Northern Iceland with kids: the good, the bad and the beautiful

Travelling with small children isn’t without a few challenges as Mike hinted at in his previous posts, especially on road trips where we tend to sleep somewhere new every night or every other night… Kids are particularly hard to settle on the first night in any new place or when sharing a bed or room. Tonight is no exception. It’s hard to be mad at them though. Especially at our youngest daughter since she seems to be the one missing our old home and her own bed the most. Bedtime seems to be when homesickness occasionally shows itself for a minute or two, and when misbehaviour peaks. You’d think that after a two-month road trip across Canada that we’d have this down path, but alas, it will likely be an on-going challenge this year.

We left Neskaupstadur (nicknamed Nescafe for simplicity) and the east coast fjords on September 30 and headed west on the Ring Road through northern Iceland.

We did not do that much research on Iceland in advance of this trip so we’re constantly surprised and pleased by what we see. The northern section from Egilstadir to Akureyri goes through the mountains at higher elevation. Up there, the scenery changes: there are gradually fewer sheep (and vegetation) as you travel up until there are none, more white capped mountains and plateaus. As we travelled through one of the most desolate landscapes we’ve crossed yet, we had to keep a keen eye on the road as it continued to be narrow and was covered in snow and ice in many sections. Astronauts actually came to practice here before they went on the moon. You can definitely understand why. We made it safely through our travels in this section, thanks to good snow tires, 4WD and Mike’s Canadian winter driving skills but some tourists were not so lucky. We saw a few vehicles in the ditch with the occupants still inside or nearby waiting for help. Did we mention we were thinking about renting a campervan before we came here? With the strong winds and cold weather, we are definitely glad we did not.

Our only pit-stop on this drive was to see Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe by volume. Yup, another waterfall. We were not paying close attention to the directions in the travel guide so when we saw a turnoff for Dettifoss, we took it. We did not realize until we got to the fall that the main road to reach it was on the opposite side of the river. The road we took was a gravel road covered in snow on the way there and it seemed never ending at the low speeds we had to travel on it. It looked like the road on the other side was shorter at least. Once we reached the parking area for the fall, there was a cluster of vehicles that seemed uncertain where to park or where to go. A woman was talking to all the drivers in front of us so we thought something was going on. No, she was not the parking attendant. Her car could not make it up the hill so she was telling people they should park there and hike up the really small hill to the main parking area. The hill did not deter us though and we made it up easily past the other cars. Not that it was a bad idea for them not to go up. Unlike us, lots of the cars were small 2WD cars and it was doubtful they even had snow tires. So basically it was just like driving in Vancouver in winter! A big cluster …

With temperatures below freezing, slippery hiking conditions and a seemingly greater than 500 m hike ahead of us, life was uncertain. We fed the kids more snacks, packed a few extras and additional layers and we headed towards the toilets. After a meltdown over pants and the realization that the toilets were closed, we were off to a shaky start… But off we went. The snow and ice seemed to be enough of a novelty/rarity that the girls pushed on and we made it to the fall and back with minimal slipping, whining, wet/cold hands and only one instance of peeing behind a boulder. As Borat would say: “Great success!”. The conditions for taking photos of the fall were not optimal but we still snapped a few shots. There was definitely quite a bit more water coming down this fall than others seen here and the water was quite grey. It was another nice waterfall in its own merit but it was not the prettiest. But remember that this is Iceland. We are waterfall snobs now.

The rest of the ride to Akureyri was uneventful. More beautiful snow capped mountains, nice lights and a spectacular fjord where Akureyri is located. We stayed at a little Airbnb north of town for the next three nights. Super cute apartment with a friendly dog and three bedrooms! Oh luxury! We even got to see the Northern lights from our apartment window and minke whales in the fjord! Akureyri is quite a nice little town. We really enjoyed our stay there and it was nice to stay relatively put for three days and take it a bit easier.

The following day, the weather wasn’t great in the mountains. That was the day we picked to go to the nature baths at Myvatn. To get there, we had to backtrack about an hour and a half. At some point we were in a small blizzard. Once again, we saw people in the ditch and had to drive carefully. The bonus though was that Myvatn was relatively quiet and it looked kinda neat with the snow falling. Myvatn baths are the smaller northern equivalent of the famous and more expensive Blue Lagoons near Reykjavik which we had skipped. It was nice to marinate in the greyish blue warm waters for a while. But as with all things involving kids, relaxation wasn’t exactly in order. The girls were once again the only kids around and couldn’t help being kids! They had a great time playing!

With the weather conditions having improved a bit (snow turned into rain) we thought we’d check out the area around lake Myvatn. There was an old tephra (old volcano crater) that was on the way that we stopped at. Unfortunately the girls had just comfortably settled into the car and were NOT KEEN on the the idea of climbing a hill to get up to the top in the cold and rain!!! So we witnessed a contagious meltdown and tried our best to motivate them to get to the top of the short hill, even piggy backing them up for a good portion of it. As it turns out, this is an incredible workout and I should do this more often, ideally without all the whining. The view at the top was worth it though. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

We are now continuing our journey along the Ring Road and made it further south west. I’ll save the horse adventures along with pool etiquette and things we should claim from Iceland for Mike. I’m sure he’ll make it much funnier than me.

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