North to South: Iceland’s Diverse Landscape

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There’s a lot I’d heard about Iceland, one being that it is called the land of “Ice and Fire.” It’s obvious to see why, considering it has volcanoes and glaciers practically right next to each other. What I didn’t know about Iceland was how insanely different the landscape is from one side of the island to the other. Driving along the ring road, I felt as if we entered a new world – even a new planet – every few miles. It’s hard to describe exactly what it’s like to experience the varying scenery. However, I will attempt to show you through some of the many photos I captured on my week-long journey through this stunningly beautiful, at times bizarre, but all-together unforgettable country. Even if these images give you an idea of what Iceland is like, they don’t do it nearly the justice it deserves. You have to go there yourself to truly understand how special and unique it is.

West

Our journey began driving North from Reykjavik, along the western portion of the island. Rather than stay on Highway 1 the whole time, we diverted onto Route 47, which circles fjord Hvalfjörður. Most people take the tunnel under the water to save time, passing by this beautiful fjord. But if you do that, you miss some wonderful gems and unique Iceland sites. We drove over this slender bridge and immediately pulled over to take pictures of the scenery. It’s not a notable site (there was no marking indicating it was and no other cars were around), it’s just something beautiful that we came across, and we knew we could expect more of this from Iceland.

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A couple miles down the road from the bridge was this small waterfall right off the side of the road. Of course, we had to pull over. And in the background, a lovely rainbow. These were everywhere, no matter where we were, it seems a rainbow showed its colorful face everyday in Iceland.

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The main reason we took route 47 around the fjord was to take a hike to Glymur Waterfall, one of the highest and tallest waterfalls in the country. The water cascades 198m (650 feet) down the rocks. That was all we knew of this waterfall. What we didn’t know was that it was a decent hike to get there, and not always easy. The parking area is located at the head of the trail, about 3-4km from the waterfall. The first portion of the hike is relatively easy, but can get muddy at times. As you trek further into the vista, you will see yellow sticks marking the trail…make sure you watch for these as we missed one and went slightly off course. Luckily, we figured it out before we went much further and made our way back to the path. It will take you through a small cave down to the river, where you have to cross over a wooden walkway (actually it’s just a large pole, and there is a cord you can hold onto to keep you balance). The path gets steeper from here, leading you up the gorge. This is when the waterfall actually starts coming into view. Since the whole endeavor was taking longer than we anticipated, we on;y went about 3km from where we started, took multiple photos of the waterfall and then turned back. You can walk all the way up to the top of the waterfall and cross the river again up above and make your way back down, but if you’re just looking for a good photo, going up part of the way works just fine.

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North

The further north we drove on the ring road, the crazier the terrain became. There were moments when I thought we were on Mars…or as my husband put it, middle earth (for all you Lord of the Rings fans). When we reached Mytvan Lake, that’s when the varying landscapes changed even quicker. We went from rocky, gray abysses, to beautifully blue lakes and dense forests, to colorful lava fields, to boiling mud pots and craters. You will experience at least five different worlds in just this one area.

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South

On our way back from Akureyri, the largest city in the north, we went back west rather than going east around the whole island, mostly for time sake as we didn’t have enough days to do it all. We took a few detours on the way south, and made sure to hit Hraunfossar waterfall and geysir before heading back to Reykjavik.

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The southern portion of the island is completely different from the north. Both are picturesque, for sure, but the south is much greener and features some incredible beaches. We didn’t make it all the way around the southern portion of the island, and so we missed Vatnajokull glacier and the nearby lagoons filled with icebergs. However, we did make it as far as Vik to experience the black sand beach and visit all the waterfalls along the way.

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There are few places I’ve been where the landscape changes so dramatically from one mile to the next. Even though I didn’t see it all, I understand the fascination. Iceland keeps you guessing and surprises you with every turn of the road.

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