My 10-Day Journey of Solitude, Storms, and Self-Discovery on the Iceland Expedition

After the Christmas and New Year celebrations, it was time to start preparations for the Iceland expedition. First things first, I needed a Schengen visa, and to gear up for the snowy adventure. Unfortunately, my two friends who were supposed to join me had to cancel, so I ended up going alone. The days flew by, and suddenly it was February 10th – the departure date.

My flight to Reykjavik had a layover in Oslo, making it a nine-hour trip with an extra two hours in Oslo. I kept myself busy on the plane and landed in Reykjavik in the evening with another team, Johnson and Sheetal from Dubai. But we hit a problem – Johnson's suitcase didn't make it, so we had to go on without it. Nomadic Road's rep met us at the airport and took us to Hotel Centre Plaza in the city.

Stepping out of the airport is something I won't forget.

It was snowing, and windy – a real wake-up call. The driver said we had to try the hot dog stand in Iceland, so on the way to the hotel, he was cool enough to take us there. Despite the -3 degrees temperature, we loved those hot dogs on the roadside.

At the hotel, we caught up with Venky, who had all the info, room keys, and a goody bag ready. In the evening we ventured out for some shopping and Icelandic food. The cold was okay, but the wind chill was tough. Dinner was at this authentic Icelandic spot called Ostabuddin. We tried Whale steaks, lamb steaks, and Duck legs with local wheat beer.

The plan was to meet in the lobby after breakfast at 8:30 am the next day. I lucked out sharing a room with the famous rally driver Sanjay Takale from Pune – although I'm not sure how lucky he felt with my loud snores.

Day 2 morning, we gathered in the lobby, checked out, and met our Icelandic expert, Kristjan Erling Jonsson. He drove us to where our monster Land Rover super defenders awaited. The high lift and gigantic size of the tyres were mind-blowing, and the excitement of driving these mean machines during the Iceland expedition was building. After an hour of briefing, signing papers, and a small prayer, we hit the road, a convoy of 5 participant vehicles and 1 lead vehicle.

Kristjan and Venky were hesitant to share the day's itinerary with us. They had information that a huge storm was approaching in the direction we were heading. The radio buzzed with Kristjan's firsthand insights about Iceland's weather, terrain, and history.

Once out of the city limits, it was hard for a single pair of eyes to take in all the beauty.

Storm warnings led to the closure of many roads for safety. Equipped for such conditions and with a bit of influence from Kristjan, we convinced the cops to lift the barriers, allowing us to proceed. We made it to the tomato farm in Friðheimar just as the storm turned into a full-blown blizzard. What surprised us was seeing tomatoes thriving in greenhouses amid the snowy landscape!

Post lunch, the convoy started moving. Personally, I doubted whether we could continue our road expedition considering the ferocious storm. Despite the uncertainty, we were fortunate to witness raw nature in its wildest form. Shortly after setting off, Nomad 5 faced poor visibility and veered off the road, getting stuck in the snow twice. The car's electronics failed during the second incident, leaving it lifeless. Towing it to the nearest town, a replacement car was called, and in the meantime, the occupants hopped into my car with their bags.

We eventually reached Hotel Gullfoss for our overnight stay. With ample time, it was great to chat with the participants and get to know each other better. As we hit bed, there was no sign of the storm mellowing down.

On day 3 of the Iceland expedition, we woke up to surprisingly clear skies, although another storm was expected by night. So, without wasting any time, we set out for the day. Radios buzzed with interesting questions from Sumesh and Sundeep and entertaining banter from Sumeet and the rest of us.

Our first stop was the famous Geyser Strokkur, known for its springs ejecting water into the air with a bang and steam. Typically, the geysers reach 15 to 20 meters, but volcanic activity can propel them up to 40 meters.

Next, we headed to Gullfoss, a waterfall in the Canyon of the Hvita River and one of Iceland's top tourist attractions. Getting to the view deck was an adventure as the staircase was buried in snow. After a few photographs, we moved on to our vehicles. The customary roll call meant we were rolling towards the next destination of our road expedition, and that too, the most exciting one.

We were about to drive on the second-largest glacier in Iceland…

It wasn’t easy driving in deep snow, even with the tires deflated to 6 psi. Any deviation from the tracks could literally get us stuck.

As we ventured deeper into the glacier, all we could see was snow in every direction. Upon reaching a flat area, we got to leave the convoy and drive on our own. Unfortunately, we couldn't drive any further into the glacier because the low 4 gear of Nomad 3 wouldn't engage, making it highly impossible to continue the journey with a high 4 gear. But the joy of seeing and driving on this gigantic glacier was truly overwhelming.

We returned to Gullfoss for a late lunch and then proceeded to our destination at Hotel Hrauneyjar. The weather conditions worsened even before we could offload our luggage, and the warmth inside the hotel was welcoming after a full day outdoors.

Day 4 felt like a disaster. The storm had dumped the surroundings with so much snow that we had to trudge through three feet of it to reach our vehicles and dig them out. But our lion-hearted guide Kristjan urged us to continue. Even the frozen diesel pump miraculously started working with Kristjan's touch.

With no visibility of the road, we relied on the markers on the side to navigate our way to Landmannalaugar, known for its natural geothermal hot springs. Hindered by snow, progress was painfully slow. Venky opted to turn back and head to the next destination before nightfall.

The announcement left us dejected. Some felt we could have pushed through and reached Landmannalaugar. By the time we finished lunch, the storm had subsided, and we embarked on our snowy road journey to the revised destination—the secret lagoon.

Along the way, we got to see volcanoes which could erupt at any time, geothermal power plants, man-made canals carved through volcanic rocks, and completely frozen rivers. We were given a two-hour break at the secret lagoon to enjoy the hot springs.

Situated in the small village of Fludir, the secret lagoon's unique setting provides an authentic Icelandic experience. The warm water maintains a temperature of 38–40 degrees Celsius year-round. Even though the pool is located just 10 meters from the changing room, dashing through -6 degrees Celsius with only swimming trunks on, was quite an adventure.

After settling into our rooms and having dinner, around 10:30 pm, we were told that the Aurora Borealis was visible.

We rushed outside. Initially, it was just a faint green light across the horizon, but we couldn’t believe what the camera could see through long exposure shots. With the expertise of Charles, the filmmaker of our Iceland expedition, we captured incredible images.

Due to some light distractions near the hotel, we moved to a darker place away from the hotel. From this vantage point, we obtained amazing photos with the defenders in the background, which would create memories for a lifetime. Despite being informed about the snowstorm in the morning's weather forecast, we went to bed fully satisfied and grateful.

On day 5 of our overland expedition, the storm was raging at full force, with wind speeds reaching 235 km/hr. Once the storm subsided, we quickly got into our vehicles, only to learn that all main roads were blocked. So, we went to town and spent time at the Lava Exhibition Centre, waiting for the roads to reopen.

Finally, by 2 pm, the roads were cleared, and we set off towards our intended destination, the black sand beach of Skogar. En route, we could see the volcanoes Eyjafjallajokull which erupted (and blocked air traffic in Europe for a week in 2010) and Hekla. Taking a detour from the highway and driving through the snow, we reached the magnificent black beach.

Next, we headed towards Skogafoss Falls, the most famous waterfall in Iceland. With a width of 15 meters and a height of 60 meters, it's a breathtaking sight. You can get up close if you don't mind getting drenched, and for the adventurous, 527 steps lead to an observation platform above Skogafoss. Though my weak knees made it unimaginable for me, Sumesh and Sumeet took on the climb.

Helping recover a stranded bus cost us precious daylight for visiting another waterfall. Initially planning to stop at Seljalandfoss Falls, Kristjan surprised us with a detour to the lesser-known Gljufrabui Falls, hidden from most tourists. Racing against fading light, we hurried to the falls.

Once there, the scene we witnessed is hard to describe in words.

Dinner was arranged at the hotel and turned into a fun-filled sharing of experiences. Adding to the excitement, Charles presented a rough cut of the Iceland expedition video on the lobby TV, allowing us to relive our roles as actors in the journey.

Day 6 of the Iceland expedition was an early start, with a visit to a farm arranged by Venky and Kristjan. Despite some opting for extra sleep, I couldn't resist exploring. Every minute spent at the farm was worth it. The farmers were so much more than that—they were drivers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and horse riders, all rolled into one. It was incredibly insightful to learn about the lives of Icelandic farmers. Next, we headed to the town of Hella, where we could meet with other convoy members and proceed to our next destination—Urridafoss waterfall.

The waterfall isn’t famous for its height but for the substantial water volume it carries. Out here, Charles captured incredible stills and breathtaking drone videos, with the highlight being the group photo.

On the way back to Reykjavik, Kristjan and Venky wanted to make up for the missed sightseeing on day 2 of the Iceland expedition. They took us to Pingvellir National Park, situated in a rift valley between the Eurasian and Atlantic tectonic plates. However, our journey hit a snag when a car got stuck in the snow on a narrow road, blocking our way. After turning our defenders, we encountered another stuck car in front of us. With some teamwork, we successfully pushed the car to the top, clearing the way for our vehicles.

In the process, we lost two precious hours and had to skip visiting the park to ensure we reached Reykjavik by nightfall. Upon reaching the Reykjavik garage, we bid farewell to the beloved defenders and headed to Hotel Storm for the night.

An exotic Icelandic dinner at the Icelandic Gastropub awaited us.

Starting with a refreshing shot of Icelandic Brennvin and local wheat beer, the menu included smoked puffin, minke whale, traditional Icelandic Flatkaka, Horse Carpaccio, Ling, Icelandic lamb rump steak, and cream cheese skyr cream for dessert. It felt like a farewell dinner, with the three Goans accompanying us flying to different destinations early in the morning.

Johnson and I planned to stay back for four more days to explore parts not already covered in this Iceland expedition.

Day 7 began with breakfast and the search for an SUV rental, challenging due to the holiday season. We settled for a Land Rover Discovery and began an unguided and unplanned four-day journey.

Before leaving Reykjavik, we visited the impressive Hallgrimskirkja Church, known for its 74.5-meter-tall tower and unique architecture. The church houses a remarkable 15-meter-high pipe organ.

Following a quick lunch, we headed to Vik, a snow-covered seafront village in the south of Iceland.

The drive, lacking Kristjan's rescue expertise, took cautious navigation.

After a four-hour journey, we checked into the Icelandair Hotel in Vik, where the food exceeded expectations, ensuring a restful night's sleep in comfortable rooms.

Day 8 was going to be exciting. After breakfast, we checked out and set out for the Reynisfjara beach. This black sand beach, born from lava, stands out with its insane basalt columns, lava formations, towering cliffs, and caves. Opposite the sea lies Gardar, an enormous natural pyramid made of basalt columns, resembling a staircase to the sky. Although leaving this mesmerizing place was difficult, we had to move on as we had booked an ice cave tour at 2 pm. Without wasting time, we headed to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. With a humorous guide, the bumpy glacier ride provided spectacular views and stops at notable locations, including a frozen lake used in Game of Thrones.

Equipped with helmets and crampons, we explored the first blue ice cave. Its crystal-blue ice roof shined like a diamond. We then boarded the Unimog for the next destination on our Iceland expedition—a larger, deeper cave on the glacier.

After a short hike from the vehicle to the cave's entrance, we were amazed by what we saw. Unlike the blue ice caves, this one was pitch dark, with the thickness of the ice blocking any light. The cave's ceiling had intricate designs, giving a mysterious feel. The guide even turned off the light at one point, and believe me, you’ll never find your way out without illumination.

We had no clue where we were going to stay that night.

Our guide suggested the Gerdi guest house, which despite being small, was very comfortable. Luckily, the clear skies increased our chances of witnessing the Aurora Borealis once again. With cameras in hand, we joined others at the lagoon and witnessed the great natural phenomenon yet again.

Day 9 was a leisure day, and we opted to explore up to the town of Hofn. After a late breakfast, we hit the road, enjoying the scenic drive, and encountering wild reindeer grazing along the way. On Sunday, much of the town was closed, but we visited the beautiful bay area and an area with natural hot tubs.

Back in town, we had lunch at the renowned lobster restaurant, Humarhofnin Veitingahus. The preparation was excellent, paired perfectly with the local Vatnajokull beer. Anticipating a rainstorm in the evening, we left Hofn early.

On the way, we revisited the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon to witness seals swimming—a sight I had missed the previous day. Exiting the lagoon, you simply cross the road to reach the stunning Diamond Beach.

Enormous chunks of crystal-clear ice, carried from the lagoon to the sea, decorate the black sand beach. 

We finally returned to the hotel and prepared for the penultimate day of the tour.

Day 10 started off early. The night was accompanied by rain instead of the usual snowstorm. This transformed the Icelandic landscape we had been witnessing. The melting snow revealed yellow grass on the black lava mountains, with waterfalls cascading down. We cautiously embarked on the next leg of our Iceland expedition.

Our first stop, Fjallsarlon, boasts breathtaking blue ice deposits just a few kilometres from the highway. An hour's drive from there led us to Skaftafel, a hiker's paradise in Vatnajokull National Park, but time constraints prevented us from exploring its famous trails. Instead, we decided to visit the Svartifoss waterfalls, but to our disappointment, the roads were closed due to slippery conditions.

We continued to Vik, aiming to revisit a missed spot – the Dyrholaey peninsula. Offering a heavenly experience, the main attraction is a massive black lava rock arch standing in the sea at the cliff's end, earning the peninsula its name – Dyrholaey, meaning the hill island with the door hole.

Our next lunch stop was Skogafoss, where we grabbed burgers at the base of the falls. Johnson was insistent on seeing Gljufrabui Falls in daylight, having witnessed it at dusk on our last visit. En route, we witnessed waterfalls turning into mist due to the wind's speed. Passing Seljalandfoss Falls, we reached the hidden falls, absorbed its beauty, and rushed back to the vehicle.

With only a few stops for photos, we checked into the Geo Hotel at Grindavik on time. Quickly packing our swimwear, we drove to the Blue Lagoon. The familiar routine of undressing in the warmth of the changing room and braving the minus temperature to reach the pool repeated itself. But once inside the water, you forget everything. There was also a swim-up bar offering cocktails and beer, which completed the experience.

Next, we headed for dinner at the pre-booked Blue Lagoon restaurant. The waiter's beer suggestion, as always, was of great taste. Having tried seven beer brands during the Iceland expedition, I still can't decide on the best. Returning to the hotel, we completed the final packing and loaded the bags into the car, preparing for a 4 am departure to the airport.

It all feels like a dream. The 10-day overland expedition in Iceland exceeded my expectations.

Huge thanks to Venky for organizing this. He was incredibly cooperative, well-organized, and polite. Kristjan, the real hero, played a crucial role in our journey, making our days with the Defender truly memorable. Charles, at just 22, you're outstanding. Your mastery of photography and videography is unmatched. It was a pleasure meeting you, and I look forward to more overland expeditions together.

The bond developed with other participants during the Iceland expedition is unforgettable. Sumesh and Sundeep from the USA, Johnson and Sheethal from Dubai, Satish, Sumeet, and Sanzil from Goa, and Sanjay Takale, the international rally driver from Pune—you guys will be remembered as partners in crime on my best-ever holiday.

With every inch filled with memories, we reached Keflavik airport, handed over the well-behaved Land Rover Discovery to Hertz and boarded our flight. The journey was far from boring, with loads of material in my cameras to relive the memories. We reached Dubai at midnight, and I went home a very satisfied man.