sun doesn’t really set during the height of summer. Make the most of the midnight sun, it makes it easier to stay up late so you can see and do more!
When it’s time to take a rest from the adventure pursuits you can always rely on the vibrant Reykjavík nightlife to fill your 24 hours of daylight. All the happening bars and clubs are along a main street called Laugavegur. Just ensure you have some serious krona for the city’s notoriously pricey drinks.
Have you been to Iceland? What did you love? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments box below.
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