Iceland is my new favourite country. One visit is definitely not enough. I’ll have to return and keep exploring other areas, and retrace my steps, during different seasons.
There is a reason why Iceland is nicknamed as “the land of fire and ice” and is gaining popularity. Iceland showcases the best of Mother Nature – black sand beaches, canyons, cliffs, craters, forests (‘skogar’), geothermal activity, geysers, glaciers (‘jokull’), hot springs, icebergs, ice caves, lava caves, lava fields, lava tunnels, mud pools, Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), silfra, tectonic plates, UNESCO sites, volcanoes (‘fjall’), waterfalls (‘foss’) and wildlife. If you love the great outdoors, nature and exploring, you’ll love Iceland! And any time of year is a great time to visit!
Firstly, being an English-speaking (& Icelandic speaking) country, we didn’t need to get International Driver’s Licenses, when hiring our vehicle, but we carried our Australian (Victorian) driver’s licenses. All drivers must have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of zero (0), at all times, not just under .05 like here in Australia. Before you start driving, adjust your driver’s seat, mirrors, and check which side of the vehicle your fuel tank is on. Familiarise yourself with the instrument panel on the dashboard, such as wipers and indicators. They are usually opposite to what you’re used to. Enter in your GPS coordinates before driving off. It’s hard enough trying to concentrate driving on the opposite side of the car, and road. So don’t make it harder by hiring a manual hire vehicle – hire an automatic vehicle.
You must drive with your headlights on at all times in Iceland, not just when it’s dark. You drive on the opposite side of the road, and the vehicle, as you do here in Australia. Iceland, as a country, is basically a circular shape. It has one main highway, called “Route 1” which is nicknamed “The Ring Road”. Like our Princes Highway here in Australia, Route 1 circles around the coastline of the whole country, a distance of 1328kms. Now here’s the catch – there is only one single lane in each direction on Route 1, being the country’s major highway!
The Route 1 bitumen road surface is, for the most part, in a pretty good condition. However, the single lane that you drive on, is very narrow and intimidating. For most of the way, the road is raised in case of flooding, and there are white markers every few metres, along the outside of the road, showing that the road is going to drop away if you hit or pass a marker – most likely into lava fields a few metres below.
Fortunately, outside of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, there isn’t much traffic on the roads of Iceland, unless you approach a “foss” (waterfall) or some other tourist attraction. Drive to the road and weather conditions. Sometimes there might be snow, water or black ice on the roads that you won’t even see, until it’s too late. The speed limit is 90kms/hr, but with minimal traffic on the road, we often lost track of our speed, as it didn’t feel like we were going fast at all and were hitting nearly 120kms/hr, on dry roads! Luckily, we weren’t caught speeding by the police, as the speeding fines in Iceland are heftier than they are here in Australia!
My driving technique was to drive with my wheels either side of the line in the middle of the road, and when a vehicle approached, only then would I move over into my own lane – that’s how narrow and intimidating driving Iceland’s roads are, outside of the main towns.
Use your GPS in your vehicle to get you from A to B, as there aren’t many tourist signs, let alone road signs, in Iceland. You virtually are on the intersection where you are meant to turn off, and if you’re lucky, you might see one very low to the ground on a pole, almost obscured by grasses and shrubs. There are no tourist signs saying “2kms ahead, Gullfoss, left turn” for example, until you are actually at, or passing, the turnoff.
If you are using a portable GPS, like our hire company gave us, make sure you charge it in the vehicle’s USB port. Ours was flat to start with, which didn’t help us at all to get out of the airport car park! A lot of the tourist sites in the vehicle’s inbuilt GPS, weren’t loaded in either, which made navigating difficult. Luckily, I had a co-pilot navigating for me, and vice versa, when we swapped driving.
One thing to note is that there are long distances between Icelandic towns, so keep an eye on your fuel gauge, and fill up whenever you get to a town, otherwise you might not make your final destination.
Another thing to point out, is that it gets extremely windy in Iceland, so when you park your hire vehicle, park it away from other vehicles, and hold onto your door, so it doesn’t blow open and smash into anything next to it. We saw a few other people’s car doors hit other cars and poles. It’s better to park further away, in a safer spot, and walk those few extra minutes, than have to pay for an excess due to the result of wind damage on your car doors.
Finally, as I mentioned before, Iceland is a gorgeous, very scenic country. It’s very easy to get distracted whilst driving, looking side to side at the amazing scenery, but you can’t afford to on their narrow and windy roads. You need to concentrate whilst driving in Iceland. If you have a co-driver, take it in turns between stops, so you each can have the opportunity to look at the scenery as the passenger. Trust me – you’ll love Iceland like I did!