We had no plans, no expectations, nowhere to be for the next seven days. All we had was a Hightop VW Syncro, an island full of places to explore, and an open mind for finding our way round the island of Iceland. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when we landed in Reykjavik, but James Barkman aka Barky and I stopped in to Snail VW (www.snail.is) to chat with Sigrún about some potential travel options and hear some horror stories of drivers who need to spend more time in a manual car before hiring one to live in! I’ve heard this more than a few times now, car hire companies who do their best to ensure the renters can drive a manual before letting the vehicle leave, but end up with a blown clutch or worse. Luckily, being two VW regulars (Barky also lives full time in his ’76 Westfalia) we loaded up the van with our gear set off with high hopes for the adventures to come.
I find that most people either thrive or flounder in ‘no plans’ situations. It’s easy to get frozen in the ‘what should we do now’ mentality, and with as many options as a place like Iceland has to offer, there isn’t much point in trying to compare one to another, rather we found it best to just hit the road and get started. We met two friends from California the first day, and decided on a hot springs tour thru the western fjords, with a pit stop along the way at the famous Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, where we tested Barky’s cold water tolerance with several back flips off the falls.
Fortunately, our next two stops in the west fjords were hot springs, and the second can hit 55°C (130°F) so we all warmed up plenty.
Onwards down the road, and as you can see there is rugged beauty nearly everywhere. Countless stops along the road on our way to Islafjordur.
After parting ways with Chris and Ryan, Barky and I continued on, catching back up with the loop road and leaving the west fjords, but not before making another hot springs pit stop.
Iceland in the summer is a trippy experience, the sun was setting around midnight and rising at 3am, so we ended up staying up nearly all night then sleeping during the day to be able to photograph in the best light. Here on some lone road along the north shore, we found a perfect little hill for a casual ride.
Then, only a few hours later, this happened, and continued happening for approximately the next 45 minutes.
Waterfalls for days, another classic fall, Godafoss.
As you make your way across the north, soon you’ll come to the area that is a geothermal hotbed, with cone volcanoes and little houses that look as though they should be on Mars.
Lots of skating happened. The roads were too perfect. We even found the road featured in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” that Ben Stiller (or his stunt double I’m sure) went down. Barky decided to ride his skateboard in to the eastern fjords rather than ride in the VW. With road conditions like this, I understand why (and did a little time on the board myself).
A classic #vanlife view, out the read doors, with the mountains of Stokksnes is the distance.
Our trusty steed, holding down the fort at 2am.
When the clouds socked us in at around 1am, we made the call to move out, hoping to find somewhere that there was no low fog obstructing our views. We had almost made it to Jökulsárlón (the Ice Lagoon) when the skies began to glow with pinks and orange, as we soon found ourselves on the shores of a perfectly calm lake with only the sounds of cracking ice and our footsteps to be heard. The best part of being awake at 3am, you often get places to yourselves 🙂
Onwards to Vik, soon we were surrounded by lupines, a beautiful purple flower that has really taken hold in the southern parts of the island.
Oh, and the Blue Lagoon. I don’t think I’ll go back, not really my style; I prefer the lagoons that are a little more off the beaten path. That being said, it was a casual way to spend our last morning before catching flights back to the states.
A special thanks to Sigrún and the good folks at Snail VW for helping make this a great trip. If you’re looking for a solid ride for the island, they offer a great setup, just make sure you know how to drive manual or you might get thrown out 😉
There is something special about a road trip. It seems more personal, you experience the elements more intensely and become more connected to the place. For the last year and some change I’ve been partaking in a perpetual road trip, mainly in the USA, but occasionally getting to spend some time internationally. Returning from seven days in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, I think I’ve found one of my new favorite road trip locations. From the culture, stunning mountains, vast oceans, and the proximity of all these things to one another, it’s got a little bit of something for everyone!
Being a VW owner and lover, needless to say I was excited to find out you can hire a fully set up van with Arctic Campers (www.arcticcampers.no), just down the street from the Leknes airport. Fast forward to some months later, and I was chatting with the folks there at their shop, getting some insider information on some of the best views and hikes to start the day. Driving off down the road, I couldn’t help but smile with anticipation of what we had in store in the coming week. It’s easy to see why I was excited to get started, with views like this right out your back hatch how can it get better?!
Besides having some of the best views from any given road side, of course you can choose to get a little higher up and get in to the mountains. Only an hour or so from the car park, we gained a decent bit of elevation, enough to get above the clouds and see some of Lofoten’s pristine lakes.
I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘foodie’, but I love cooking and fresh food, so having access to a stove and fridge whilst traveling is a treat. Do you ever get home from a trip and feel like you haven’t had a home cooked meal in ages? Vanlife is the answer 🙂
I don’t know how anyone could want to stay inside in a hotel room when you can have the best sleep machine earth ever created right outside your windows.
I was fortunate enough to find a little access road that led to an amazing overlook of the tiny town of Unstad. Yes, you can camp here, or if you would rather you can sleep down on the beach.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Lofoten without exploring the tiny fishing village of Reine. This became our home base, stopping in for coffee in the morning, or afternoon, and of course a softis or two. If you don’t know what a softis is, you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out.
Rolf is a fisherman on the islands, and from what I experienced a pretty good one at that. It’s great to get off the shore and see the mountains rising stark out of the sea.
Every so often, you find a place in this world that drastically changes your concept of beauty and serenity. For me, that place was Kvalvika beach. A short hike over a mountain pass is the only thing that separates you from the rest of the world, but you feel completely detached. Honestly, I could have stayed there for days, weeks even. If I was forced to choose just one place to visit the next time I am in Lofoten, this would be it hands down.
Second place behind Kvalvika Beach would be Reinebringen, the prominent mountain just outside Reine. Although we had a comfy camper waiting for us at the base of the mountain, it was such a good view of the midnight sun and the mountains we decided to stay at the summit overnight. That being said, it was sure nice to come down after a few hours of sleep (when the sun doesn’t set it’s hard to go to bed instead of photographing all night!) and hop in the bed for a morning cat nap.
The only problem I’ve found with Lofoten, is that now I have to return in the other seasons. Spring was wonderful, and there weren’t too many tourists, the weather never got too cold, but I am intrigued to see summer, fall, and winter. Well, there is always next time!
Norway has been on my radar for some time now, but to be honest I wasn’t sure how soon it would happen. One thing I had repeatedly heard about Norway was that it was expensive, and being able to make the trip work within a slim budget was paramount. Luckily, my hobbies are generally inexpensive; hiking, backpacking, and adventuring in the mountains have a bit of an initial investment in gear, but beyond that it’s all as far and as long as your legs and arms can take you. You’re your own chef, entertainment, tour guide, and planner. Generally, my tactic in expensive places is hire a car, fill up on groceries, then get out to the wilderness! As per the standard, that’s exactly what I did. The route, mainly taking place from the Atlantic Road to Preikestolen, in and out of countless fjords, three weeks in a Ford Fiesta would test my minimal living style, but it’s fuel economy would save heaps on petrol!
I have a bit of a standard procedure when arriving to a foreign country. I suppose that I’ve become accustomed to a certain style of travel, and it fits my needs pretty well. Step one, get thru customs ASAP. No one likes standing in lines, so find the shortest, look presentable and happy, don’t bring any items you’ll need to declare, and get going. Pick up checked bags (unfortunately with backcountry and or climbing gear, a checked bag is a necessary evil). Find a SIM card, usually you can buy these at the airport, but if you don’t see a stand ask around for the closest location. Having a working local phone has become more important for me these days; from using GPS, researching locations, weather, and being able to do some mobile posting. On to car hire and then hit the road! I’ve found that for me and my style, I would rather hire a car and sleep in it/camp along the way.
It was a decent flight over, although I wish I had slept more. I made it about 2 hours drive from the airport before pulling over to take a nap, but then it was onward to Åndalsnes. I had read that Norway loves it’s hiking, so night one would be a classic, a sunset view up Rampestreken. It became quickly apparent that there would be a large volume of elevation gained over the next few weeks. Starting at sea level and cruising up to the snow line in the mountains at least once a day. Hiking fitness was about to be tested.
Over the next few days, I watched the storms come and go, traveling from Åndalsnes up to the Bud and the Atlantic Ocean Road, then continuing south to Alesund, Geiranger, and Jotunheimen. Being this far north in the summer, sunset was late and sunrise was early, so sleep often came in a couple hour increments throughout the day.
One thing I’ve learned is that you always want to have extra time in your schedule for unexpected stops. Cruising along the windy two lane roads there was a perfectly still lake down the hill. After a half hour of trying to find how to get down to the lake, I took a hike around the water’s edge and was granted some wonderful views of the Norwegian countryside.
Another lucky find, Trollkirka aka Troll’s Church, was a moderate hike thru an evergreen forest and above the snow line to a cave system that you navigate by head torch, that ends at a cave with a waterfall coming thru the ceiling!
Somehow I ended up with more sheep photos than I’m proud of, but it’s fine, they are cute.
A trip around the fjords wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of the more iconic sights, like Trolltunga and Preikestolen. I find that one of the best ways to get the more popular places to yourself is to camp either along the way or at the attraction itself.
Nothing like getting a little air below your feet, 604 meters above Lysefjorden.
I get a lot of looks for hiking in sandals, but my Earthrunners go with me everywhere. If it’s not freezing, I’m probably wearing them.
We arrived at Trolltunga late, somewhere around Midnight. It was a taxing hike, something around 8km of the 11km was thru snow, deep and slushy from the full day of sun. It’s hard to argue though when you’re sitting out on the tongue.
We ended up doing one ‘tour’. Although I wouldn’t recommend the way we did it specifically, I did manage to convince the ship captain to let me come in and photograph a bit from the captain’s area, so that was cool 🙂
Well that’s about it from southern Norway, Lofoten Islands review is coming up next!
Heading back up tonight. I’ve got high hopes for this weekend, and maybe even a bit during next week. I also want to spend some time in my image library, doing some house cleaning.
*That Moment – Trillium Lake // Mt Hood National Forest, Oregon*
There’s a certain mystery to the pre-dawn hours, and I find myself more and more drawn to them. Before I begin to ramble, perhaps a quote would best fit my thoughts:
“Life is flowing and continuous, it’s full of crossroads, tributaries, and sudden bends. To live is to travel, and navigable space attracts us. We want to follow the road or the river to find out what lies around the next bend or over the next rise. The mere fact that they exist seems to tell us that we should follow them. No one has ever lived our lives before us. This moment we are in a space and time that have never been traveled. Many past events prepared us for this moment, and we may often feel as though we were following a track that has been laid out for us, but at other times we feel as though we were strapped to the nose of a rocket, plunging through space where no one has ever been. Then, at times, we become one with our path, immersed in our lives unquestioningly. This is the condition we prefer, when the river that leads us through life simply flows.”
*Into the Desert – Racetrack Playa // Death Valley, California*
Wow I can’t believe it was nearly two years ago that we sped across Southern California, chasing an idea to see Death Valley for the first time. Seeing the cracked earth pulling apart from itself, the soft feel of the packed ground were stark contrasts. The thing I remember most was the empty stillness. It’s like no where else.
Tomorrow we’re venturing in to a new desert, The Alvord Desert, in South East Oregon. I expect some similarities, some differences, but mostly I expect it to be completely unexpected. No cell service, sunny skies, a couple good books and a little curiosity should be just right.
That’s it, I need an assistant. There’s not enough hours in the day. Well there are, but I’m extremely caught up in the show Breaking Bad right now, and it’s really cutting in to work time.
*Grand – Grand Teton National Park*
All these awesome panoramas have been going around lately, so I thought I’d join the party! This was shot this fall at the Grand Tetons National Park at sunrise. It was one of the two sunrises that you could actually even see the mountains, so I’m glad we had a good vantage point!
Final image is 20kx6k and it might hang above my bed one of these days 🙂