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Tuesday 10 January 2017
Ticking off the 'Bucket List'!
Over the past couple of years, Iceland seems to have topped the ultimate bucket list! Admittedly it’s been at the top of my list for quite a while now so I was very excited when the opportunity arose recently to take a short trip.
There are a couple of ways to get to Iceland. Low fares airline Wow Air began flying direct from Dublin in 2015 and have recently announced they intend to fly direct from Cork in 2017. Another option is to take a charter package on one of the several 3 or 4 night trips available annually from October to April (optimum months for viewing the Northern Lights). The flight times work very well on the charter (out early & home late afternoon), giving you the maximum amount of time on your short break.
3 Night Charter Package
I travelled on the 3 night charter package in October. Our tours were pre-arranged, this took away any unnecessary stress of trying to organise excursions on arrival. The duration of our Iceland Air flight was barely 2 hours which meant I didn’t even get to see the end of the movie I watched on the personal inflight entertainment! (Tip: Bring your own headphones as they will charge you on board to purchase them). The 50 minute transfer from the airport to Reykjavik gives you your first glimpse of the barren landscape Iceland offers. The countryside is basically a lava field with some of the areas quite extensively covered in moss, creating a very unusual green hue. Trees only make up 1 ½ – 2% of the landscape. You can see why movies like Star Trek and Star Wars chose the country as the perfect location for shooting scenes.
Volcanic Countries Rule!
I have to say there is something weirdly exciting about being in one of the most volcanic countries in the world! The western half is particularly volatile and home to Iceland’s biggest volcano, Katla which is feared to erupt….well at any moment really! Most of us in the travel industry are not over the trauma the aftereffects that the volcanic ash cloud caused us when Iceland’s volcano, Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 so it’s hard to imagine what will happen when Katla erupts. Tourism is essential to the economy of Iceland and ironically the country’s volcanos which are now attracting an unprecedented number of tourists, could also be the cause of it’s demise. For us, as I said, been there it was quite exciting!
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa
Reykjavik City located along the West Coast is quite a compact city, with the skyline dominated by the iconic Hallgrímskirkja Church. It is small enough to wander on foot to most sights in the city. Our home for the 3 nights was the centrally located 3* Storm Hotel. On our first night we took a trip to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. The world famous spa is situated in the middle of a lava field approx. 40 minutes from the city. The weather when we arrived after dark was particularly bad with gale force winds and torrential rain greeting us. It was hard to imagine changing into swimwear and heading out into the elements but it was truly amazing! The weather was irrelevant once you step into the relaxing hot waters. The Lagoon Bar was our first port of call for a glass of local Islandic beer before applying a Silica Mud Mask on our faces with the promise of radiant skin after just 5 minutes. What a great experience!
Golden Circle Tour
Next morning was our full day Golden Circle Tour which takes you east from Reykjavik looping approx. 300km through some incredible landscape. We started at Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The Silfra crack between the two plates is one of the top diving and snorkelling sites in the world. Our tour took us on to Fontana Spa, another beautiful hot spring offering beautiful views. Strokkur Geyser with it’s boiling mud pits erupted every 6-10 minutes. I found it difficult to tear myself away, analysing the bubbling ground trying to get the prefect photo! Finally, onto the highlight of my day, the Gullfoss Waterfall. Iceland is a photographers dream and the two tired powerful Gullfoss Waterfall does not disappoint!
Our 3rd day was another full day tour, this time taking in the South Coast of Iceland. This area offers a more lush landscape and as many natural wonders that you could imagine – waterfalls, volcanos, glaciers, cliffs, black sand beaches, the south coast has it all. Our main sights included Sogafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls and a close up of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano but my highlight of the day and possibly of the whole trip was our Solheimajokull Glacier Walk. Our guide was incredible, ensuring that our crampons would keep us upright on our journey through the shrinking glacier. He told us that he had taken the same route the day before but with each turn he appeared shocked that the landscape of the glacier had changed so much in just one day. It’s sad to think that it is melting at such a rapid pace but made me feel even more privileged to be part of the experience. Off course the views from the top were amazing!
On our 4th and final day, we took a Jeep Safari en route to the airport. On board our 4x4 super jeep we got to see the volcanic lava fields up close and personal with a few bumps along the way. This was a really fun and unique way of getting off the beaten track to view some remote lakes and a landscape you otherwise would not see.
I can’t finish without mentioning that the Northern Lights didn’t show up during my trip. A couple of times throughout the weekend, knowledgeable locals mentioned that the forecast was particularly good for that night. The anticipation that they might appear caused great excitement. The willingness I had for them to appear should have made them dance over the skies of Reykjavik as I sat at the waterfront in the early hours of the morning with my camera poised. However, it wasn’t to be and I’ve come to realise that Iceland has so much more to offer than I ever imagined with or without the Lights, just take it as a bonus if you’re one of the lucky ones to see them!
Great blog Katrina!