We had to wake a little earlier than usual as it was our first day on our Ring Road itinerary, and we had to drive a little distance to our stop for the night, Saudarkrokur, a cute little town about 5 hours drive from Reykjavik.
Our plan for the day was straightforward – take the express tunnel from Reykjavik toward Borganes (around 1,000 ISK toll), travel on Route 1 till we reached Varmahlio, where we then turned onto Route 75 to reach Saudarkrokur. The alternative way I think is to turn left into Route 74 after Blonduos, and using Route 744 (gravel road I think) to cut across to Saudarkrokur. This is likely shorter, but since our policy was to avoid gravel roads as much as possible, we decided to go with the longer option.
It took us a while to get out of Reykjavik since we had to be extra careful, having no winter driving experience, not driven in a AWD SUV before, and driven only on the left side of the road my whole life. So for the first 30 minutes, the wipers were activated on a regular basis when all I wanted to do was to signal left or right, and we had to to overcome the fast driving of others on the roads.
I think Icelanders as a whole drive pretty fast but that being said they are quite gracious as well, often stopping to let pedestrians cross the road. This is something that I think my countrymen should really learn from.
Nonetheless, once I got used to the car, it became pretty alright. So if you haven’t tried left hand drive before, just go slow and constantly remind yourself to drive on the right and you’ll be fine after a while.
We stopped at Borganes for a quick break, having read on the internet that there was a decent cafe as well as a Bonus, the local budget supermarket that you will find yourself going several times when you are in Iceland, due to its attractive prices on groceries.
♦ Geirabakari Kaffihus -Digranesgata 6, 310 Borgarnes ♦
This cosy cafe served up one of the best caramel cheesecakes I’ve tasted, and the savory sandwiches there would be a decent option to bring along for your road trip as well.
Once we left Borganes, the landscapes started to change and we began to be introduced to the beauty of Icelandic nature.
If you have the time, consider stopping by Osar Hostel, where I heard has a seal colony nearby. We missed that because I was afraid of the road being closed and I overlooked checking the road conditions that day. By the time I realized, we drove past and it was too late to back track. If roads are clear on the day you go, it might be worth making a trip to see the seals in their local habitat.
The day itself involved quite a bit of driving, but it never felt long or tiring due to the beautiful scenery. It can sometimes be hard to keep your eyes on the road, so please remind yourself to do so, always!
It took us probably close to 6 hours to reach Saudarkrokur, as we couldn’t resist stopping to take pictures whenever there was an opportunity to.
Saudarkrokur itself is a small town with some basic amenities, and a good place to stopover for the night. There are a couple of restaurants that were recommended by various websites and guide books, like Olafhus, if you are keen on the typical tourist fare of lamb and fish. We didn’t try it as we decided to self-cook that night. There’s also a nice bakery, Saudarkroksbakari, so you should be able to get breakfast or some road trip supplies there as well.
We were glad to stay in a wonderful apartment, Gamla Pósthúsið, owned by a lovely Australian lady, Vicki, who moved to Iceland after being enchanted by the country during her holidays a while back.
I have great admiration for her – decisive and knowing exactly what she wants. It takes quite some courage to relocate, to step into the unknown. I can see that she’s leading a really happy life now.
Gamla Pósthúsið used to be a old post office I believe, but it was bought over by Vicki and refurbished into what is today, a quality accommodation option for tourists.
The place was well furnished, and remarkably clean, plus having one of the more comfortable beds I’ve slept in.
Besides the studio apartment, I think they have options for bigger parties as well.
In winter, there’s an especially great deal – we paid only around USD$95.00, a steal for Icelandic standards.
If you do search for the accommodation on google, don’t be confused with a guesthouse with a similar name-that one is located in Blonduos, close to Saudarkrokur as well. The correct link is http://ausis.is/ .
We left the next morning to Akureyri, regarded as Iceland’s second city. During the drive, the scenery and landscapes became more and more awe-inspiring.
It takes only 2 hours to reach Akureyri, but since we didn’t have much lined up for the day other than exploring Akureyri itself, we decided to take the longer route, around Trollaskagi Peninsula which presented several beautiful views of the coast surrounding Iceland.
We found some time to have a small picnic at a rest stop, admiring the views while we had some of Iceland’s most famous snack.
Unfortunately, we missed out on the local thermal swimming pool at Hofsos in Day 4, while driving from Saudarkrokur to Akureyri. The pool, I read, was like an infinity pool of sorts, so you are able to swim and at the same time enjoy views of the Icelandic coast and peninsula. It’s also known to be one of the prettiest local swimming pools in Iceland. Furthermore, the price is extremely low and probably on crowds as well.
Our lunch stop was at a small little cafe at Dalvik, where we stopped for a coffee and a really good, home made waffle.
We met two young ladies on a work and travel scheme, one from California and the other from New Zealand. They too fell in love with Iceland during traveling and decided to extend their stay by working.
The drive from Dalvik to Akureyri was a short one, though it took us a while to find our apartment in Akureyri, due to some confusion with the house number and the confusing one way roads in the city.
When we eventually found it, we were met by our host Eirikur, who was a nice and charming Icelandic guy. His apartment was in great condition even though it looked a little dodgy on the outside.
Once we settled in, we headed over to the shopping centre at Glerartorg to replenish our supplies and purchase some food gifts back home, at Netto, another budget store worth visiting. There’s also a Bonus in Akureyri as well.
Since we usually ate sandwiches or pastries for lunch, and we hadn’t had a proper sit-down meal since arriving in Iceland, I decided to take the missus to a nice restaurant. Tripadvisor ranked this particular restaurant, Orkins Hans Noa as the number 1 in Akureyri so we went for that. Unfortunately, the place was probably the most overrated we encountered on our trip. We ordered a fish and a beef main (the lamb I wanted was unavailable-shocking, considering the number of lambs in Iceland outnumber humans), which both didn’t turn out great. Incidentally, the waitress strongly recommended the beef, promoting it as her favorite in the menu, though i think the restaurant is primarily know for its fish dishes.
Let’s just say we both overdosed on salt that night.
In any case, the positive spin on the night was that we managed to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, albeit a streak of green across the clear, dark sky.
We enjoyed viewing the dim lights while having the supposed best ice cream in Iceland, Brynja, which again turned out to be a bit of a let down. It’s actually soft serve ice cream. Still, it was interesting to be eating ice cream at sub zero temperatures.
I’ve seen some really beautiful pictures on the internet of the Northern Lights, so I think it’s a combination of a lot of luck, good weather and patience to see something of that magnitude. We only got to see green streaks twice, with the other time while soaking at Myvatn Nature Baths. I wished I had planned a better session of sitting out and waiting for the lights to appear, since I think Pari was quite disappointed from not seeing it in full bloom. For this, I felt really sorry. But at least it gives us an excuse to go again!
Is Akureyri worth visiting then? Personally I don’t think it requires a full or even half day. It’s probably enough to just stop over for the night to rest or eat, or even bypass if you have some accommodation elsewhere.