Chasing the Northern Lights

Last year my boyfriend and I wrote our own buckets and when we compared them we noticed that one of the things we had both written down was ‘to see the Northern Lights’. We started researching holiday destinations which could give us a sighting of the lights and Iceland blew us away. During our research a very popular and highly recommended way of travelling Iceland seemed to be by campervan. Our Googling led us to Happy Campers and the rest is history! I’m so pleased that we decided to go with Happy Campers over other campervan companies because the service we received was impeccable. Happy Campers really do think of EVERYTHING. The van was set up with the all the things you need for adventuring; Cooking utensils, gas cooker, chopping board, cutlery, plates, cups, quilts, blankets, pillows and enough compartments and pockets for all your belongings. The staff were brilliant too; They took us step-by-step through everything – maps of where to camp, which roads to avoid and how best to check the weather forecast and with WIFI in the van we were always connected and able to plan and check for the next day.

Day 1: We drove to Borgarnes and camped in winter campsite off the beaten track. Going in March meant only winter campsites were open so we had to plan our stops carefully. Borgarnes gave us the best starting point to drive round the west peninsular the following day. The landscape is vast. Plaines stretch out as far as the eye can see. The horizon broken only by the impressive mountain ranges. The 1 road takes you round the whole island.

Day 2: We found the end of the rainbow! Driving through Snaefellsjoekull National Park we stopped at Saxholl and before climbing up it a rainbow appeared right over the mound. It was so unexpected and magical, we couldn’t have planned it better if we’d tried!

Then we went ‘off-road’. Well, I say ‘off-road’, we took the scenic route round the entire west peninsular and the northern road isn’t paved. A short journey in distance ended up being the longest journey in time for our whole trip! We drove all the way round to Bordeyri and picked up the 1 road on the hunt for the Northern Lights. The activity rating was 4 and up north was due to have the least cloudy skies. The long drive took us through snow-capped mountains at twilight – tiny houses off the main road lay at the base of the mountains and their lights twinkled in the half-light like tiny dolls houses all lit up. Life here is very remote.

We arrived at camp just outside of Akureyri around 8pm and already the lights were visible. They stayed until just past midnight and it was incredible to see in real life what I’d been staring longingly on travel blogs for so long. It was noticeably colder up north in the mountains so the next day was a relief to journey back south again.

Day 3: We made the journey from Akureyi to Hvolsvollur in surprisingly quick time. The scenery kept us intrigued along the way. Mountains, frozen lakes and rivers and the cutest ponies scattered the road-side plains. We decided to camp at Hellisholar giving us the perfect starting point to adventure round the Golden Circle the next day.

Day 4: We drove the classic Golden Circle route today. We visited the waterfall at Gulfoss, the magnificent exploding geysers and Pingvellir national park which is the point where the two tetonic plates meet and where Viking settlers would meet once a year to set laws for the newly formed parliament. It felt so exciting walking on a piece of land where so much history has happened.

Day 5: The Blue Lagoon. What a paradise! After four days of near constant driving (we totalled 1,895km) the Blue Lagoon was a welcomed rest. The soothing temperature of the mineral rich water healed our aching muscles. I had an in-water massage which was the most indulgent and luxurious experience of my life. We spent 5-6 hours in this haven before meandering round Reykjavik in the afternoon. The buildings are brightly coloured and it reminded me of a Christmas market town. The restaurants cater to all tastes – it’s very cosmopolitan. There are no sky-rise buildings giving it the feeling more of a large village than a city.

Overall there are pros and cons to visiting Iceland in March; it’s off season which means we avoided most other tourists until we reached the Golden Circle. It’s cheaper to hire the campervan and we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights. However, we were itching to get out on a hike but the weather was unpredictable and we had only packed light so we couldn’t risk being caught in a downpour. Campsites are limited this time of year and national parks and certain roads are off limits. Overall, we had the most amazing experience in Iceland. We wouldn’t change a thing. The harshness of this country’s weather and at times it’s landscape is completely contrasted with the warmth of its inhabitants and it’s stunning scenery we will always cherish our travels around Iceland in our van which for 5 days we called home.