Fly to Reykjavik, transfer to city centre.
We drive north to the mountainous Snaefellsness Peninsula, an enchanting landscape of fishing villages, old lava flows, and abundant birdlife. Snaefellsness is perhaps best known for the glacier-capped strato-volcano 'Snaefellsjokull' and its literary and mystical associations. Jules Verne in his classic 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' describes this as the start point for the protagonists' journey. New-age followers consider this area as one of the earth's seven major energy centres. With the volcano as a backdrop we visit the cliffs of nesting seabirds at Arnastapi, before a coastal walk to Hellnar, and discover the old cod-fishing community at Dritvik. Time allowing we can enjoy a soak in the warm swimming pool of mineral waters at Lysuholl geothermal area. The waters are said to have healing properties.
Today we walk to the extinct volcanic crater of Eldborg that sits 60 metres above the lava field it created. The walk is is not taxing and at 200 metres wide and 50 metres deep it is well worth the effort. We then continue to the Hvalfjord, or 'Whale' fjord, which was an important harbour for US convoys heading to Britain during the Second World War. From here our next stop is the Thingvellir National Park and world heritage site. It was here that the Icelandic Parliament was first established around 930 AD. The rift valley is a striking reminder of the constant movement of the earth's crust as it is on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The lake here is also the largest natural lake in Iceland, surrounded by cracks and faults that attest to its volcanic birth. Our day ends with a transfer to the small settlement of Laugarvatn where we may have time for a dip in the naturally heated hot pools and steam baths at Fontan.
Geysir provides an explosive start to the day and needs little explanation, having given the word geyser to the world. Waterfalls in Iceland come in many shapes and sizes, and our first is one of the biggest - Gullfoss. These spectacular falls span the width of the Hvita river, falling a total of 32 metres into the crevice below. The Thorsardalur Valley then welcomes us with its many treasures. The first is a reconstruction of a Viking farmhouse, that was buried by an eruption in 1104. After its excavation in 1939 the reconstruction was built, some 10km from its original location. A real gem of the area is the Gjain Canyon, which seems like a small oasis in a black volcanic desert, with lush vegetation, small rivers and waterfalls. As if by contrast we then visit Haifoss Waterfall, the second highest in Iceland at a dizzying 122 metres.
Since J R R Tolkein's trilogy famously hit the big screen, visitors to Iceland have often compared the dark forboding scenery of Iceland's interior to Mordor and it's easy to see why. Continuing east we drive across the Fjallabak Nature Reserve for a day of lunar-like landscape and volcanic deserts, stopping at explosive craters and enjoying this unmissable experience. Emerging from the shadows we encounter the surprisingly colourful scenery in Landmannalaugar, take a walk to see the hot springs and can take a dip in a natural hot pool. Our day contineus with a visit to the Eldja Fissure where we walk to the Ofaerufoss Waterfall. We make a short stop at Holaskjol hut and go for a walk to see a particularly beautiful lava flow and waterfall above the hut. We end the day with a long transfer to our accommodation in the foothills of Mt. Oraefajokull, the highest mountain in Iceland.
Vatnajokull National Park is simply immense, covering over 13 and a half thousand square kilometres. We however limit our exploration to the Skaftafell area, known for its more gentle climate and almost alpine contours. We visit Svartifoss Waterfall, an unusual waterfall even by Icelandic standards as it is produced by water cascading over huge basalt columns. Our focus then switches to the glacial lagoon, where giant chunks of ice float silently in the water. The lagoon is on the edge of the Vatnajokull National Park and situated at the head of the massive Breidamerkurjokull glacier, one of the largest outlets from the Vatnajokull ice cap. Jokulsarlon evolved into a lagoon around 1950 as the glacier retreated from the coast. The banks of the lagoon today show where the glacier's edge used to be, just 1.5km from the ocean. The river running out of the lagoon is the shortest glacial river in Iceland and the lagoon itself is almost 300m deep, covering an area of 20 square kilometres. Optional boat rides are available here, prices available locally.
The town of Vik is the southernmost town in Iceland. After a short visit we continue our journey to Reynisfjara, a dramatic black sand beach surrounded by imposing black basalt columns. Our southerly tack takes us to Dyrholaey, a nesting area for thousands of puffins, and home to the iconic 120 metre rock arch that defiantly marks the southernmost tip of the country. Turning west we head for Reykjavik, visiting the mighty waterfalls at Skogarfoss and Seljalandsfoss en route.
Free morning; fly to London.