His 75th birthday
When you live abroad one of the hardest things is the big distance between your loved ones in your old home country and the loved ones in your new home country.
My dad turned 75 this year – a milestone of course and he made a great decision. Instead of „wasting“ money on a huge party with more food and drinks that would be healthy for him and his „comrades in arms“ he decided to take Mom to Iceland and circle the island with his „escape – daughter“ (me!) his son-in-law and his grandchildren. He used to be a history and geology teacher so Iceland was kind of a heaven for him anyway. And he came well prepared! He had read most of the Sagas, had read many guide books on geology and history and studied maps and we together had made a great plan suitable for all, the „knowledge-seeker“ (Dad), the Hiker (Mom) and the kids as well
After so much sun & beach happiness we headed due north to Siglufjörður town for a bit of luxury at the new Sigló hotel with a hot tub and sauna with harbour view. During the ride we stopped at the Glaumbær Torfhouse museum to take a step back in time! The landscape changed dramatically and became a bit like South Greenland with wide open spaces, no trees and big green fields of short gras in between huge basalt bolders. Lots of empty space and a great coastline! Siglufjörður used to be a booming herring town up to the middle of the 20th century and the Herring Museum gives an impressive insight into the daily life of the people that fished and worked the herring.
Continuing through Akureyri town through long and exciting tunnels (great adventure for the kids) the younger generation headed for the fun open-air pool whereas the elder generation went for a walk through the charming city center visiting the monumental church, the beautiful botanical garden and the cafés of the harbour area.
Next nights were spent at two beautiful self – catering cottages close to Húsavík town, set into a small birch forest with magnificient views of the seaside and the mountains in the background. Some small fishing lakes belong to the cottage area and provided ample ground for easy walks for both the young and the not-so- young. Húsavík town is great for daytours around the North. We went from there to Lake Mývatn and the Mývatn Nature baths, visited Námaskarð, Dimmuborgir and Skútustaðir Pseudo craters. We also took a tour towards Jökulsárgljúfur Nationapark and visited the many museums that Húsavík town has to offer. Remains to mention that Húsavík is also the perfect place for whale-watching with at least two companies offering different tours all day round.
Leaving Húsavík we went to Egilsstaðir town but went the „old road“ along Möðrudalur farm and the incredible Sænautasel Turfhouse museum! At Möðrudalur we were greeted by the „lady of the house“ - a very nosy goat and her wild arctic fox companions throwing my mum and the kids into sheer excitement over these cute and playful animals. Sænautasel really touched my heard since it shows how tough the life of the farming families was up on the „heath“. The weather was rather rainy and windy that day – kind of providing the perfect setting for this remote but endearing place. We stayed at beautiful Egilstaðir Lake Hotel with wonderful views and a superb restaurant. For those seeking a bit of pampering, the SPA invites to a Sauna and hot tub.
Along the coastline of the small fishing towns of the East we went south to Höfn, a small but very cute and tidy town right underneath of Vatnajökull glacier. Our hotel, the Fosshotel Vatnajökull, had an excellent restaurant with very friendly staff and brilliant views. The next day took us to some more of the highlights of this tour. We stopped at Skaftafell Nationalpark and went for an easy hike to Svartifoss waterfall and stayed for many hours at the incredible glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón where we watched the huge icebergs tumble and the playful banter of at least 8 seals looking for makerel and herring.
Our last day brought us underneath the famous Mýrdalsjökull whose subglacial volcano Katla had just been a bit unrestful and travellers were warned not to stop too long at Múlákvísl river because of potentially poisonous gases. And indeed as soon as we crossed the river we could smell the rather disgusting sulpuric smells... not very inviting and so we continued to Seljalandsfoss waterfall (the one you can actually walk behind) and Skógafoss waterfall inviting to beautiful walks away from the crowd as soon as one has climbed the stairs to the upper platform. One of the highlights was the Eyjafjallajökull Visitor center. My parents had followed the Eyjafjallajökull eruption closely in 2010 and it had affected our own travelling plans back then. The visitor center shows a dramatic and very personal film showing the influence of the eruption on the residing farmer´s family – their fears, expectations and their fight for the survival of their farm. At times sad but at others also very humorous it showed the eruption from a completely new point of view.
Our little self-drive tour around Iceland took us for 12 days along the ringroad. We spend least time in the south since this was an area my parents knew already quite well from previous daytrips from our farm. The driving in Iceland even with children proved no problem at all – one important thing to remember is to break up the route with many stops for museums, little walks and other activies like visiting the local public pools many of them coming with hot tubs and fun-slides. The combination of hotels and self-catering cottages helped to keep the price „within limits“ although I am the first to admit that Iceland is a very expensive holiday destination. But maybe this fact is not all so bad if considered from a different point of view. Yes, Iceland is an expensive place to holiday but the sights, the nature, the incredible feeling of space and the ever changing landscape while driving relatively short distances make it an indescribable experience which will encourage many Iceland – fans to come back again and again and yes, some of us even stay on... Maybe we should be grateful that due to high prices Iceland will hopefully not become a mass tourism country. Maybe it is acceptable that Iceland should stay a special place to visit and that it takes some time to save up for a trip to Iceland. Maybe the „been there-done that“ tourists are not the ones that are best for Iceland, its precious delicate nature and its small population. Iceland faces many challenges in tourism already and there are more to come. Let´s not go down the mass tourism road, let´s rather go for the high quality sustainable trail... for the sake and benefit of Iceland´s nature, its people and last but not least its visitors. Maybe it is ok that a trip to Iceland takes saving up for some years. My first trip to Iceland as a student surely did and I have not regretted my choice once and it has been a while...
With much gratitude to my dad and his wonderful idea of how to spend his 75th birthday in a different way. We have made wonderful memories for all of us.
To help you with your own self drive tours in Iceland we at Exploring Iceland have some ready made self drive packages depending on your interest.
Text and photos by: Meike Witt