I’ve never traveled by campervan, but I’ve always wanted to. I’m a terrible camper, my last attempt sleeping in a tent ended in me doing some sort of uncoordinated barrel roll to get out. I declared myself a hotel or nothing kind of girl after that. For my birthday this year, I decided to finally give a campervan a go, what’s the worst that could happen?
I booked the 4×4 beast with Happy Campers and planned a 4-day adventure for me and the Hobbit (my short, hairy, and always hungry husband Joe). In the spirit of trying new things, we would attempt to visit as many places as possible we haven’t been to before.
We collected the van from camp Happy on Friday lunchtime. Choosing some extras including table, chairs, and coffee press (tip, pick up one each, yes we took just one, yes we regretted it later, they’re not the Mary Poppins bag of cups). We were also given a new tablet that contained all kinds of useful information like routes and wifi etc.
We had our van orientation and everything seemed easy to handle. I’m vertically challenged, as in I’m quite short with dodgy knees so I was a little worried about being able to step up into this big van. But even I managed the whole trip with no unfortunate incidents and not once having to resort to any ungainly barrel rolls.
Finally, we were off and heading South, catching a glimpse of great plumes of smoke coming up from the popular unstoppable new volcanic eruption happening nearby. It wasn’t long after that we stumbled upon a giant lobster at Þorlákshöfn. I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before, it’s hilarious! Situated by the roadside it can’t be missed.
Soon joining the ring road, we passed through Selfoss which contains an excellent bakery called GK Bakery. We LOVE bakeries and coffee shops! The Hobbit is a baker at Sandholt in Reykjavík and he tends to use this as an excuse to visit as many other bakeries as possible to taste their goods “for research purposes”. This is why we stopped at GK on the way through, much needed after almost being eaten by a giant plastic lobster, obviously.
On the road again and a couple of hours later we started hitting the main south coast hot spots. A little further came Vík and the new Skool Beans. A cool yellow American school bus converted into a coffee shop serving their own freshly roasted coffee. They also have a resident newly three-legged wobbly ginger cat who likes to sleep in front of the fire after hard days roaming the mountains. So we decided to follow our hearts towards another coffee and cake situation (for research). An excellent decision and even bagged a tasty little discount for visiting in a Happy Camper.
From here we headed back towards where we came to catch the ferry at Landeyjahöfn over to Vestmannaeyjar, a place we’ve long since wanted to visit. In our wisdom, we tried to squeeze in dinner first. We decided the quickest food we could cook would be hotdogs. Unfortunately, the hotdogs were not aware of our impending ferry ride and decided to take FOREVER to cook. I’m ashamed to admit we ate some suspiciously not so hot, hot dogs before we rushed to get to the terminal in time.
We made it with time to spare and got in line to board. We had booked our tickets online but the crossing we wanted was fully booked so we moved to a later one at 19:45. It’s quite normal for it to be booked up so next time we’ll book at least the day before. The firsts kept on coming when me and the Hobbit realized in all the years of us we’ve never been on a boat together. A celebration short lived as we began to feel a little green shortly into the ride. It was the end of day, a bit windy and a tad too much up and down ish.
Seeing the beautiful islands in the glorious evening sunlight soon distracted me and It wasn’t long before we were in the Happy wagon once more driving off onto this giant rock in the middle of the sea (to the heavy scent of fish I might add, an unexpected but yet simultaneously obvious twist).
Vestmannaeyjar has two campsites but one is only open in summer so we visited the one next to a golf course called Herjólfsdal. After a quick exploration of our surroundings we got the Happy wagon all set up for bed, which was super easy. There was a lot of room when the bed was all set up and it was very comfortable and cosy, as we went to sleep with the van taking a bit of a battering from the island winds.
We woke unreasonably early the next day due to our body clocks not appreciating we’re on holiday. We had plenty to get on with before our return boat to the mainland at 12:30. We were extremely happy with this campsite, it was spacious, well looked after and plenty of services for guests.
For breakfast, we visited Vigtin bakhús, for Hobbit research of course. They had a mouth watering display of pastries, buns and breads as well as steaming hot coffee. We ordered coffee as well as one of the delicious-looking snúður (Icelandic bun) and a fresh Icelandic kleinur (twisty doughnut). NOTHING beats a good kleinur with a coffee. The best kleinur are freshly baked and this one was one of the best I’ve ever had. It had a hint of cinnamon in it, delish!
We drove around the island some more, took photographs, stumbled across the “elephant rock” we’d forgotten was there, and then boarded the boat. Mercifully the crossing was less up and down as the day before and we survived it with less sickly feelings. Driving off the boat we headed onwards to our next destination of Skaftafell.
On the way, beyond Vík, are miles of lava fields covered in moss that we took a little detour through. I never get bored of them, they’re just texturally bizarre and, well, furry. Great for otherworldly photographs.
We pretty much didn’t stop again until we got to Skaftafell campsite and what a top notch campsite it is. We had read online that the car parks have cameras and not paying can result in a fine later. It sees all, it knows who you are, there’s no escape from the big brother of Skaftafell. There is so much space here and plenty of services so it’s totally worth the price tag.
We had dinner and then headed out towards my beloved Jökulsárlón, which in my humble opinion is best viewed in the dying low light of day, it’s magical. In my opinion, the best viewpoints for the lagoon are from the dunes at the side of the road on the way to the main car park.
Today was no exception and the light was low and golden just making it even more stunning. Not to mention the resident seals bobbing up and down in the water. I love it here and it’s always pretty difficult to tear myself away. I will never not be truly amazed by this view.
It was around 22:00 by the time we headed up the dunes to the waiting Happy Camper and the sky had turned the most amazing shade of pink. We finally made it to the campsite and did a quick change for bed, me still waxing lyrical about the sky and the golden light in the lagoon.
The first birthday I’ve ever woken up in a campervan. The cheerful campsite attendants came around collecting camping fees and it was no problem to pay by card on the spot. The mistake we made was paying for 2 nights instead of 1 at a time. We regretted it later when we changed our minds and went somewhere else. Lesson learned.
After breakfast we had a pretty slow start to the day, relaxing in the happy wagon. The plan was to go hiking, my first ever. The Hobbit had wanted to see Svartifoss for years so this was his chance.
Behind the service centre is a map that shows all the marked hiking routes in the area. We chose the quickest to get to Svartifoss which said it would be 1.5km (45 minutes) each way and said it was easy. IT LIED!
I’ve walked this distance before easily but never hiked it completely uphill. When I say it was steep, I mean it was STEEP! It never seemed to get easier either, it was unrelentingly UP. I knew it wouldn’t be easy for my first time but I thought if I took it slow, had my tripod as a kind of walking stick and the Hobbit to cheerlead me along I’d be OK.
After what seemed like days of walking uphill I could finally see the end goal in the distance, Svartifoss in all it’s basalty glory. As we got closer to the waterfall there were large rocks and steps to climb down to it. I’d come this far so I thought I may as well finish the job. It was a little difficult but good to have the tripod as support.
Svartifoss is truly beautiful, there’s no doubt about it. The black and brown basalt columns create this otherworldly texture, the whole picture is just delightful. The horrific walk (for me at least) was forgotten for now. We spent some time at the waterfall itself before climbing up the craggy rocks and back onto the trail. The happy thought I had here was most of the walk back would be downhill.
I do find it hilarious that the guides all say this hike takes 1.5 hours but it took us a grand total of 4 hours! The Hobbit has more hiking experience and even he said it was a lot more difficult than he expected. This from the Hobbit who had simply walked into Mordor (the volcano) two weeks ago with no problems and that is a hike I’ve heard is brutal.
After spending time relaxing in the van we decided that we would like to eat out for dinner. Despite forking out for another night at Skaftafell we decided to move on and head back towards Vík to one of our favorite restaurants called Halldórskaffi. When we were closer we ordered a pizza to collect and ate it in the van overlooking Vík church. Perfect birthday meal in the comfort of a traveling home, simply lovely.
The nearest option of acampsite to here at this time was Skógafoss so after dinner we drove on over to there for the night. Certainly one of the best views I’ve ever closed the curtains on.
Once again we woke up the next day to a knock on the side of the van and we were met by the campsite attendant here to extract money from us. Even with the tremendous view the facilities here are not as good compared to Vestmannaeyjar and Skaftafell but they do have the basics.
We wanted to have as full a day exploration as possible before returning the van to camp Happy. We consulted the tablet that came with the van because I’d noticed there was a specific 4×4 pre-planned route on there. From this route we picked out three waterfalls we’d never seen before, all in a similar area, Hjálparfoss, Gjáin and Háifoss. So we packed up and headed off for a day of first time waterfalls.
The first one for us to visit was Hjálparfoss which had a good sized car park. It’s possible to see the impressive two pronged waterfall from the top or walk down the built steps to get right down next to it.
The second waterfall we visited was Gjáin which requires a 4×4 to get to it. A long and bumpy dirt road with high sides and no passing points until closer to the falls. But oh these falls are so so beautiful. I’ve got Gjáin fever. It’s a series of small waterfalls and islands connected with small wooden bridges. It’s just a bit of a magical place in the middle of nowhere and so unexpected. We’re for sure visiting here again in summer.
The final place was Háifoss, which is the 4th highest waterfall in Iceland. It was a bit windy when we got there and this one boasts on mega windy days it can be seen to flow upwards. A lot of steps await to descend to the optimal viewing platform for the falls but honestly, I didn’t fancy battling the wind. The Hobbit did though and confirmed it’s indeed beautiful to see but the viewing platform didn’t have a rail on it so was a little scary to stand on in the wind. Again I would definitely revisit on better weather days, or even in winter because I imagine when it’s frozen it’s stunning.
We still had time to kill and decided we were going to drive towards the Happy Campers via the Hobbit’s favorite scenic spot in Iceland, Brimketill lava rock pools in Reykjanes. The performing volcano is in the same area and this time it was spitting bright orange lava so high into the sky that we could see it from Brimketill. Amazing and so bizarre to be at one natural volcanic spot from years gone by and to be able to see another one forming in front of my eyes.
After some time watching the crashing waves making their way in and out of these natural rock pools and understanding why it’s the Hobbit’s favourite place we made our way to the van for one last time.
A thoroughly satisfying birthday weekend of firsts and one major revelation from this road trip is not only have I proved to be a camper queen after all but we both now want our own campervan for our future travels!
Thanks Happy Campers!
I’m Laura and I’m from Barnsley, South Yorkshire now living in Reykjavík, Iceland with my husband The Hobbit, and our destructive cat. Often to be found roaming the wilds of Iceland armed with a Hasselblad 500cm and a pocket full of film. If you want to see more from me and my adventures please come see me at my website hassywonderland.com or on Instagram @hassywonderland