Iceland, home of the ash cloud and favoured destination of Mums everywhere, has long been an unfulfilled bucket-list location for would be visitors the world over. It’s got it all – active volcanoes, the northern lights, even a giant pool of geothermally heated, skin purifying sea water… with a bar!
There are a couple of factors though, that prevent it being completely overrun with fat, garishly dressed, camera-toting tourists – and this is something for which we should all be very thankful.
Firstly, Iceland is so exquisitely out of the way. You don’t just pop into Iceland while heading somewhere else (unless you happen to be heading to Greenland which… well you aren’t are you?). Doing a tour of Europe and including a detour to Iceland is like deciding that, seeing as you’re going upstairs, you may as well sit on the roof. The views are better and you’ll catch the sun but it’s an awful lot of effort.
Secondly, it has the reputation for being outrageously expensive. I think this is partly due to the fact that the cost of flights and hotels is moderately inflated thanks to its isolation. In all honesty though, once you’re there, you’ll barely notice the difference in day-to-day costs compared with any of the major cities in Europe.
Equally, if you sign up for one of the many northern lights tours or coach trips out to the main sights, you’ll pay through the nose for the convenience but adopting an adventurous attitude, renting a car and setting your own itinerary will save you thousands of precious Krona.
Anyone writing off a trip to Iceland on the basis of the above is missing out on a truly magical experience. It’s landscape is unlike anywhere else on earth and from the moment you arrive you feel that you have stepped back in time. Not to last week, or to a time when you’d entrust your kids to the care of a Top of the Pops presenter but to a time when the earth was still forming. The fresh volcanic rock that makes up a staggering amount of the landscape is, in many places, so new that no plants grow there. It simply hasn’t been there long enough for soil to form.
It’s not just plants that haven’t had time to lay claim to the place. One of the most enticing things about being anywhere in Iceland is that you feel a long way away from a traffic jam or a crowded underground station.
Even making your way around Reykjavik during rush hour feels an almost lonely experience. Anyone who’s used to going to tourist attractions in any other location will feel a twinge of guilt as they walk straight to the front of the non-existent queue.
The few tourists that are there are generally well behaved and keen to explore the natural wonders that fill Iceland from top to bottom. Reykjavik is a relatively quiet city so isn’t seen as attractive to the party set. It’s not fast paced or full of fluorescently lit bars. You will almost never see anyone riding shirtless on a rented moped.
Those that have made the journey are there for the most part, to experience an altogether different type of holiday in an altogether different type of place.
Iceland’s location on the globe is what makes it so special. It’s not only close enough to the north pole that it is regularly graced by the mesmeric Aurora Borealis but also sits astride two tectonic plates that are pulling apart at the rate of 2 centimetres per year. That’s the same rate as a fingernail grows.
This spreading allows molten rock to rise up into the gap from the earths fiery innards making the whole area extremely geologically active. (This isn’t just interesting but useful too. 30% of Iceland’s energy and 90% of it’s hot water needs are met by the clever harnessing of this almost infinite source of heat.)
As well as being able to walk (and swim) between the two plates, an experience in itself, the fact that this connection between surface and mantle is so immediate has some spectacular side effects. You can visit powerful geysers and witness the ground literally steaming as you explore it. There are multiple active volcanoes which are only too keen to spew megatons of ash into the engine of any passing aircraft. It’s just got so much to see that you would never encounter anywhere else.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the constant rainbows, the regularity with which you encounter waterfalls or the friendly nature of its welcoming and hairy people.
Over the next couple of blog posts, we’ll detail our adventures in this amazing country and hopefully inspire some of you to make the effort to forgo the usual beach holiday for a trip that you’ll always remember.