New Zealand : The Best of The South Island

It is fair to say that for the both of us, our trip to New Zealand was the best of our lives. Sure, our itinerary led us to the most beautiful mountains and lakes we had ever seen, however it is how we experienced the country which left us with magical memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. This “how” is a camper van.

Neither of us had travelled this way for an extended period of time before but we can now say that it won’t be the last. The South Island of NZ is truly catered for van life with plenty of campsites which are fairly priced ($13 AUD per night) and even slightly more expensive ones with power points, showers and laundry facilities. If they’re a bit out of your budget, there are many freedom camping areas where you can just park your van next to a forest, sleep and forget about it. We went for the popular Jucy Van and instantly felt part of the Jucy community. Jucy campers always acknowledge each other on the road so we got to say hello to a lot of strangers! It felt very liberating to travel in our “home” and always be part of nature, for example, brushing our teeth looking at this:

Camping ground in Kinloch, NZ
Camping ground in Kinloch, NZ

and realising how little we needed to have a meaningful and beautiful travel experience. We also realised that visiting New Zealand in a van is actually an incredibly romantic thing to do (out you go Paris, shoo!). Experiencing nature in such an intimate way made us connect with each other as a couple on a new level which, in my opinion, is much more romantic than being in a fancy hotel overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

Before we tell you where we think you should consider going, here’s a small video of some of the places we visited and talk about in this blog. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark iii and a DJI Mavic Air. We hope you enjoy 🙂

Top destinations in the South Island

Queenstown: is the adrenaline capital of the world and you should absolutely visit it. It’s a very charming town that never sleeps. Shops and restaurants are open till early in the a.m and the main street always seems to be buzzing, mostly thanks to Fergburger, the best burger joint in New Zealand (dare I say the world?). Queenstown is on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, one of the biggest lakes of the South Island. It’s such a peaceful and beautiful place with plenty of hikes to do and campsites overlooking the lake.

Lake Wakatipu, NZ
Lake Wakatipu, NZ

What we really enjoyed in Queenstown was all the adventurous activities you can do there. I was not psychologically ready for skydiving which the town is famous for (and Chinmay has already done it elsewhere), however I was pretty open to other adrenaline filled experiences that were a little closer to the ground. We did the Nevis Swing which was nerve wracking but so much fun. Chinmay did mountain biking near the Skyline Gondola which he really loved. We did canyoning which was my absolute favourite and would recommend to anyone who likes being in water. On our last day we rode the Skyline Luges which was obviously less dramatic than the rest but we enjoyed ourselves and giggled like kids. Here’s a short video shot with a GoPro which includes some of the fun activities we did in Queenstown:

Milford Sound: is an absolute ripper (practicing my Ozzy slang here)! Milford Sound is a world heritage site and honestly the most beautiful place we saw during our trip. There are a few options to see the famous fiord including hiking, by helicopter and by cruise. We chose the latter since we wanted to get in and amongst the mountains and see the numerous waterfalls. On the morning of our cruise adventure, we woke up to a bright and shining sun. We were told we were very lucky as it was the first time in months that the fiord wasn’t drenched in rain.

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Milford Sound, NZ

Going on that cruise was a truly magical experience. The waterfalls were beautiful, the whole landscape looked as if it had been carved by a surrealist artist and we even got to see some teenage seals resting on a rock. We didn’t see any but if you’re lucky you might spot small penguins. We met fellow travellers who told us that they had done the cruise while it was cloudy and raining and that it was gorgeous as well. Going to Milford Sound is well worth the long drive from Queenstown and if we had to pick only one spot to go back to in New Zealand, this would definitely be it!

Milford Sound, NZ
Milford Sound, NZ

Fiordland National Park: is home to Milford Sound, the cute and lovely town of Te Anau, and some of the best hikes that the South Island has to offer. To be honest, just driving around Fiordland is enough to see spectacular views however we like to hike so we trekked along the Key Summit trail. We initially planned a couple of other hikes but the weather wasn’t in our favour – safety above all!

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Key Summit Trail, Fiordland National Park
Key Summit TrailFiordland National Park
Key Summit Trail, Fiodland National Park

The Key Summit trail isn’t hard at all and will probably take you between 3 to 4 hours return at a good pace (it took us around 5 hours but we took more breaks than the average person). It’s a beautiful hike and the views are very rewarding at the top. We got to see the below river by parking our van on the side of the main road so you’re still a winner if hiking isn’t your cup of tea.

Off the main road, Fiordland National Park

Lake Wanaka: is a beautiful lake and its township is very charming with lots of great restaurants overlooking the lake. It is also very close to another big and beautiful lake, Lake Hawea. There are many popular hikes around the area with pretty majestic views, the most popular being Roy’s Peak Trail. We had seen a lot of photos of Roy’s Peak and thought we might give it a go but at the time we were in New Zealand, it was closed for lambing. Some people still go despite all the signs and warnings. The fact that some these folk aren’t respectful to the owners of the private land in which the path crosses (who, request it to be closed only 1 month a year) goes over my head. We decided to do the Isthmus Peak Trail instead.

Isthmus Peak, NZ
Isthmus Peak, NZ

Little did we know that it was going to be the hardest hike of our lives. It was rough, steep and never ending. Chinmay, who has hiked Kilimanjaro, said that it was one of the toughest trail he’d seen. I honestly wanted to give up every 10 minutes and had to push myself mentally to finish it. It must’ve taken us 6 hours to reach the summit and what a spectacular view it was. Isthmus Peak stands in the middle of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, so each side of the peak overlooked a lake. It was the type of hike that I was so happy and proud to have done, I even thought it was well worth all the sweat and tears – but I would probably never do it again. I would still recommend it for all the experienced hikers out there who don’t mind to trade a very tough work out for one of the most stunning views you’ll ever see.

Mount Cook/Aoraki: otherwise known as the highest mountain in New Zealand. North of Lake Hawea, you will find yet another beautiful lake: Lake Pukaki. The water of this lake is so bright and turquoise in colour due to glacier flour – it almost looks unreal (you can see a shot of it in our drone video). While it’s quite an impressive body of water, the main attraction it has to offer is the location of its source: Mount Cook or Aoraki. Again, you can take a helicopter to see the mountain and its surrounding glacier but we opted for a quick and simple hike as we were still recovering from the Isthmus Peak Trail. The Hooker Valley Trail is mostly flat and won’t take you more than 3 hours to complete. All along, the path crosses and follows a beautiful stream of water that sneaks in between mountains – it’s stunning and effortless. At the end of the trail you end up gazing directly at Mount Cook, with a small crater-like opening at its foot, filled with water and small icebergs. This trail is definitely not to be missed!

Mount Aoraki, NZ
Hooker Valley Trail, NZ
Hooker Valley Trai, NZ

Lake Tekapo: is known for having one of the clearest skies in the world and attracts a lot of star gazers (including us). The township is designed to reduce light pollution and it sure would be pretty magical if most towns and cities in the world would follow its footsteps. We were really looking forward to Tekapo since we love star gazing but unfortunately, the timing of our arrival was a bit off since the moon was almost full and was reflecting 10% of the sunlight – no Milky Way for us. We did however have an incredible time at our tour with Tekapo Star Gazing. The tour allowed us to watch nebulas and clusters through specialised telescopes and we ended in a hot pool, gazing at the stars whilst our guide told us old Maori tales. That’s about the only thing we’d recommend you do in Tekapo.

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Good Shepherd Church, Tekapo

The Church Good Shepherd usually attracts a lot of tourists and sure, it looks cute in photos, but I wouldn’t kick a fuss about it – you won’t miss out on much if you don’t check it out. The Mount John observatory near Tekapo isn’t worthwhile either, in our opinion. There is an entry fee to drive up the hill on which it sits, and there is literally nothing to do except sit down for an overpriced coffee once you’re at the top.

Arthur’s Pass: is a route you will have to take if you’re going north of Tekapo. It’s beautiful drive and you can stop mid way to check out the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall which is quite a sight. You will also notice a lot more Kea birds in the area – they are fearless and quite naughty so don’t let them get too close to your belongings. There are only around 5,000 left and all are located in the South Island of New Zealand.

Arthur’s Pass, NZ
Arthur’s Pass, NZ

Hokitika & The Glow Worm Dell: was our next stop after Arthur’s Pass. Hokitika is quite small but very charming. The town has specialised over the years in the trade of sculpting jade in traditional Maori shapes. The streets are filled with jade and jewellery shops, in which you can also customise your own jade pendant. What interested us the most though was the Glow Worm Dell at the north entrance of the town. At night, the entire dell is filled with glow worms and it felt like we were walking amongst the stars. It was a magical experience, especially since neither of us had seen glow worms before.

Glow Worm Dwell, Hokitika

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers: are both breathtaking, I’m sure, and I could have told you a lot more about them if we had not been welcomed with terrible rain at our arrival. We had a Heli Hike booked in Franz Josef which had to be cancelled two days in a row due to poor weather. We did manage to squeeze in the Franz Josef Glacier walk in between two downpours. It’s an easy and short hike that leads you to the bottom of the glacier, well at least it did a few years ago. Unfortunately, the glacier has been receding at an alarming rate since 2008. We did however get to see part of the glacier, even though clouds were covering half of it. We had to stay indoors most of the time so we visited the Kiwi bird sanctuary in Franz Josef, which was really informative and interactive. The Fox Glacier region is supposed to have quite a few nice hikes – we were only able to do the Lake Matheson Walk which was really beautiful and didn’t take us more than an hour to complete. We hope you have better luck than us with the glaciers!

Franz Josef Glacier Walk, NZ

Haast Pass: was the most beautiful drive of the South Island for us. It starts South of Fox Glacier and continues down to Wanaka. Travelling through Haast Pass was a magical experience, the nature in this National Park is sensational. There are countless waterfalls, the streams of water along the road are bright turquoise in colour and the mountains have the most beautiful vegetation growing on them. Unfortunately, we don’t have any pictures to show for, as it was raining pretty hard while we were driving. The weather did calm down towards the end and we were able to see the famous Blue Pools which were sensational. It was perhaps a bit too cold to go for a swim even though the blue water was very inviting.

Blue Pools, Haast Pass

New Zealand reminded us of how profound travelling close to nature truly is. There is something extremely humbling about being at the mercy of nature, hoping that each day as we wake up, it will be kind to us. It was the trip of a lifetime for us, one that we will never forget and we cannot wait to explore the North Island next.

Kinloch Camp Ground, NZ
Firodland National Park, NZ
Wanaka, NZ

Some things you should know…

  • Drones : filming with a drone in the South Island of New Zealand can be a bit challenging as there are many rules and restrictions enforced by the local government in order to protect the pristine nature and wildlife. You need to apply for permits, which will cost you around $50 NZD per permit, as well as detailing the areas you want to film, how many times you want to film them and at what hour of the day. I know, it sounds complicated but we recommend you do it. We saw a few tourists flying their drones without a license and we hope they didn’t get caught because the fine for illegally flying a drone is pretty hefty and rangers are everywhere, checking the national parks regularly.
  • Sandflies: they are a nightmare, period. We didn’t even know they existed before going to New Zealand. Sandflies are little flies that will land on your skin, bite you (it pinches alright!) and you are left with a mark that itches for days… and I mean for way longer than a mosquito bite. Insect repellant helps a bit, but you’ll still get bitten so if you’re travelling outside of the winter season, be prepared!
  • Sheep: contrary to popular belief, not all parts of the South Island are drop dead gorgeous. There are vast areas which are populated with New Zealand’s well known ubiquitous sheep till the eyes can see. These will be very boring drives (for example, Queenstown to Curio Bay) – for the first time in my life I understood why counting sheep makes one sleep. What is sad, is that a lot of deforestation is happening in order to create more grazing land for sheep and cattle. It might help the farming and agriculture economy but when you’re driving in a national park and you see trees nearby being removed for sheep, it’s pretty tragic.
  • Maori culture: we were curious and keen to learn more about Maori culture during our trip but this was a bit hard to come by on the South Island. European culture is pretty much dominant in all the places we visited. Museums are full of “First Settlers” tales and objects, which is interesting in its own way, but not the information we had hoped to gain.

Follow us on instagram to keep up with our adventures. If you have any questions or queries about New Zealand, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact us and we’ll try to help as much as we can

Tasmania: A World Heritage Wilderness

As we booked our tickets to Tasmania, we thought that five days would surely be plenty of time to visit most of the interesting sights – after all it’s a pretty small island. We were sorely mistaken. There are countless treks, lakes, caves and mountain ranges to explore and most of them take a day’s hike or more to get to. This blog-post, however, isn’t a full fledged guide book of Tasmania but a detailed snapshot of great places we were able to see and we think anyone planning a trip to Tazzie should check them out.

Logistics amongst other things

We landed in Hobart and decided to go clockwise around the Island. We were mostly interested in seeing Tasmania’s natural beauty and decided not to spend an extended amount of time in cities, which worked out well as both Hobart and Launceston (the 2 major cities on the Island) are relatively small and don’t take long to visit.

Renting a car is definitely the best way to travel around the island. Public transport isn’t that great and most of the exciting places are quite remote, you’d never be able to reach them without a car of your own. Most importantly, having the freedom to stop anytime you want to take in the scenery is the best part (it certainly slowed us down a bit). We’d also recommend that you plan your routes in advance as the petrol stations are quite scarce in the rural areas. We made sure we had a full tank before any long distances. In some places the nearest pump is 3 to 4 hours away.

In terms of lodging, we mostly Airbnb’d around the island and found the hosts extremely hospitable and helpful. We highly recommend this one located not too far from Cradle Mountain – it’s very well priced and the host Ann and her adorable animals were very welcoming. On the east side, we had a great experience in Doug and Lorraine’s Swansea apartment which was very spacious and beautifully decorated with Doug’s art. They were such kind hosts.

Teasers first! Here’s a short video of different locations in Tasmania which we mention in this blog post. All the clips were mostly shot with our drone (Mavic Air).

What are the best places to visit in Tasmania?

  • Mount Field National Park is only an hour and a half west of Hobart and is home to a couple of beautiful waterfalls: Russell Falls and Horseshoe Falls. The drive from Hobart to get there is absolutely gorgeous, we almost wished it was longer. We parked our car at the visitor centre which has got all the information you need about all the treks you can do around the park. The walk from the car park to the falls is relatively short (around 15 to 20 minutes) and the scenery is breathtaking. The plants are bright green and the scent of the moist earth and the stream of water running along the path is delightful.
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After a while, you will begin to hear the soothing sound of a cascade at which point you know that you’ve almost reached Russell Falls. The falls are beautiful, not so much because they are grand (there are much bigger water falls out there, click here for some Icelandic ones) but because they are layered in a multitude of tiers. As you climb up the viewing platforms, you get to enjoy the higher tiers of Russell Falls which are obscured from the bottom. The walk continues on further however we opted to go explore another part of the park. Around 30 mins west of the visitor centre, you will find another big car park where you can start various treks, some quite long and some very short. Time was not on our side so we opted for the 30 minute Pandani Grove Nature Walk – it was quick, beautiful and surprisingly very different in scenery from the Russell Falls trek.

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  • Gordon Dam is one of the tallest dams in the world (140m) and is even taller than the Harbour Bridge in Sydney which is pretty mind blowing. Walking on it is very special and makes you ponder its engineering excellence. Gordon Dam holds 30 times more water than Sydney Harbour. The magnitude of this is difficult to grasp however if you’ve been to Sydney I’m sure you would have a good idea. Apparently you can also bungee jump from the top of it – thank you but no thank you. Although I have never had a fear of heights, looking down the long wall, my knees buckled and I had to take a deep breath to ease the queasiness.
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It was a beautiful experience and well worth the 2 hour drive to get to Gordon Dam from the Pandani Nature Walk car park (not to mention the 3 and a half hour drive back to our motel). The roads leading to Gordon Dam are enchanting and quite varied in scenery. We saw beautiful mountain ranges, tall tree forests, rolling hills and big lakes. There are multiple treks that one can do along the way, some of them are 2 or 3 day treks. Regrettably we were on a tight schedule and had to move on.

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  • The mighty and glorious Cradle Mountain was our next stop. It’s probably the most popular mountain to climb in Tasmania and understandably so. Mind you, we didn’t actually climb the mountain but we hiked along other treks in the National Park for a good 4 hours. We had originally planned an 8 hour trek however the weather gods weren’t kind that day and welcomed us with incessant rain, cold and brutal winds. We were not prepared for it and didn’t want to damage our camera and equipment so we cut it short – what a shame. We did however get to see many mesmerising sights and gorgeous autumn colours along the way.
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Again, the nature was extremely varied which seems to be very common in Tasmania and very unlike mainland Australia. In my experience, you can walk for hours on end and see the same trees, bushes and colours on the mainland which can make some of the treks a bit monotonous. Tazzie had us covered though! Some parts of the hike were quite strenuous – we had to basically free climb a very steep mountain with no defined steps (all that under harsh rain and wind). I am not experienced and I struggled. I’m glad I did it though as it’s given me a boost of confidence for next time.

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Finally, as you walk on the various wooden platforms along the way, there is a very good chance that you will cross paths with a wombat or two. They vagabond freely in the park and leave fresh poo for everyone to see (and smell). Unfortunately we didn’t see any mostly because we were there in the middle of the day and wombats come out at dusk or dawn. Oh well, we had our fair share of kangaroos and pademelons whilst on the road, however to avoid hitting them at night required the utmost concentration (they launch  themselves in front of cars as they are attracted to the head lights).

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  • The Bay of Fires Conservation Area was our most memorable experience of the trip. We had the best time galavanting amongst the red rocks, trying to find the best spots to admire the expanse of the coast. The whole coastal region is known for its fiery orange granites, white sand and blue water. It’s an unforgettable sight, one that we had a hard time leaving so we stayed there until nightfall. Best decision ever! As the sun set, we got trapped in a beautiful red bubble. Left and right, above and below, the warm colours were unlike anything we’d seen. The best part was that we had the entire place to ourselves – just us two, the rocks and the orange sky. We cannot recommend this place highly enough, and might we add that you go either for the sunrise or sunset.
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  • About an hour and a half south of the Bay of Fires lies the entrance to Freycinet National Park, home to the most beautiful beach of the island: Wine Glass Bay Beach. Out of all the beaches I’ve seen in my life, this is definitely in the top 3 (I would throw Whitehaven Beach in first position, and Reynisfjara in second). A lot of people hike till the viewing platform, click a picture of the Bay and go back. Do not do that! Taking an extra 40 minutes to hike down to the actual beach is well worth it. The sand is so fine and gorgeous, the water is a perfect coral blue and the mountains surrounding it look magnificent. And guess what? We had the entire beach to ourselves yet again.
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Let’s rewind and go over how to get to Wine Glass Bay. We wanted to get to the viewing platform at sunrise and had to leave our BnB in Swansea at around 4am to do so. We drove to the car park at the foot of the mountain and began our trek up in pitch black darkness (well, we did have our phone torch). The board said the time to get to the platform was around 40mins but we were so scared that we’d miss the sunrise that we did it in 20. We got there just in time to see the milky way slowly brushed away by the soft hue of the sun as it gave birth to a bright new day. It was spectacular.

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  • Devil’s Kitchen and Tasman Arch are located close to the small town of Eaglehawk Neck which is on the Port Arthur peninsula. The picture below shows the cliff edges amongst which the Devil’s Kitchen and Tasman Arch are nestled (bottom right). These magnificent rock formations are quite a sight leaving you in awe of the power with which the sea can carve the rocky earth. The pictures we took from the vintage points were not good enough to make our cut for the blog so you’ll have to go and check it out for yourself!
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  • We finished our adventure in Hobart which we found to be very charming. We got lucky enough to be able to go to a farmer’s market that had a fantastic array of local fresh and healthy products: from Kombucha to fermented condiments to fresh mustards and olive oils – we wanted to bring everything back to Sydney. Next, we headed to the famous Mount Wellington for sunset to have one last panoramic view of the city. It’s a half an hour drive away from Hobart’s city centre and the road literally brings you right at the top of the mountain. The view from the summit is beautiful, especially if you go at dusk or dawn and it gives you a great sense of Hobart’s layout. I would however suggest that you wear many layers of clothing and socks as it is freezing cold up there and the wind doesn’t spare you (unless you go in the heat of summer of course).
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  • Lastly, we want to recommend you go to the art museum of Mona in Hobart. Not only is it an architectural wonder but the art displays are interactive and very original. There’s even a man made pooping machine which poops everyday (sounds gross but it’s actually fascinating to watch). We don’t want to ruin the experience by posting pictures of the actual displays so we uploaded some of the interiors and corridors as a teaser.
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Final thoughts on Tasmania…

Like most small islands, Tasmania is very luscious and diverse. You will find beautiful white sand beaches, high mountain ranges, dense forests, bushy areas, huge lakes etc… There’s something for everybody! The island welcomed us with very kind people, breath taking scenery and beautiful food. We came back home feeling gratitude and satisfaction from what was an unforgettable trip.

If you have any questions or queries about Tasmania, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact us and we’ll try to help as much as we can.

Iceland: a winter wonderland

The word Iceland and winter put together can sound pretty scary and intimidating, especially if you are like me and don’t do well in the cold. This post should hopefully put your fears to rest.

 

Why is Iceland in winter the most beautiful place you will ever see?

Our experience was such that every corner of this country was breathtaking, and it was excruciatingly hard for us to not stop every 2 minutes to take pictures. There was something about the colours of winter which gave the whole scenery a surreal vibe. It felt like we were on a different planet. Life and nature were fighting to survive the cold and pierce through the snow. It was like seeing nature battling itself in an apocalyptic setting whilst us humans, for once, were mere quiet observers at the mercy of mother Earth. A beautifully humbling experience.

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Yes, it was extremely cold and at times I had trouble speaking properly because my lips were frozen, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter one bit. The majestic sights in front of us were overwhelming and believe me, you endure the cold willingly.

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One of our main goals before leaving for Iceland, undoubtedly, was to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, and boy did we try! Unfortunately cloud cover got the best of us and even though we tracked the best spots to witness the lights (which you can figure out easily using online maps) and waited patiently, they evaded us. But again, at the end of our trip we had no regret. The northern lights would have been a bonus, but Iceland gave us so much more.

From a logistics point of view, renting a car and roaming around is probably the best thing to do. We were able to take our own time and stop whenever we wanted to take pictures. The roads are very well maintained and despite being caught in a snow storm towards the end of our stay (which was actually pretty cool), we found it very safe, manageable and convenient.

 

What are the best things to do in Iceland?

  • Do not miss out on visiting an ice cave near the Jökulsárlón glacier, you won’t get to do it in summer. You cannot access these caves on your own, you have to book a tour through an agency (there are a handful of them but we used Guide to Iceland). Our guide, who was a very likeable, giant bearded Icelandic man, picked us up at the Jökulsárlón glacier (a lake with a plethora of beautiful crystal-blue icebergs floating on it) and drove us through what looked like a barren alien planet. Once we reached the cave, we had roughly an hour to enjoy the surreal experience of basking in the cave’s blue glow as sunlight filtered through the layers of glacier ice overhead.

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  • We also highly recommend checking out the numerous wonderful waterfalls (or foss in Icelandic) which Iceland has to offer. The 3 at the top of our list are: Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss (in order of preference). Skógafoss and  Seljalandsfoss are located off Iceland’s ring road (which goes around the island) and are about an hour and a half to 2 hours from Reykjavik. Each of them have their own unique characteristics. The one we enjoyed the most was Skogafoss which also has a set of stairs to climb to the top of the waterfall and from there, the view is spectacular.  If you want to get close to the falls, I’d suggest wearing a waterproof jacket and be prepared to cover your cameras/phones.

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Gullfoss is located on the Golden Circle, which is a smaller route near Reykjavik loaded with beautiful spots to check out. Unlike most of the other waterfalls, Gullfoss descends through a valley and hence it is a much wider and is viewed from above. There are designated paths, which aren’t ice proof (I’d suggest investing in a good pair of hiking shoes with good traction, you will need it everywhere in Iceland) and which led us to several viewpoints we could choose from. The falls were ferocious but magnificent. The speed and power at which the water came down created this loud noise echoing through the valley that was both threatening and peaceful. We stood there, thinking that we wouldn’t stand a chance against the force of this beautiful phenomena.

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  • If you are driving through the Golden Circle, you should definitely go to our next pick. The Geysir hot spring area is a geothermal field where geysers can explode up to 30 meters high and boiling mud pits let out a huge amount of vapor which gives the whole area a mysterious and fantastical look. A lot of people complain about the strong rotten egg smell created by the sulphur but we were already used to it because the tap water in Reykjavik has the same eggy smell. We weren’t too fussed about it and quickly got used to showering with stinky water (which by the way, is very good for your skin). Eggs aside, the place is quite impressive and we were fascinated by the colour combo of the red moist earth and coral blue water pits. We had to wait a bit to see the massive explosion of water but it was a spectacular sight, definitely worth it and everyone around us was clapping and cheering.

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  • The Reynisfjara black sand beach is close to Vik, a village on the southern coast of Iceland. This vast and beautiful beach is literally the only spot on the island where our mobile reception became feeble (the phone reception is on point in Iceland, we had full coverage even in the most remote locations). Reynisfjara is the most spectacular lava beach we’ve seen so far. The jet-black pebbles covering it are surprisingly big and not at all sand like, the basalt columns rise in perfect geometrical harmony to form a gigantic church organ and the towering cliffs on each side of the beach extend to the Atlantic welcoming the ocean in their abode. To top it all, we timed our arrival perfectly and were treated to a breathtaking sunset. We came back late at night to try our luck with a black sand beach and aurora borealis combination but the Icelandic gods were probably asleep and we went back to our hotel empty-handed.

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  • Going to a geothermal lagoon in Iceland will be your only chance to get your beachwear out in sub-zero temperatures. The island is filled with warm lagoons and most of them are quite small, but the biggest, the Blue Lagoon, is not too far south of the capital so given our tight schedule it seemed like the best option. The trouble is that it’s not cheap and most of the time quite crowded however if you need to splurge on something in Iceland, you won’t be disappointed with the popular lagoon. The spa lends you a swimsuit if you’ve forgotten it (which I did) and you get a complimentary drink at the lagoon bar as well as special mud masks you can try on while enjoying the warm water. The water is of a beautiful whitish blue, and surprise, surprise… it smells of rotten eggs!  We were both in heaven in the warm water and felt our poor muscles, which were tense from days of cold weather, relaxing and healing. No wonder Scandinavian and Icelandic culture encourages the use of saunas on a regular basis, we found that our bodies really needed the moist heat to recover and revitalise ourselves.

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  • Finally, we recommend spending a day in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. We say a day, because it’s a fairly small city and you would honestly be out of things to do or see on the second day. The words that come to mind to describe it are cute and colourful. We saw many little houses painted in bright colours and the streets were filled with murals and urban art. There are very few tall buildings in Reykjavik so the beautiful Hallgrimskirja really stands out. This tall and modern church is located at the heart of the city (many call it a cathedral but we were told that it wasn’t the case). The streets are pretty but very touristic, although we spotted lots of cool hipsterish bars and restaurants. However, as vegetarians, we were pretty disappointed with the food. It was difficult to find something nice and decently priced (Iceland is quite expensive) which didn’t involve rye bread and sliced cheese. On several occasions we opted for cheap *cough cough* supermarket sandwiches to sustain us through our travels. If you enjoy fish (fermented mostly) and meat, you will love the food scene in the capital. Other attractions include the Harpa, Reykjavik’s modern concert Hall, beautiful views of the shore and nice museums. We were staying in a residential area, which we found to be much better as we saw how the locals lived.

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Harpa1_LQ

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Final thoughts on Iceland…

Iceland is a growing island, still fully alive with a mind and spirit of its own. For us, the purpose of travelling is to seek moments which give you a reality check and remind you that earth and nature are the boss and that we must learn how to tune in with their rhythm to truly appreciate the power of it all. When we do, we are rewarded with beauty and experiences beyond words. We want to eventually go back during summer to see Iceland in all its green glory, but we doubt that it would ever top our amazing winter escapade.

If you have any questions or queries about Iceland, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact us and we’ll try to help as much as we can.