with the Tent Trailer
In July 2008 Julian Nocke, founder of 3DOG camping, travelled to Iceland with our first OffRoader prototype. The main objective of the trip was to test the newly-developed Tent Trailer for extreme offroad tours where it belongs – in the wild.
He wrote a report about his impressions and experiences on this heavenly island in the North Sea. We hope you enjoy reading it!
Touring mystical landscapes off the tarmac track with the OffRoader
Hot springs, sulphur fields, trolls and elves,
Volcanic landscapes and boiling earth – many of the things I had heard about Iceland sounded a bit carried away, as if from a different world. Reports on this northern island had always interested me and I was sure that I would have to go and see the wonders of this primitive landscape for myself one day.
In 2008 I finally got an opportunity as this destination seemed the perfect way to really put our new OffRoad equipment through its paces.
We arrived in Iceland on June 18th.
We are four friends, a Landrover with Roofop Tent and an OffRoad Tent Trailer from 3DOG camping. Tourists who arrive by air land in the capital city of Reykjavik in the west of the island but we arrived directly on the sparsely populated east coast, at the harbour town of Seyðisfjörður. It was a good time: our journey was starting at the end of the spring melt, just before the summer solstice.
As it stays light, even at night, we can take our time during the entire trip finding a campsite in the evening and setting up our camp. The sun only dips below the horizon for one or two hours – we are in no hurry.
The temperatures are between ten and twenty degrees in June – or so we were told. The reality was a bit different and also felt different. As we drove up the serpentines from the ferry to the pass at Seyðisfjörður we could hardly believe our eyes. The heaviest snow swallowed us up and made us doubt whether we were really on our summer holiday.
This wasn’t what we had planned!
Speaking of plans: we had purposely not planned out any exact route for our journey as we wanted to go with the flow. We had just agreed in principle to first drive along the ring road to the north and then take the eastern route through the highlands across the centre of the island to the west coast. From there we planned to drive up towards the western fjord, through the western highlands to the south coast and around Vatnajökull back to the ferry. In retrospect this plan was almost exactly not what we did in the end. You need to be flexible – here nature very often decides your route for you.
The heavy snowfall and the generally bad weather that greeted us when we arrived in Iceland drew a line through our plans to drive to Mývatn first. As we found out at the tourist information office in Egilsstaðir most of the routes across the centre of the island were still not passable and severe storms were forecast for the north. Collective confusion was rife among the newcomers to the land of trolls so we finally turned around and took the ring road to the south. We are rewarded for this spontaneity with breathtaking scenery on the road along the coast.
The mountains glowed in the many colours of the geological structures, lichens and mosses and behind every bend, every crown of the hill that we passed we met a new, wonderful view. We took our time and didn’t drive too far every day throughout our journey but rather allowed ourselves to take little detours if a side road or the gravel entrance into a small valley caught our interest. We often left the vehicle to explore the immediate surroundings.
Europe’s largest glacier is calving
Our journey leads us south past Vatnajökull, the second largest glacier in Europe behind Austfonna in Spitzbergen. At 8,456 square kilometres it is twice the size of all Alpine glaciers together. This gigantic ice cap can already be seen glinting in the sun from afar. Its sheet is up to one kilometre thick, which puts it at the top volume for European glaciers. Unfortunately climate change is noticeable here too: it has lost a tenth of its volume in the last 100 years.
When the snow melts in spring the water turns into fast streams and great rivers suddenly run down the roads. Even large sections of the ring road become impassable at this time of year or are even destroyed. Icelanders are used to having to rebuild their roads every year.
Now, in June, the ring round is open again and we ask every day about the constantly changing conditions of the inland pistes. The annual melt causes substantial damage there and the offroad routes often need to be re-worked during the summer months to keep them passable. The website of the state roads authority provides us with a current description of road conditions at all times.
We take a detour to a glacier bed that is now mostly dry. After hours of driving across rugged boulder landscapes we stop at the end of a side valley for a while in front of the glacial lake from a gigantic glacier tongue, make some coffee and enjoy the panorama of the ice landscape that is glittering in the sun. We can hear heavy ice blocks breaking away in the distance.
Large pieces of ice are floating through the water, cloudy and brown from the moraine. We decide to explore the area on foot and look at the glacier from above. The open spaces and loneliness of this country has a very special attraction and the views of this mighty glacier that greet us around every bend and over every crest of a hill are overwhelming. This first short walk has re-awakened our hunger for the terrain in the highlands.
To the hot springs
We are even more excited when we leave the ring road again in the south of Iceland to head for our first big destination in the interior. We plan to take the eastern route to Landmannalaugar, one of the most spectacular landscapes in Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Even the road to it proves to be an impressive experience. This road is not yet officially open but we discovered from locals that it was passable with a little skill. It is only taken by a few as it places such high demands on vehicles and its passengers’ nerves. However one of the reasons we came was to test our OffRoad trailer and so we checked everything once more and filled our reserves before setting off.
The route is a lot rougher than we had expected. The Icelander who sent us on our way so optimistically is obviously used to much more extreme conditions if he calls this passable. Nobody has it easy on our journey – we ford one river after another and need to have a lot of passengers walk through first as we cannot see the bottom or the tracks of vehicles that have gone before us.
As we are stuck in the water above the hood for the first time I am happy that it was possible to fit a snorkel to our Landrover at the last minute. We drive the trailer over rugged pistes for kilometres at a time until we are totally shaken up. Both our Landrover and the OffRoad trailer come through without a problem and the stressed passengers are rewarded with fabulous scenery.
The higher we climb into the mountains the worse the weather becomes and we are suddenly once again in the middle of a wild snow storm and can hardly make out the tracks. In the end we stop and discuss whether it even makes any sense to go further into the interior in these conditions.
We are tired from the difficult drive and decide to drive for just half an hour more before we turn around and find a campsite. But suddenly we seem to reach the top of a pass and the fog rips open suddenly to reveal the bizarre mountain peaks of a volcanic landscape. Now we are looking forward to each bend with great excitement at the surprises that may await us, continue our journey and finally reach Landmannalaugar.
Hiking along the dragon’s back
One striking and highly photogenic feature of this landscape are the colourful mountain ranges that are the result not of plants but of different geological characteristics, ash flows and moss. We stay a few days here and are not even scared away by the night-time temperatures of just above freezing.
We settle down in our tents and use this as our base for hikes and day tours. The breathtaking, primeval stone formations on the volcanoes of Torfajökull are reminiscent of the back of an enormous dragon. They make you think that the earth must have been created right here. The spectrum of soil colours ranges from black to many ochre shades through to an almost unreal green and blue and the white of the snow-covered peaks. Sulphur pits steam in the active volcanic zones and the ground is noticeably warm in some places.
As in many places in Iceland there are hot springs near the camping ground that are very inviting to bathe in these icy temperatures.
However the water temperatures are very varied. As the water at the beginning is just a few degrees we are quickly pulled to the source of the springs. However we shouldn’t get too close to avoid getting scalded. In the end all the bathers collect in a few square metres where the temperature is pleasant – a very unusual and amusing way to get to know complete strangers.
It is with heavy hearts that we leave this colourful landscape after a few days – we have a lot more to see...
small capital city, big concert
We travel on in the direction of the capital city. We discovered from an Icelandic woman at the night-time baths at the hot springs that Björk and Sigur Rós are giving a free concert to draw attention to the commercial exploitation of their country’s landscape. Icelanders have been using their country’s energy sources for a long time – Reykjavik has been supplied with geothermal energy since the 1940s and even pavements and streets are heated using hot water.
However the low-cost energy has unfortunately also led to powerful industry trying to take over precisely those areas of land that tourists like us come to see. Many Icelanders are fighting for this unique nature. Some of the sights that are so famous today, such as the Gulfoss, have only remained unspoiled because dedicated citizens stood up to the large corporations.
A free concert by such well-known artists would cause chaos at home. Here in Iceland everything is so composed that there are not even any large-scale security provisions. The concert just happens on a large meadow in the botanical garden and the atmosphere is lovely and relaxed.
It is interesting to get to know this rather quiet capital city, by European standards, of an otherwise so wild island for a few days. Iceland is mostly unpopulated – at three people per square kilometre you meet relatively few locals, especially in the interior. The south west in the metropolis region of Reykjavik, however, is home to two-thirds of the approximately 320,000 Icelanders.
So for us there is a noticeable difference after our days in the highlands. Originally we wanted to stay away from the commercial tourist destinations but at the latest when we visited the famous blue lagoon we thought better of it. After the many bumpy offroad routes and all the time in changeable weather we treat ourselves to a day of relaxation and enjoy the pleasant heat of the water, coloured blue by silicic acid.
Leaving for the centre of the earth:
Then we are happy when we finally set off again. We hardly meet any cars and the roads get worse and worse. We turn off towards the north to the Snæfellsnes peninsula and once again we are pressing our noses up against the windows; we just can’t get enough of these impressive coastlines, rugged mountains and strange vegetation.
As we round the Snæfellsjökull just before Ólafsvík the whole side of the flat-top volcano below the glacier is suddenly coloured blue. An enormous area of blooming lupines as tall as a man give us the impression that the glacier is pouring into the valley.
Unfortunately the weather turned against us again. As heavy storms have been forecast for the north west we decide not to carry on to the west fjords but rather to take a route close by across the interior to probably the most famous sight on the island: Stóri Geysir and Strokkur, the two largest springs, and Gullfoss, one of the best known waterfalls.
Sadly the weather catches up with us here too and our camp is hit by powerful storms during the next night so that we are scared to lose our equipment. But the tents held strong against all the attacks of nature. When we wake up the next day we are able to breakfast outside in the wonderful sunshine. It is the contrasts that make this island so awesome – including contrasting weather.
Now we are heading north again. From Gullfoss we take the western route through the highlands and are now driving through the endless boulder fields in a moonscape until we reach the green valleys of the north coast. After a quick stop in the harbour town of Akureyri we head to Mývatn. It is said of the landscape that surrounds this lake that it offers the essence of everything that makes Iceland so special. I wouldn’t go that far but it really is a very attractive and interesting area. This is where we spend the last days of our trip and we are suffering from a mild case of parting blues.
But we are still here and we undertake a few day trips into the area around Mývatn. After a few weeks in Iceland you have seen so many waterfalls that the initial euphoria has calmed a little. But when we reach the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river we catch our breath. Even the sight from above into the gorge and onto Hafragilsfoss is impressive and when we walk to Dettifoss and on to Selfoss we can physically feel the whole might of the released masses of water.
The day had begun grey and terribly rainy so we hadn’t really felt like leaving our tents and had climbed into the car feeling rather bad-tempered – driven by the knowledge that we need to leave this world with its elemental forces in two days time. The fact that the clouds broke open just here and bathed this wonderful landscape in crystal clear light made the experience even more spectacular.
The most impressive thing about Iceland are the contrasts – the quick changes in landscape, light and weather. You were just in the anthracite shapes of volcanic stone with their rugged edges and a covering of bright green moss when you turn a corner and are standing in front of the icy points of a glacial lake, glinting in the sun. Often you only need to turn around 360 degrees to experience the whole range of meteorological wonders. But we have also been impressed by the release of nature’s power that we have seen. You can really feel how young and untamed the world is on this northern island.
to see all the vehicles coming off the ship while we wait for the ferry because we know what a wonderful time and what deep impressions wait for those who are just at the beginning of their trip. But everything we have experienced and the pictures that are still so fresh in our heads will accompany us for a long time. We all agree that it won’t be our last time here in Iceland.
Text: Julian Nocke
Photos: Meikel Steiding, Julian Nocke