Breathtaking glacial scenery...
Iceland offers a unique mix of breathtaking glacial scenery, desolate lava deserts and a dramatic coastline. The country is a little larger than Ireland, but has a population of only around a quarter of a million concentrated in the capital, Reykjavik, and the coastal areas. This leaves most of the country largely uninhabited, and the interior is a barren lava desert crossed by highland tracks that are open for just a few weeks in the summer.
We planned to cross the interior from Reykjavik to explore the north coast and return by the easterly route across the Sprengisandur desert to the area around the huge glaciers which dominate the south coast. We knew this would mean rough tracks and numerous rivers to ford - and a vehicle a lot more capable than the 4x4s we had hired at horrendous daily rates on previous less demanding trips.
The 200TDI 90 which Liveridge prepared for us is not a hugely specialised expedition vehicle, but with excellent advice from Chris on features such as snorkel, wheels and tyres, decent harnesses for the rear seats and his typically thorough preparation we felt sure that we had a vehicle which was up to the task.
Once in Iceland the preparations all paid off. We headed out of Reykjavik as soon as we had picked up the landie from the docks (Samskip operate a container service from Immingham), and said goodbye to tarmac after the first 50 miles - the capital and the 'Ring Road' around the island now have decent roads, but minor roads are gravel at best and the "4x4 only" sign is common everywhere. Icelandic highland tracks often require long periods of low box and real concentration - but will still shake loose everything in sight!
The pictures say it all - we covered about 2,000 miles on everything from mountainous tracks to routes across lava deserts marked by occasional wooden stakes. The weather played the usual Icelandic range from sunshine to howling blizzard, and one of the tracks we had planned to use was still closed by snow in July. The apparent luxury of a handheld mapping GPS became very much a necessity on some days!
We stayed in farm guesthouses and found the owners very welcoming to the independent traveller and a great source of ideas for extra excursions - the best was the recommendation from the excellent Rauðaskriða guest house near Husavik to follow a jeep track down the 30-mile river valley of Flateyjardalsheiði, through breathtaking scenery which traversed a completely uninhabited peninsula. This track won the prize for most fords as it crossed and recrossed the river heading down towards the sea.
And next time? We had a great time and certainly plan to return, and our 90 survived the battering with flying colours and is ready for more. There are some tracks that the guide books say are passable only by vehicles in convoy, and having seen the interior this sounds good advice - but it is also a challenge we will find hard to resist!