Iceland. The land of fire and ice!
This trip started off really well. We had what they call 'comfort class' tickets. Like cheap business class! On the Iceland Air plane heading from the USA they only had seats for economy and first class so it was a comfortable 5 hours into Iceland. (The outbound flight was back to normal..☹️)
Our first stop was an Airbnb we had booked in the city of Reykjavik. It was an OK location near the city centre but that's where the good points stopped. Sadly the place was not as advertised and we didn't get some of the features we were looking for. I guess the Iceland experience went down hill a bit from then on...
The first thing we had to do is find a laundromat (no washing machine at the Airbnb!) we found a place that has a cafe above a coin laundry so hot breakfast as well.. OK, I had heard Iceland was expensive but I really had no idea how much outside my comfort zone it was going to be. The 2 loads of washing cost $27 NZD alone! hmmm OK. Then the breakfast of 2x eggs on toast each and 2 coffees came in... $50!! The entire exercise of washing and breakfast was over $75 NZD. We were completely gobsmacked! Holy shit you're kidding?? Well no! WELCOME TO ICELAND.
This was the first of many times we were left completely blown away by the price of things. I don't want to use the term gouging but I really do think that it was happening. A couple of examples are tent sites in large camping grounds where we would pay between $30 and $50NZD plus if you wanted a shower, an extra $6NZD each and the camp grounds were very basic. Food is pretty expensive but we had no idea how much until we went to order pizza. Of course they have Dominos pizza and our 'go to' meal is 2 x medium size pizzas. Well we didn't get them! If we are going to pay $60NZD for a meal, I want to sit down in a restaurant to eat it... Yes that's right...$60NZD for 2 medium size Dominos pizzas!
There is a back story. I think everyone remembers the volcano that erupted and closed down the European airspace due to volcanic ash. (No I don't know how to say it's name either..) Since then, people became interested in Iceland and they have had ever increasing tourist numbers and this year they expect to have more than 2 million visitors to the country. That is a lot of beds and mouths to feed. It's creating issues for the locals as you might imagine. Most of the city area (where we initially stayed) is being let out as Airbnb 'hotels' meaning property prices are being driven up by investors and local people can not rent or afford to buy in the city centre anymore. Also all of the fresh food is grown using glass houses with grow lights. They only grow grass and a small amount of organic vegetables in the fields due to the short sunlight hours and cold temperatures and this is a simple supply and demand exercise. The local population is under 350,000 throughout the entire island and it's easy to see the tourists. They are the overweight people with dark hair. Icelandic Air says they are going to increase the tourist numbers so that within the next 3 to 5 years up to 5 million visitors per year will be arriving. It's a bit of a never ending cash cow for the islanders.
So, we went off to collect the rental car to see this amazing country. We had to decide where to go as we didn't have enough time to do the full circle of Iceland. We chose the south east area as it had the largest glacier in the country and some hot pools as well. Seeing the big glaciers up close is quite amazing. We have seen a few glaciers in New Zealand but these are the monsters of the world. The only place to see larger glaciers is in Antarctica. We went on a few short walks and did a lot of sightseeing along the ring road. The scenery is beautiful to say the least and it's often hard to capture it by photo although I drove Christine a bit mad by stopping every few miles for photos anyway. Some of the farms were just amazing to look at. Usually at the bottom of a cliff or above a valley they stand out against a deep green background. They are mostly sheep farms but we did see some good looking dairy farms and everyone seemed to have a horse or 2. We understand Iceland is very proud of their houses and they are unique in that they can trot or gallop differently to other horses? Never been on a normal horse so these extra features would have been wasted on me for sure so we didn't do the horse riding tours.
We did do a glacier tour. Unlike New Zealand, here we could pretty much get out of the car and step on the ice! No long walk up a valley chasing a retreating glacier here! They are however retreating like all the ice on this warming planet but oh wow, they are totally massive! It was a great experience and we were the last tour group for our tour guide. She is an Iceland local and is off to see the world and wants to ski and rock climb in some of the best places on the planet. I expect she will have to visit New Zealand to tick that list off. When we finished the tour, I joked that seeing as this was her last day she should go for a swim in the small lake at the edge of the ice. I mentioned it to her colleagues too and when they asked 'you too' I joked 'only if you do it as well'
Not a word was spoken as they casually stripped off for their swim. Our guide and 2 others got down to the basics and just like that, in they went! So... I had made a promise and now I had to follow through. The best thing is to not over think things so I did the same and stripped off. I didn't even bother to wade in but just dived right in from the shore. I have been in some cold water before but never this cold. This is Iceland and I am swimming in a glacier lake. That's all kind of crazy right there. I wasn't the last one to get out and our guide did some swim strokes, but it was all over in 60 seconds. I think I gained some respect from the local guides that day even if the other tourists thought we were all completely crazy.
We also went to a nice hot pool that day. We really were expecting to find more hot pools than we did. One of the things with Iceland is Icelandic! They speak it and we don't! You might think that as tourism is the number 1 earner for the country, some of the signs would be in English? No. Even the road warning signs that had an alarming big warning triangle that is trying to get our attention is only in Icelandic. As were all the tourist roadside signs! We went to a visitor centre and we were trying to make out the different attractions from the brochure. We asked the attendant what it all meant and he politely offered to sell us an English version. We declined. (Even the 'visitors centre' sign was in Icelandic..) so we think we missed some good hot pools along the way we would have visited had we known they were there. (The hot pools were $35NZD each..)
So we have 'done' Iceland. It was nice, beautiful and scenic. The city of Reykjavik is a nice modern, clean and safe city but we felt like we were charged way too much for most of the things we did and bought. Iceland is rated the 4th most expensive country in the world (New Zealand is 7th..) and the tourist services are still basic. I guess it's a credit to the people that they remain the same and can show off the culture the way they do. Anyway, we made new friends and had new experiences and we feel much richer as we depart. I think that's the important thing eh.
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!