Iceland: The Land of Fire and Ice

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U’s art director Margaret Bourke explores the valleys and volcanoes of Iceland

If New Zealand didn’t exist Peter Jackson would have come to Iceland to film Lord of the Rings. It’s an absolutely stunning landscape of extreme opposites. You can see as you drive along what inspired the likes of Sigur Ros and Bjork with their crazy Nordic tunes. The night we arrived we were taken to the famous blue lagoon, a natural thermal spring heated from lava thousands of feet below. Here we sipped on Icelandic beer as we slowly stewed around the pool bar.

The island itself is much bigger than you imagine, Ireland is two thirds its size. Having only five days there we decided to do a few of the organised bus tours and concentrate on seeing the big staples rather than hiring a car and biting off more than we could chew. Basing ourselves out of Rekjavik our first trip was the famous Golden Circle tour. This lasted the whole day and as we drove deeper into the island the flat volcanic plains gave way to deep cavernous valleys of rock. A geologist’s dream, the island is practically devoid of trees, which lends an austere, monumental beauty to the place that’s hard to compare to anything I’ve ever seen before. Valleys, volcanoes and waterfalls abound. Among them the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur. As we drove along you could actually see steam rising along the sides of the road which gave a mystical feel to the place. Here we saw the famous geyser Stroklar spouting up 50ft in the air every few minutes.

There were other highlights which included Thingvellir National Park. Here we stood on the verge of two continents where the north atlantic and Eurasian plates meet. The second tour we decided on was the South Island tour. Here we travelled along the south coast of Iceland, through verdant farmland, with views of glaciers and striking waterfalls. Along the way we stopped at the 200 ft high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which is unique in that you can walk behind it and across to the other side. We were soaked afterwards but it was a welcome spritzing from the hours spent on an air conditioned bus. We also visited the spectacular black sand beach at Vik and experienced what is known as the ‘Raging Seas’. It was unbelievable, I could have been in a Guinness ad, the waves were so ferocious. On our way back on the South Island loop we went off road to see a glacier. Here intrepid climbers were suited up and scaling the façade of boulders of ice thousands of years old. I even got to stand on the edge of one myself. Awesome!

So we come to the promise of the Northern Lights. A note to the wise don’t go to Iceland thinking you’ll definitely see them. You may not. They are like that damned Pimpernel, extremely elusive so unless you want to dedicate every night of your trip in pursuit I would suggest instead soaking up some of what the city of Rekjavik has to offer. There are fantastic and quirky bars and restaurants everywhere. We let Tripadvisor be our guide for restaurants and picked the top two. Fridrik V and Grillmarkadurinn. We had an eight course tasting menu in Grillmarkadurinn and a five course surprise menu in Fridrik V, hey we were on holidays! The surprise menu was amazing, the surprise element ensuring that all the ingredients used were both local and seasonal. We ate whale, puffin and reindeer.

The humble cow got the night off on this occasion. We also decided to class it up a bit one of the nights and went to see Carmen in Icelandic in the beautifully designed Harpa Concert Hall. A truly surreal experience. And an experience that would sum up our entire Icelandic adventure.