Iceland 2018: Travel report (part 1)

In summer 2018 Kristina and I hiked for three weeks in Iceland – without car, campsite or stable accommodation. After we did our preparations, the tour from Þórsmörk via Mælifell, Hólmsárlón, Eldgjá, Langisjór to Landmannalaugar was ready to start.

The first part of our route with the first two camps. (0.53MB)

Day 1: Hamburg → Reykjavík

At the day before the departure, we quickly packed our things and went on the Jul 18, 2018 to the airport in Hamburg, Germany. This journey was our dream for one year and then it finally started!

The flight

At 2:50pm the plane from Hamburg to Keflavík started. We flew with IcelandAir which was more expensive than low-price-airlines, but also more relaxing. At 3:15pm our plane landed in Keflavík where a Bus brought us to the terminal.

One backpack came very quickly at the luggage belts but the second didn’t come. After a lot of irritated searching we found it at the bulky luggage, which was just a big door with some luggage in front of it. In the middle of this pile of luggage was our second backpack.

After collecting all our stuff, we went to the customs, because Island we had more than 3kg of food which needs to be declared to the customs. We were the only ones there and – in true German manner – took a ticket. The custom officer watched us and said “oh just come over”. Our conversation with the officer looked something like this:

He: “So, what do you have?”
We: “We have food to declare.”
He: “Interesting, Carry on …”
We: “Mainly nuts, dried trekking food …”
He: “Anything else?”
We: “Hm … dried fruits …”
He: “That’s it?”
We: “Yeah, that’s it.”
He: “I’m not interested, just have a nice day.” (smiling)

Our theory: As long as you don’t bring milk or meet products with you the paperwork is more expensive than the customs duties.

Arrival in Reykjavík

We used the FlyBus from Reykjavík, which is a bus line specially made for travelers from the airport. Regarding to FlyBus the buses depart 30-45 minutes after a plane arrived. Because we took longer in the airport we were a bit late, but for us (at 4pm) it looked like buses depart every 15 to 30 minutes.

The bus trip took us about 45 minutes and we were able to gather first impressions, which raised our pre-joy a lot.

In Reykjavík, we arrived at the BSÍ, the central bus terminal. Directly at the BSÍ there’s a N1 gas station where we planned to buy white spirit for our camping cooker. Because we weren’t familiar with Icelandic terms (definitely know basic vocabulary and product names!) and there were multiple possible bottles, we asked a seller. He advised us to buy “Grill Vökni” and we bought three bottles (642ISK/approx. 6$ per bottle). Later it became clear that this might be lamp oil. So don’t buy “Grill Vökni” for a camping cooker!

Shopping in the town

We went motivated, very happy and with our 30kg heavy backpack to the city center. Uphill. Reykjavík is not located on a mountain but on a hill, which however felt like a mountain. When we arrived at the top we walked pass the Hallgrímskirkja to the shopping zone where walked through masses of tourists to a Bonus-supermarket. Iceland is known for hiking and outdoor activities but we were clear outsider with our big backpacks.

The main church Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík. (0.20MB)

At the supermarket we bought Parmesan (598ISK/approx. 5,70$), Gouda (889ISK/approx. 8,50$) and two bottles of a cider softd rink (1.5L each 198ISK/1,90$). Soft drinks are not that expensive in comparison to food.

In front of the supermarket we met an elderly woman with her dog. There was also a cat always walking besides the dog but the cat doesn’t belong to her, however the dog and cat were good friends. We had a little chat and then went to the campsite.

Campsite in Reykjavík

There’re also bus lines you can take, but Reykjavík is not that large so we walked the whole way. Even though we carried 30kg on our backs, it was totally doable. One part of the way lead us along the waterside and was very pretty, even though there was some rain.

The campsite is directly located next to a big swimming bath and was pretty large. Next to tents there’re also caravans and campers. The reception is in a house where also a communal kitchen and a small shop is located. In front of the reception are benches, tables and also the showers, toilets and big garbage containers. Everything looked nice and clean.

The price was – for us Germans – pretty expensive: One night for two persons in one tent costs about 4800ISK (approx. 45,70$).

Our tent on the campsite in Reykjavík. (0.78MB)

Buying white spirit (second attempt)

After building up our tent on the rather full meadow and preparing our first trekking meal, we noticed that the “white spirit” be bought wasn’t working. At that time we didn’t know that we bought lamp oil, so we trotted a bit confused to the reception to get some help.

A helpful lady at the reception cleared the situation and told us that be bought lamp oil. She even called the N1 gas station and asked if we could return the bottles. To find real white spirit, we slightly edgy and frustrated searched for another gas station and found one. There we bought three bottles of “Coleman Bensin” (each 1790ISK/approx. 17$). Pretty expensive but we were hungry, nervous and had to get up early on the next day.

Actual white spirit is called rodspirit/rödspirit, bensin or also vinandi – the white spirit we thought we bought might actually be lamp oil? …

The stuff we bought produces a lot of soot but worked very well. Too good to be true: We always diluted it with a bit of water (depending on wind and temperature) so it doesn’t burn that strong. Without water the flame was too high and strong so that even the lid of the cooker was not able to extinguish it!

After the meal we tried to sleep and directly noticed that the night is far from being dark. A small scarf, which can be used to cover your eyes, is very helpful in the Icelandic summer!

Day 2: Reykjavík → Þórsmörk → Bjórgil

Departure from Reykjavík

We stood up at 6am and our bus leaved at 7:15am to Þórsmörk. There were already some people waiting at the bus stop, which is directly located at the entrance to the campsite. Among others there was a couple from Germany, which wrapped their backpacks in plastic bags very hastily. They heard, that the luggage compartments of the buses may be flooded (which is not unlikely on deeper fords). After hearing that, we got a bit worried and also wrapped our backpacks in huge plastic bags, which we originally wanted to use for clothes and the sleeping bag. Unfortunately our backpacks were way too large and everything looked more funny than helpful.

After a few minutes, the bus arrived and drove us to the BSÍ, where we had to change. So we unloaded the backpacks, unwrapped them (in case of doubt, they weren’t that helpful) and after a couple of minutes the actual bus leaved the BSÍ.

Drive to Þórsmörk

The journey was relaxing and we were able to gather some impressions. We had to change again in Hvolsvöllur but this time into an older and more robust bus suitable for the terrain. Now we drove into the highland, which was much more interesting for us.

The left bus is the normal coach we arrived with and the middle one is the robust one which brought us to Þórsmörk. (0.31MB)

After a while on the main ring road we turned left, passed the Seljalandsfoss and went further into the inland. The normal road was quickly replaced by a gravel track which was maintained by some wardens/rangers coming towards us. After several smaller fords, the driver made a little break at the Gigjökull glacier so that we were able to take some pictures. Afterwards the journey continued to Þórsmörk were we had to cross a larger river.

A mobile bridge over the Krossá river near Þórsmörk. (0.63MB)

Repack and let’s go

We arrived at 2pm, admired the big jeeps and walked to the campsite to repack out backpacks. Because we had not much time in the morning, we packed our backpack very poorly. We also tested our cooker again to become familiar with its usage (due to the strange white spirit we bought).

Iceland is a paradise for people loving big cars. (0.36MB)

Kristina ask the guy in the campsite reception how the weather may look like to find out if there’s any big storm coming up. The only answer she got was “Well, there will be weather”.

After repacking and taking a nice photo in front of the Markarfljót (s. below) it was time to start our journey. Þórsmörk is very beautiful, green, forested (Þórsmörk = forest of Thor) but also pretty steep. Because the first bit of our journey followed the Laugavegur, we met a lot of other people hiking towards Þórsmörk. It was so warm that day that we started hiking without even wearing any jacket.

In Þórsmörk at the Markarfljót. (0.85MB)

After completing our first ford, which wasn’t deep but pretty cold, we hiked – this time without a forest – further uphill. Towards the evening the temperature dropped and did a little break at a small but wild river. After taking some photos, filling up our water bottles and eating our dinner, we passed an adventurous bridge to the other side.

We then created our camp a bit downstream behind a larger bush. Being pretty exhausted but in a good mood, we marked our first camp on our hiking map.

Day 3: Bjórgil → Bíldufell

The alarm clock rang at 8:30am for us. While eating our breakfast, we already saw a lot of hikers on the Laguavegur, which had to get up incredibly early on the next campsite (Botnar, approx. 7km away). Somehow comprehensible, because there were a lot more hiking groups later in the day.

Our camp in the morning. (0.52MB)

One couple crossed our way, we asked them how far the campsite Botnar is away and came to the conclusion that we hiked not as far as we thought we did. Later in the evening, we disillusioned corrected the position of our camp on the map.

But first we walked further along the Markarfljót, which runs through an approx 80m (~260ft) deep canyon. Before entering the plain Sandar and passing the river Fremri-Emstruá, we had a breathtaking view through the canyon (s. below). But only because we left the normal hiking path!

This view of the Markarfljót is only accessible when leaving the normal Laguavegur hiking path. (0.85MB)

The Bridge over the Fremri-Emstruá looked pretty adventurous and the slopes were very steep. After passing the bridge, we did not walked uphill to the Botnar campsite but turned right towards the Entujökull glacier.

The bridge above the Fremri-Emstruá was very adventurous. (0.74MB)

After turning right, we hiked towards the Entujökull glacier. (0.71MB)

At this point there were no hiking paths (sometimes trails from sheeps) and we should not meet any other human for the next four days. Therefore, we had to use our navigation skills and needed to search our location on the hiking map.

We placed our tent near the Bíldufell on a place without vegetation on it (to not harm the sensitive moss, s. below). The last two kilometers for that day consisted of a former river bed and was therefore difficult for us to hike. Especially the hills were very steep and slippery.

Our tent with the Bíldufell in the background. (0.90MB)

Not far from the tent ran the river Fremri-Emstruá, which consisted of very turbid water, so the water filter was definitely worth it. Nevertheless, we let the water stand over night so the contained solids could settle.

Here again the first part of our hike with the two camps. (0.53MB)

To be continued …

I hope you enjoyed this first part of our reports. We were 24 days in Iceland, so there will be a lot of reports. But I promise to you, it won’t get boring ;)

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Hauke

I'm a software developer from Hamburg, Germany who loves hiking and beeing outdoor active. When I'm at home, I work on this blog and other software projects, play the piano or watch tons of series ;)
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