As you may imagine, getting started took a while. We boarded our flight from Seattle at 6pm and landed in Keflavik at 9am local time. The flight was actually pretty quick when you take into account the 7 hour time difference. What really set us back was getting our luggage and getting checked into our camper van. When all that was taken care of, we set off to buy groceries and get a handle of this new clutch. We met a lovely local couple who showed us how to put it into reverse so we could back out of the dead-end our directions sent us down. And then we were finally on the road around 3pm. 

Because it took us several hours longer than expected to get going, day 1 was kind of a wash. We did half a hike before realizing that we weren’t actually prepared for it and then turned around. We did, however, find a few lovely stops along the road and a wonderful campsite for the night and got some much-needed rest. 

The next morning, feeling somewhat refreshed with a decent night of sleep (considering the tight space we were in) and coffee in our travel mugs, we set off on our first full day in Iceland. 

And it was a full day.

First stop was Barnafoss; the first of many waterfalls on this trip. As signage along the path through the lava field notes, Barnafoss is named “the Children’s Falls” after a local Icelandic legend. The story goes that there was a family with two young boys and one day when the parents were off at church, the children tried to take a shortcut to follow. But the stone bridge above the falls was high up and dizzying. Neither of the boys made it across and both fell to their death. 

Wonderful story, huh? A cautionary tale for sure, but it doesn’t take away from the beauty of these falls.

No, Chelsea was not the only one on this bridge. Yes, photoshop magic is a thing.

Next on the list was my only “absolutely must take that one picture of, cannot miss” destination: Mt. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss. We drove two and a half hours through strong winds and steady bouts of rainstorms to Grundarfjördur. The weather made for dramatic lighting, and every five minutes we paused our audiobook to fully take in the views. 

The weather did help with the crowds though. This is one destination that’s likely to be on most people’s list, but it seemed like most preferred to avoid the rain and wind and remained in their tour bus.

From there we had another three and a half hours of driving to get to our last destination of the day: a natural hot spring called Gudrúnarlaug. Our first natural hot spring of the trip and it was definitely needed after a cold day with lots of miles under our tires. We ended the day at a campsite nearby and planned to have less on our to-do list for the next leg of the trip. 

Photo credit: Chelsea Erola

After a late night from our somewhat hectic day before, we had a slow morning and eventually started to make our way up to Hofsós for a swim in the community pool. Overlooking the North Atlantic ocean and nearby mountains, it was a perfect way to start out the day.

After a quick pit stop at Godafoss, we made our way to Húsavík for our whale watching excursion.

We were cutting it close on time, so it felt like immediately after we parked in Húsavík we were being ushered into the oversized gear and onto the boat. We booked this excursion through Gentle Giants and did their Big Whale Safari & Puffins tour, which landed us in a small boat, splashing over the waves as we made our first stop at Puffin Island. 

Fun fact: Puffins have to flap their wings 400 times a minute in order to fly. Yes, that’s a lot. Yes, it looks silly. And yes it’s absolutely wonderful.

With my love for the ridiculous-looking birds confirmed, we spent the next hour cruising around watching Humpback whales as they came up for air. 

There’s only one thing to do after an experience like that: grab a local beer, take in the view, enjoy the late-night sunshine and listen to Húsavík on repeat.