I really couldn't believe what I was seeing - Iceland - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com

Iceland: Driving the Ring Road

I was lucky enough to travel to Iceland for five days, and spent the entire time pinching myself to see if I was alive or just dreaming. It turns out, I was very much alive, and captured some images you must see.

They say a picture is worth one thousand words. Previously, I offered you several photos to help you better acquaint yourself with Reykjavik (CLICK HERE to see!) and then we headed to the Western Fjords, and up to Iceland’s second city Akureyri (CLICK HERE to see!). In this third post are photos from Iceland’s Eastern and Southern coasts, home to some of the island’s most iconic locations.

Below, what the journey along Iceland’s Ring Road Entails:

Check out photos of other parts of the island – there are three stories in all. There really is no other way – it is just THAT amazing of a place! 

Take a look at the slideshow:


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As I picked up my little red Hyundai from a rental company, I silently thanked my parents for their demands that the adolescent-me learn to drive a manual. The pothole-heavy gravel road I grew up on also gave me confidence to navigate the roads I was about to encounter, where deep ruts made for pop-up obstacles courses along Iceland’s more rural routes. In the past two years I’ve driven only a handful of times, and found myself driving more carefully and more slowly  than any other car on the road. And while I myself had chosen a means other than hitchhiking, I took it upon myself to ‘pay it forward’ by inviting in two great Danes who were headed in my general direction. As soon as the three of us set out together, I immediately regretted my decision. Not because they were ‘scary’ or ‘dirty’ (they were very well-educated, kind lads) but because I was still getting used to driving again, and who wants to ride along with a person traveling a quarter the speed of everyone else on the road?

We enjoyed some good company together, and progressively I regained confidence in my abilities, leading to a smoother more comfortable ride for all of us. I dropped them off near Kirkjufell mountain on  Snæfellsnes, the western peninsula. After stopping for a baked been and melted cheese hot dog at Meistarinn Hot Dog Stand in the little tourist town where Walter Mitty made his first appearance, I found Iceland’s gravel roads the only option to return to the main ring highway. Slow and steady wins the race on those bumpy paths, and by the time I reached the main road once more, I decided to set up camp in a safe parking space alongside a few other cars and campers.

On Day two, I awoke feeling like the world was at my fingertips. There was so much to see and discover on the roads ahead. It was bright and it was early. We’re talking 4am early. Still, it was bright and my lead foot was pulsing with anticipation. I drove with small stops until I reached Iceland’s main northern city: Akureyri. On the way I’d passed Santa (or so the signs said) along with seals snoring on seaside rocks and arrived around 8am. The city was barely moving at that hour. Just a few cars traversed the streets, and all but one store remained closed. The bay area was lined with boats offering whale watching excursions and a large metal man dressed in blue stood guard over these northern waters. The charm of a quiet fishing town was accented with stoplights where the red circles were replaced by red hearts – stops of love.

Taking these signs as a true sign, I pulled over in a lot overlooking Akureyri’s Eyjafjörður bay for a lengthy snooze. The early morning had caught up with me and to face all that was ahead, another car nap was greatly appreciated. And what’s even greater than falling asleep to a view of Eyjafjörður? Waking up to that same view. What a gift.

When I woke up, I quickly turned to the open road once more, keeping both eyes open wide in search of signs designating tourist attractions. Spotting one just outside of Akureyri, I pulled into a parking lot quickly filling with other cars. Stepping out of my car, I breathed in the deepest breath of air that, even though in a lot filled with vehicles, was one of the freshest breaths one can find in the world. Just steps away, a miniature Niagara Falls flowed over in a similar horseshoe shape. Godafoss Falls, or Falls of the Gods, is a site accessible from many angles with a bridge leading from one side to the other about 100 meters downstream. After dancing back and forth across the river, I continued to the pseudo craters of nearby Lake Mývatn. An appropriate place for a walk, I stuck to designated paths while trying to get the best view of the in-between hills reminiscent of giant green Fruit Loops from ground level. Bird’s eye view offers something entirely different: essentially large masses of convex volcanos, having exploded from bursts of steam rather than lava.

North of Lake Mývatn, hour-long stretches through the arctic lead to what is said to be Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Driving through the whitewashed terrain, I felt like I’d been transported straight into a land of polar bears and snow globe blizzards. The sun no longer shone and glimpses of sky turned it from sapphires to diamonds as I searched for Dettifoss. A few brave souls were on the same path as I, and one by one we came across a sign no one wanted to see: Road Closed Ahead. One by one we turned around and one by one we tried to no avail to warn others of the closure. Assuming it was for the best, I returned to the Ring Road and crept to Iceland’s Western edge.

The East could easily take days upon days to cover. The North as well. Iceland’s West Coast, however, swept by in mere hours. Once I found myself thinking how repetitive the landscapes were becoming, and how nondescript my thoughts had turned. At that moment, I pulled over. Getting out of my car, I breathed in the deepest breath of cold Icelandic air, ashamed. I looked around. There was a waterfall nearby, pointing its path right toward an old wooden farmhouse. There were mountains to one side, sea to another, and hardened masses of lava between. It had all become so familiar. I felt that I knew what to expect around every corner. So what did I do? I walked down an uncut path to the waterside and found a seat on a large black rock. Birds were splashing nearby, taking their evening baths. It had been a long day. The time on the counsel shone a bright “10:40”. As we’ve discussed, the sky shone equally as bright. Despite having driven all day, I felt clean and clear from any disruptive thoughts. The day had been one of meditation, led by the country’s repetitive yet remarkable sites.

Car Camping Day Three was one that caused a continual question and answer session to play out in my mind: “Was it beautiful there?” I would unintentionally ask myself with every new view. “You bet it was,” I would inevitably answer. Call me crazy, but it was true. It was so beautiful, I could barely control my own thoughts.

What was so beautiful? I first spotted a set of mountains with peaks clear from snow and a large white glacier cutting deep into the valley between. Pulling over once more, I escaped the little red Hyundai and snapped a photo. As I did so, a tinge of turquoise caught my eye. It was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, and somehow I’d completely forgotten it existed. I gasped so loudly that I caught myself by surprise. If I could’ve flown, I would’ve. Immediately, I jumped into my car and tried to keep the pedal a short distance from the metal as I zoomed to a closer parking spot.

Wiping water droplets from my eyes – (a)how did those get there? (b) it really is that beautiful – I plowed over a few dozen tourists and raced to a nearby hilltop. Glaciers were floating in, pushed by incoming sea currents. Slowly colliding with one another, small chunks occasionally broke off, submerging once more into the cold teal waters. A small motor boat made its way around, operated by a young gentleman who seemed to have his eye on one particular chunk of ice. He was making small circles, careful not to touch any of the giant wedges surrounding him. As he turned from a particularly large piece, that piece broke free and slowly tipped over, causing a domino effect to some degree. The boat’s driver turned a moment too late. He had missed it! We all had witnessed its magic and several others rushed to greet him by the shore to share their footage. The iceberg sat there, baring its blackened stomach to the skies and showing off a side which had not seen the light of day in perhaps thousands of years.

Was it beautiful? You bet it was.

The rest of the day’s drive passed through fields of roaming reindeer, Icelandic horses chased by overexcited border collies, and masses of half-sheered sheep. A sky high climb led me to yet another monstrous waterfall. As the sky was turning from bright to light, I hiked to the top of the falls. Several campers had set up their tents at its base, ready to fall asleep to the rushing waters.

For my final Icelandic night, I picked a populated lot on the southwestern side of the country. As I fell asleep, I tried to comprehend everything I’d seen. I tried to write it down, even just to jot a few notes. Iceland is one big mass of sensory overload, and I quickly realized that. Instead of trying to regurgitate it, I internalized it, and slept that night in the driver’s seat as if I was a baby in a swaddling cloth. In the morning, only a few hours allowed me to find all the spots between Selfoss and Reykjavik that were yet to be seen. Stopping to get petrol, I gave in to coffee’s temptation and ordered a cup. As it was gas station coffee, the process was self service. And as I’d clearly not yet had coffee, the process was a difficult one for my still groggy brain to handle. An older gentleman stepped in and showed me the ropes, unable to speak a lick of English but managing to share a forgiving smile. I thanked him (the ONE Icelandic word I’d picked up: þakka þér). He laughed, and walked over to four other men his age, each seated at a small window seat. On a counter separating man from window was a plate of Pönnukökur: Icelandic crepes. A morning meeting of the finest proportions. The man who’d already been so kind to help me took the plate and held it in front of me. Breakfast was served! Thanking each of them one by one as they laughed at my horrible pronunciation, I graciously took a small rolled pancake and waved goodbye.

As I drove to the airport, I had one final stop: The Blue Lagoon. Perhaps the most well-known of all of Iceland’s attractions, I’d saved ‘the best for last’. I ran in, quickly walked around, thought how lovely it would be to take a dip if time had allowed, then realized… every single attraction, every sight, sound, breath. Everything about Iceland is magical. Not just the Blue Lagoon. Not just the puffins. Not just the hot dogs or the ice bergs. Everything.
Is it beautiful there? You bet it is.

But don’t just take my word for it. You must go. Experience it for yourself. Trust me.


Or click on an image and flip through the photos at your own pace:

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