The Golden Circle in Iceland: Our 10 Day Campervan Trip - Day 1
Updated: May 7, 2019
In this 9-part Iceland in a Campervan series we'll give you an in-depth, no fluff account of our trip around Iceland in a campervan. We had our itinerary for the entire 10 day Ring Road adventure well-planned (some say even over-planned, but we say there's no such thing when your destination country is jam-packed with must-see places and your time is limited) and yet we had to tackle a few surprises along the way. After all, this was our first ever campervan trip (we'll jump ahead and say that we are totally hooked now! #vanlife).
Day 1: Iceland's Golden Circle
On September 8, 2018 we caught a flight from Toronto and arrived in Keflavik at 04:45 AM the following day. We had about 3 hours to kill before a representative from the car rental agency was scheduled to meet us and take us to their office to pick up our #campervan. We used that time to have breakfast (we split one sandwich between the two of us because EXPENSIVE!), guzzled up some much needed coffee, and purchased a sim card with data plan at the convenience store (read about the card we got here). Luckily #Keflavik has free wifi with good signal which definitely helped us kills the time while waiting.
To be honest, after reading a couple of negative reviews about the car rental agency online we were a bit worried that the representative meeting us would be late to show up. After bumming around for 3 hours we were anxious to get on the road! But pretty much at exactly 8 AM he was there. After about a 10 minute drive we were at the LAVA office filling out the documents, paying the remainder if the balance we owed, adding additional insurance to our rental, and finally getting to see our home on wheels for the next 10 days!
Tip: Pretty much all rental cars in Iceland come with CDW and TP included in the rental price. CDW stands for Collision Damage Waiver and TP for Theft Protection. We opted in for additional Gravel & Windscreen Protection as well as Ash & Sand protection. While we were planning on mainly staying on the Ring Road for our trip, there were a few places on our itinerary that are only accessible via gravel roads. Having never been to Iceland before we didn’t really know what to expect. Last thing we wanted to worry about on our trip was damaging the van while driving down some crazy Icelandic roads. We found this blog article describing different insurance options useful.
We took our time inspecting the van and noticing all the preexisting dents and scratches. We noted that we couldn’t open one of the side doors. After we pointed it out, the car rental guy apologized for the inconvenience that it might potentially cause (which it absolutely did not) and threw in a 4G Wifi portable router at no fee! It costs about $15/day to add to your rental so, while we have already bought the sim card for Jason’s phone, we were happy to get the router as well. And, as a side note, it didn’t even look like that side door was meant to be opened after the van was converted (the couch/bed was built into that side of the van so the door really had no purpose).
Overall, the entire process of picking up the van took less than 30 min and the guys at the office were super friendly and easy to deal with. They filled our water tank (stay tuned for our water tank adventure later in the post), showed us how to use the propane stove (which came with an extra propane tank), and we were on our way!
Our first stop was in Reykjavik to load up on groceries. Food in Iceland is expensive but there are several budget supermarket chains where the prices are a bit cheaper. One of them is called Bonus and they are in many major towns throughout the country (which is super helpful when you have limited storage space inside the van). The bright yellow logo with a happy pink piggy on it is pretty hard to miss. As we were planning on cooking all our food instead of eating out we had to buy quite a bit of stuff. Our camper van came with a small refrigerator that runs while you are driving so we had to be careful about how much fresh produce and dairy products we were buying. One cucumber, two yogurts, one package of cream cheese, a loaf of bread, hot dogs, 3 packages of pasta along with 3 jars of pasta sauce, an embarrassing number of Mr. Noodle packages, and of course Cronions and we were all set to not starve for the next few days!
Tip: If you want to save money on groceries in Iceland you should shop at one of the discount supermarkets: Bonus, Kronan, or Netto (Bonus being the cheapest and offering the widest selection). But keep in mind that most Bonus stores open at 11 AM and close at 6:30 PM. So plan your shopping trips accordingly.
As we were unloading the groceries, we noticed that the carpet in the back of the van seemed a bit wet. Upon further inspection it turned out that it wasn’t “a bit wet” but rather soaking! We took it out of the van and it was literally dripping water. What the heck?? It didn’t take us long to realize that the valve on the water tank that is stored in the back of the van wasn’t tightly shut and has been leaking water onto the floor for the last hour or so. Now that’s a great start to our adventure! Traveling with a soaking wet carpet inside the van was out of the question. It was damp and cold outside and there would be no way that thing could dry in a reasonable amount of time. But then we were stuck with the dilemma of what to do with it. We didn’t want to just go ahead and throw the nasty thing out in fear of being stuck with extra charges when we return the van. However, we did not have a phone plan to call the rental agency. It’s in times like these when you come to truly appreciate the times we live in and how much we rely on the magic of internet. We were able to call the agency using Google hangouts and, after explaining what happened (especially as it wasn’t us who filled the tank and didn’t turn the valve all the way), we were told to just go ahead and toss the carpet. Phew… Minor hurdle but having it happen one hour into our trip we both agreed that it better be the first and the last one. Positive thinking works! In the next 10 days we did not have a single issue with our camper.
With the wet carpet in the nearby garbage bin and after a quick snack we were ready for our adventure to begin.
Kerið was the first destination on our list, about 50 minute drive from Reykjavik. Kerið is a 3,000 year old volcanic crater lake with striking milky-blue/green water and contrasting burnt orange slopes. The lake gets its incredible colour from the minerals in the rocks that seep into and dye the water. #Kerið is situated on a privately owned land and, therefore, there is a 400 ISK entrance fee with the proceeds going towards Kerið grounds maintenance by the owners. You can walk all around the perimeter of the crater as well as go down to the water. It is such a beautiful spot and it definitely set the mood for the rest of our trip!
From Kerið, we continued on along the Golden Circle route to the Great Geysir - one of Iceland's most known natural attractions. The actual Great Geysir has been dormant since 1916 but the nearby Strokkur is a reliable geysir that erupts every 10 minutes or so and sends boiling water 15-20 meters up into the air. Be prepared for some mighty smells and some major crowds here!
After some great entertainment courtesy of the geysir, we were ready to move on. On our way to the Gullfoss, we made a quick stop at Brú Icelandic horse petting farm. People who own the farm have set up a small parking lot right next to the field where their horses like to hang out. There is a self-serve station where you can purchase some "horse candy" to feed to the horses (on the honesty basis, like many other places in Iceland). Please do not feed horses anything other than the food provided for this purpose. Brú farm can be a little challenging to find on the map, so make sure you check out the map we've created for it's location.
Gullfoss, which translates to "Golden Falls", was the last destination on our list for the day. It is one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland and gets its name for the golden-hued spray that can be seen surrounding the waterfall on a sunny day. I think it's both the grandeur of Gullfoss along with its location in the Golden Circle that make it so popular.
It was beginning to get dark by the time we arrived. The skies were grey, it was raining, and the winds were strong! We got our first taste of what Icelandic weather can be like in September and what we had to prepare ourselves for for the remainder of our trip. There is a bit of a walk from the parking lot and we were shivering uncontrollably as we briskly made our way to the falls. But once you get the view of the waterfall you can't help but forget about your surroundings while taking in the majestic spectacle in front of you. Gullfoss was the first "major" waterfall we saw on our trip and it definitely left us anxious to see the rest of Iceland's "fossar" (i.e. waterfalls).
Frozen to the bone and mesmerized by Gullfoss' beauty, we made our way (very quickly, almost running) back to the campervan. It was almost nighttime by then but we were feeling ambitious and decided to head towards the first site we had planned for the next day - Seljalandfoss. It was an hour and a 40 minute drive and, in hindsight, an overly ambitious decision. We were tired and short on sleep which made the late-night drive very challenging. I had to occasionally play the harmonica to keep Jason awake at the wheel (I don't know how to play harmonica, in case you were wondering, which helped in this case). We did make it to the Hamragarðar campsite alive, though. This campground is said to be one of the most beautiful in Iceland, sitting at the foot of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier within a walking distance from Seljalandfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfalls.
When we arrived, the campground was packed. We had to park our campervan just outside the entrance gates. The facilities at this campsites were our least favourite out of all the campsites we stayed in during the rest of our trip (dirty bathrooms, showers with lack of privacy, small overcrowded kitchen/dining area) but the location
definitely made up for that.
We made ourselves a couple of rum and cokes (our go-to drink on the road) and unpacked our cooking gear. A delicious dinner of Knorr Sidekicks and boiled hotdogs was on the menu for our first night in Iceland. We are not very picky eaters and, even if we were, anything would've tasted amazing after a day of travelling.
With our bellies full, we were ready to settle in for the night. It took a little bit of figuring out the logistics of moving the bags and the suitcase to the front seat, setting up the bed, and getting changed in the back of the van. But we did it and had the coziest sleep in our home on wheels for the next 9 days.
Stay tuned for the next post where we'll talk about swimming in an abandoned pool in the middle of the mountains and hiking through Mars-like landscape to the 1973 plane crash site. And, of course, more waterfalls!