My first winter trip was Beijing, back in 2011. And it was a nightmare. No, not because of Beijing, it’s more to the weather. The temperature at that time ranging between -5 to -12 degree Celsius. It’s my first time, someone from tropical country of Indonesia, went to see snow and play ski. I was using 5 layers of clothes and still feel freezing. I wasn’t enjoy the trip, my favourite moment when I was in bed. Comfy and warm.
So when my friend, Christine, asked “Would you like to see Aurora Borealis in Iceland?”. The first thing came up was: how am I going to survive in Iceland, the land of ice and fire, during winter? Ice. Snow. Glacier. Cold. Freezing.
Five years after Beijing trip, Uniqlo released their product called Heattech. And trust me, (they never pay me for saying this), that product really a saver. When I went to Iceland, the temperature was around -5 to -15 degree Celsius and thanks to Uniqlo, I was only using 3 layers of clothes: extra warm heattech, T-shirt, and winter coat. They also have heattech legging to keep you warm. And last but not least, it is strongly recommended to use waterproof hiking boots and leather gloves. The point is you have to keep your body dry. Wearing a wool gloves may works if you are in a sunny day. When the rain comes, it’s useless.
The best way to explore Iceland is by doing a road trip. They have established inter-city transportation system, so you can use either airplane or bus from one place to another. However, you should pay attention to the schedule. Do you know that 80% of Iceland is uninhabited? Hence, using bus to go to certain place is little bit tricky. Unless you have plenty of time to do so. Rent a car is another option. Unfortunately, none of us have experience driving in icy condition. Hence, in our 2 weeks trip, we use bus and tour to explore Iceland. There are plenty of tour providers offering the same itinerary. Read the review very carefully and compare the price.
The most important thing to be prepared is money. Living cost in Iceland is expensive. Very expensive. Not because of my origin country is Indonesia, but most of the travelers also say the same thing. A fine dining in new year’s eve cost me around 50 USD, just for a chicken fillet and fries. My favorite meals in Reykjavik was a bowl of noodle soup. The taste is not that delicious, but it’s the cheapest food I can get (around 15 USD). To save your money, try to stay at a lodge with fully equipped kitchen or rent an apartment. Buy groceries and cook your meals. Bring your own snack so you don’t have to spend money in rest area or restaurant nearby tourist attraction. For drinking water, no need to worry because Iceland has the purest water on earth. And the weather is cold anyway so you may not want to drink ice.
During winter, the sun rises at 10 AM and the night comes around 5 PM. The first two days, you may feel abnormal to start your trip when everything still dark. Just make sure to use your daylight time wisely, check operating hours of tourist attractions to avoid missing anything just because they are already close. Another important thing to check is about where and when to find the magical aurora. My friend used http://www.vedur.is to check the best time and location to spot the aurora. Tips for hunting the aurora is to always manage your expectation. She will show up at the right time and right place. You will see her dancing in the sky in such beautiful way. Trust me on this. Iceland is not only about aurora. The Iceland’s landscape is amazing. Take aurora as a bonus. You will enjoy every detail of this country.
As Indonesian passport holder, you have to hold Schengen visa to enter Iceland. Most people say it’s better to submit your visa application in Netherlands embassy. Well, some said it will be easier for Indonesian to get visa approved due to our relationship with Dutch for 3.5 centuries. However, as most Indonesian think that way, you will get long queue in visa application center. Iceland doesn’t have embassy in Indonesia. All visa application to Iceland should be submitted thru Denmark embassy. And it’s less hassle! No need to make appointment and no queue at all.
It’s the time!
I chose KLM to fly me from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam then continued with Icelandair from Amsterdam to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. My friends and I arrived at our lodge in Reykjavik at 7 PM. The lodge was quite close to city center. It’s new year’s eve so once we cleaned up ourselves, we went to city center to have dinner and waiting for fireworks at midnight (what jet lag?). While we strolled down in Laugavegur street to find restaurant, we got a surprise. Aurora borealis suddenly showed up and dancing in the sky. She’s welcomed us to Iceland. Beautiful. Stunning. Lovely.
Once we finished our most expensive dinner at the only restaurant, which still has seat available along the street (50 USD for chicken fillet and fries), we went to Hallgrimskirkja church. The church will be the center of new year’s eve celebration in Reykjavik. The fireworks started at 11 PM and finished at 1 AM. I think the city council has a lot of money to spend. Waiting under -5 degree Celsius was paid off once the fireworks spectacularly entertained us.
We explored Reykjavik and took Golden Circle tour in the next two days. Reykjavik is a lovely city with its Scandinavian style architecture. Everything is within walking distance. Don’t forget to try their local coffee shop. The taste is really good. Don’t try to find Starbucks in this country, you won’t find any.
Golden circle is the most famous tour whilst in Iceland. First in the morning, Sterna travel took us to Hellisheiði power plant to learn how geothermal can support life for most of Icelanders. It’s not a surprise as Reykjavik is one of the greenest cities on earth. Kerid volcanic crater lake is our next destination. The caldera is composed from red rock. The lake is frozen when we were there. See the picture below, it’s like a red velvet cake right?
I was awed when seeing the gigantic Gulfoss waterfall. This waterfall, which located in Pingvellir National Park, is the fourth biggest waterfall in Iceland. And I feel like living in winter wonderland at that time. It’s all white.
In the next morning, a lady from Extreme Iceland picked us up at 9 AM for 2 days Snaeffelssnes Peninsula tour. Her name is Maria. A very tough lady who will be our guide/driver to lead us to west coast of Iceland. We stopped at Deildartunguhver hot spring, Reykholt village, Hraunfossar Falls, and Gerduberg, a beautiful basalt column. Before heading to guesthouse, Maria took us to try mineral spring water somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Londrangar – West Iceland
From vedur website, it is informed that Aurora can be spotted at the area where our guesthouse located. Right after dinner, we are waiting for the aurora, with beers and chips. While freezing, we prayed to have a chance to see aurora. Unfortunately, the activity is not strong enough so we barely can’t see aurora with naked eyes. I was so grateful to have Christine as she’s so persistent to capture aurora with her camera. When everybody was freezing and gave up, she’s there, with her tripod and camera, hunting the amazing aurora.
First day in the morning, Maria dropped us off at Cave Vatnshellir to do a journey to the center of earth. It’s not a joke. For someone who has Claustrophobia, you’d better stay in the bus. See that stairs? It goes to the center of earth.
I was impressed by Djupalonssandur and Dritvik, beautiful black sand beaches. So tranquil. Less tourist compared to Reynisfjara.
I always imagine Kirkjufell mountain is located in the middle of nowhere. When Maria stopped the car aside the road, we did not realize that mountain is exactly in front of our eyes. Is it just me or this hat looks like selection hat in Harry Potter’s movie?
Together with New Zealand, Iceland by geological age can be classified as young country. It just appeared over the ocean surface 16 – 18 million years ago. If you are an earth scientist, Iceland should be your playground. Svartifoss waterfall is one of the highlights. This columnar joint formation had given inspiration for some landmarks in Iceland, such as Hallgrimskirkja church and National Theater. So we decided to ride bus for 7 hours to Skaftafell in Vatnajokull National Park for the sake of seeing this marvelous waterfall.
Almost Svartifoss: At that day, we plan to go to Svartifoss waterfall in the morning, go back to hotel and take glacier hike tour at 1 PM. We’re informed that distance between hotel and waterfall is only 3-4 km. Just walk thru the road until information center then start to hike, you will find the waterfall in 1.5 hours, said hotel receptionist. We left the hotel at 9 AM and expect to come back before 1 PM. We did not even think to rent a car to take us until information center which will save us time and energy. We feel strong at that time. It’s about to rain and completely dark when we left the hotel. I think we’re the only human beings who walked in that road. We did not see any car. After one hour walking, the rain was getting heavy and it’s very cold. It’s 10.45 AM when we saw information center. We still have 500m to go but we decided to come back. We need at least 2 hours to reach waterfall and we have appointment at 1 PM for the tour. On our way back to the hotel, the rain and wind were so strong. It’s nightmare. I prayed and asked a little help from God to save us. We tried to hitch hike and no car was willing to stop. Maybe they think that we are criminal or lunatic. Who wants to walk in the middle of heavy rain? Suddenly, God answered my pray. A car stopped and they asked us to ride with them. They are a couple from Russia and the first question was “what are you guys doing here? it’s raining”. And when they know we are from Indonesia, “the weather must be totally the opposite from what you have back home”. Indeed. They dropped us off at our lodge. It’s 12.30 PM. We decided to bail out from the tour. We’re freezing. Only Nelly, the youngest of all, still have energy to go with the tour. The rests were hiding under the blanket. Try to get warm. Age does tell everything right?
For those who have seen Interstellar movie, you might remember the scene when Matthew McConaughey walking across white terrain. That scene filmed at Svinafellsjokul, a glacier in the Vatnajokull National Park. The glacier hike tour that we supposed to take was to explore that glacier. We’re so sad that we couldn’t make it. So we cheered up ourselves by having full course dinner at the hotel restaurant. The chef came to us and say, have you go to glacier at the back of our hotel? It’s the glacier where Interstellar was filmed. The movie stars along with the crews were stayed at this hotel. There is a pathway to go to that glacier. They used to walk along that path. We’re like: WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?. God always be with travelers. Thank you God. Thank you.
Iceland is well-known for their beautiful waterfalls. This country has north Atlantic climate which produces rain and snow and it located near arctic with lots of glaciers that will be melted during summer so will feed many rivers. We saw at least 5 waterfalls within 11 days in Iceland. The first 2 waterfalls located in west Iceland and the other 3 waterfalls are along the way to Skaftafell. The weather was so friendly to us where the sun was shining brightly so we’re able to see those remarkable, splendid, and wonderful waterfalls!
One of the must to do things whilst in Iceland is ice caving. However, none of tour provider can pick us up from Skaftafell. Hence, we should return back to Reykjavik and take 2 day tour to do ice caving. It takes about 7 hours from Reykjavik to Skaftafell, so in total we spent 28 hours on the road (Reykjavik – Skaftafell 2x, Skaftafell – Reykjavik 2x) and I did not regret at all. The landscape of Iceland is beyond words! Hanging cliffs, lava plain, snowy mountain, turquoise lake…you name it and you will see it.
The first time I read about ice caving, a question popped out: Does the ice really blue? And I got the answer from Extreme Iceland website: On the outside the Vatnajökull glacier’s white crust is UV-bleached and scuffed. But on the inside it is transformed into a striking, glassy-blue cathedral, thanks to the tremendous weight of ancient ice pushing air bubbles out for a thousand years. Come spring time, the caves melt and buckle, and in autumn local glacier specialists set out in search of new hidden chambers to explore. This impermanence makes Iceland’s crystal caves all the more magical. The same intense blue color can be seen for example on floating icebergs that reveal their lower side when they have recently rolled over or split in two.
Guided by the most beautiful guide I’ve ever met, we walked into a cave, somewhere in the middle of Breidamerkurjokull. It was the most astonishing ice sculptures I’ve ever seen. Definitely a breath-taking experience.
Our last stop before heading back to Reykjavik was Jokulsarlon, an iceberg lagoon. Perhaps, I will cry like baby if I go to Antarctica as I almost cried when saw plenty of unique iceberg.
Iceland sure has its own way to make traveler’s journey memorable. We’re welcomed by Aurora in new year’s eve and she also saying goodbye by showing up on our last day in Iceland. So, trust me, if it meant to be, it will be, she will come to you, and you will see her effortlessly.
Eleven days in Iceland and I was inspired. Mother earth needs our commitment to keep protecting the environment. I will be the saddest person on earth if Iceland or any place around the world lost its beauty due to global warming. I want my kids see glacier and my grandchildren see coral and turtle.
Moving from fossil fuel to renewable clean energy may require a massive effort. However, we can start by doing our part. Reduce fossil fuel consumption, try to use recycle product, bring your own shopping bag to avoid plastic bag, less meat consumption, etc.
Climate change does exist. Glacier starts to melt. Sea level is increasing. Earth is heating up (Last 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded). Antarctica is greener. As Leonardo Di Caprio said in his Oscar acceptance speech: Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. Let us not take this planet for granted
Let’s protect our earth, our home, we are not own this planet, we borrow from our children’s children.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ameliasaputri/albums (Iceland: Land of Ice and Fire)