I awoke the next morning at the crack of dawn, feeling thoroughly invigorated for a night outdoors, yet superbly cosy. That was, until my skin made contact with the air outside of my sleeping bag, and I recoiled in horror, desperately scrambling around for a second layer of thermals.
The sun was peeking behind the mountains as Jim took charge in setting up our cooking equipment. I hobbled from foot to foot impatiently, waiting for its rays to burst out across the land and help thaw me out a little.
Jim insisted on doing the honours and we enjoyed a hearty, warming bowl each of Linda McCartney sausages and baked beans, before taking a stroll along the shorefront towards some nonchalant Icelandic ponies.
After an embarrassingly poor attempt to find Akranes’ one and only attraction – a pair of lighthouses (we were on foot and somehow wound up getting lost in a particularly underwhelming part of suburbia), we jumped into the Jimny and hit the open road.
We headed back onto the Ring Road and drove north to the town of Borgarnes, commonly known as the gateway to Snæfellsnes National Park. After a brief pit stop, we joined the 54, before detouring onto Route 55, Heydalsvegur; our very first gravel road.
I was immediately transported back to 2015, when I lived on a remote island off the coast of South Australia. Much of its roads were unpaved and I remember adventitiously recreating scenes from Tokyo Drift in my little Toyota Echo on numerous occasions.
Snapping out of my terrifying flashback, I demanded we stop the car; on one hand to assess the road conditions, which had the potential to seal the fate of our already expiring rental vehicle; on the other, because there was the most picturesque view of a farm dwarfed by Kolbeinsstaðafjall mountain to my right.
Jim calmly pulled to the side.
We took a few snaps, I replenished my blood sugar levels with some dried apple and we concluded that the road was indeed fine (it was actually very well maintained), so we continued on; and I’m so thankful that we did.
Route 55 took us north, cutting across the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and through some spectacular scenery; ghostly crags protruded from the sheer edges of mountainsides, looking as though they could topple at any given moment; we crossed lava fields formed over millennia and between the vast, rippling lakes, Oddastaðavatn and Hlíðarvatn.
The wind beat down on us with a force neither of us had ever experienced and at times, it took the strength of two of us to get the car doors open and closed, ensuring that they didn’t rip from their hinges and rattle up the road in a cloud of metal and dust.
We pushed on carefully and eventually, the road spat us out at the crossroads overlooking Hvammsfjörður, where Route 55 meets 54. We head west, stopping briefly for a peanut butter and jam sandwich (a first for Jim), before continuing our journey along the beautiful, albeit exposed coastline for quite some time.
We pulled over in a somewhat sheltered valley at the very tip of a fjord. Its grassy plains were split in two by a shallow, pebbly river and we spied a waterfall cascading down one of the snowcapped mountains, some distance from the road.
In an attempted to reach it, and stretch our legs in the process, we excitedly followed the winding waters to its source. Alas, it was like chasing a rainbow and as we edged around each contour of land, it appeared to get further away.
We stumbled back to the car and more driving ensued. To our astonishment, we somehow managed to pass Kirkjufell, Iceland’s most photographed mountain, without so much as batting an eyelid (it was only later at camp when we realised what we had missed). I’d taken a half-arsed photo of the damn thing, but I think by this point, we were both delirious from all the driving.
We got to Ólafsvík Camping Ground reasonably late. The sun was now nowhere to be seen and we were both exhausted from the constant battering we had received from the wind. It makes driving incredibly tiring, especially when navigating gravel roads and a rental car that drives like it’s on its last legs.
We set up camp as quickly as we could. Our spot was reasonably sheltered but it still had me wondering if our tents would survive the night.
We enjoyed another all-vegan dinner of pesto pasta loaded with some form of meat substitute, under the much needed shelter of a well put together amenities block, before treating ourselves to a wonderfully hot shower.
I wrapped up in as many layers as I possibly could and climbed into my tent, where I would endure a horrifying chorus of buzzing generators, child’s screams and violently flapping material, over the course of the night.
Ólafsvík Camping Ground