The Recollection Diaries: Iceland

My recollection

Strongest memory: The dramatic landscapes. The whole country felt like a movie set at times. From glaciers to volcanoes and waterfalls to thermal pools, there was something new and varied to see each day. We were fortunate that we had enough time to drive the famed Ring Road, which in itself provides some pretty astonishing landscapes. In addition to the above, we saw multiple interesting mountain formations, as well as even just the road-side terrain looking like something out of the moon. At times it was surreal, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like to visit Iceland in winter – one can only presume it would be just as majestic.

Memorable meal: Okay, I had no idea that the food in Iceland would be quite as good as it was. Even in the small towns where options were limited (in NZ you’d probably be served a day old pie and some soggy fries) the quality of food was exceptional. Many of our favourite meals of 2019 would have been eaten while in Iceland. My most memorable meal was on our last night, which was a more than pleasant way to round out the trip. After soaking at the famous Blue Lagoon, we meandered over to the restaurant onsite. It’s decor was something to marvel at, with floor to ceiling windows and giant rock pieces jutting through the walls of the restaurant. Dinner was a four course set menu, with delicious homemade bread, my favourite fish of the trip – Arctic Char, and some deliciously cooked lamb before dessert. Every course was sensational and essentially a combination of all my favourite foods. It was a really special night and the feelings I had at the meal reiterated to me how much I had enjoyed my week in Iceland and how much I didn’t want to leave.

Best activity: Road-tripping around the Ring Road. So many tourists visit Iceland on an extended layover, but not many take the extra days needed to get out of the day trip zone from Reykjavik. We spent a few days in Iceland’s capital first, before hiring a car and heading out on a 5 day journey around the Ring Road. Not only did we lose a lot of the tourists, we gained access to some of the best of what Iceland has to offer. It was so great having a car to do this, as we could spend as little or as long as we wanted at each place we stopped. The temperatures were chilly too, so it was nice having the car as our haven to escape back to after braving the cold at some spots! Obviously the best thing about it is all the amazing places and spots we got to see.

Favourite place: The town of Akureyri is probably the only township that actually made an impression on me, besides Reykjavik. It is the second largest principality in Iceland and its vibe was pretty solid. It has a cool main street with lots of outdoor shops (up there with my favourite kind of shop), it has lots of good cafes and restaurants (shout out to Cafe Berlin) and a darn good icecream shop (Brynja, world famous in Iceland). It also had some really pretty parks and views. We only visited Akureyri for a day trip, however I would have happily spent longer here. In lots of ways it was similar to Reykjavik, however at times I thought Reykjavik didn’t quite have enough going on (at least for how big it is).

Unforgettable sight: Jakulsarlon. I could have stayed here all day without getting bored, although admittedly I would have been more than a little cold. Jakulsarlon is the iceberg lagoon, where glacier melt breaks off into the lagoon, spends several years floating there, and eventually makes its way out to the ocean. It was nothing short of magnificent, and the playful little seals bobbing around were just the cherry on top of an already well-iced cake.

Andy’s recollection

Strongest memory: So. much. water! I could bore you by getting into the specifics of why Iceland is home to so many glaciers, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, but in this instance I think it’s best to just agree that there are a TONNE of them to see, and move on. And when there’s a tonne of waterways on a small island nation, chances are you’re never more than a short detour away from seeing one that’ll make you nod and go “yup, that’s a pretty good waterfall”. My top four favourites, in order, were: Dettifoss, Svartifoss, Skogafoss, Gullfoss. If I got started on honourable mentions, this paragraph might never end.

Memorable meal: This is without doubt the most difficult answer to this question in the entire recollection diaries. Iceland is home to a wonderful(ly expensive) culinary scene, and the good-restaurants-per-capita (which should be a universal data measure, if it isn’t already) has got to be globally unmatched. Had Pete and Janet not been on board for the Iceland leg of our journey, then I suspect we would have limited ourselves to visiting one, maybe two of these top flight restaurants during our 8 day trip. As it was, we were lucky enough to go to about 6. Even Iceland’s tiniest coastal towns around the ringroad would have several each! My award for tastiest meal went to a fish dish that I ate during a lunch in Seydisfjordur, but overall the most memorable meal of the trip for me was the dinner we had at Pakkhus in Hofn. Excellent ambience and consistently good meals.

Best activity: This is a toss-up between whale watching in Husavik, or puffin photography in Vik. The former was a relatively successful outing on a small RIB speedboat, although it was fairly cold given that we were out at sea within striking distance of the arctic circle first thing in the morning! We saw a pair of humpbacks at relatively close range, and got a few bonus dolphins on the ride back. The latter was an activity that developed among us fairly organically, as we watched one particularly persistent puffin try several times to land on a hillside in strong winds. Each time, we had a small window of time where the puffin would zoom within about five metres of our vantage point, so if we got the timing right we could hopefully capture a great action shot of the little fella. This was almost engrossing enough to stop us from noticing just how the chilly gales were affecting us too.

Favourite place: My favourite place was probably the region around Myvatn lake, towards the north of the island. This area felt a little bit more varied in its landscape, the geothermal activity was more evident in a variety of ways, and the weather felt a little drier and warmer. I particularly enjoyed our visit to the Myvatn Nature Baths, as well as nearby Dettifoss, Hverir geothermal field, and the underrated Hverfjall crater. We had only one night here, and I was a little sad for the limited time.

Unforgettable sight: Easy – the Dettifoss waterfall. You may have noted that it was the top of my list of Icelandic waterfalls, but it’s also top of my list for Iceland, period. The volume and power of the waterfall is simply huge, and by happy accident we drove to the less touristy side of the river, which meant that we were able to stand on the rocks on the waterfalls edge. This was an incredible experience, even managing to throw some unexpected adrenaline into the sigh-seeing mix. If you are visiting Dettifoss, I highly recommend taking the road less travelled and going to the Eastern side of the falls!

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