Project Description

My mom and I spent six days with Stefan on a super jeep tour around the entire island of Iceland in June 2015. I had previously met Stefan on a tour to Langjokull glacier in October 2014 and really fell in love with his sense of humour, knowledge, hospitality, and above all, his assurance for our safety. His amazingly modified super jeep (with tons of equipment that I don’t understand but is apparently useful) is also a wonderful way to hop around Iceland and ensure that you don’t miss out on anything that may be off limits to the more typical cars. I knew I wanted him to design a custom trip for us because of how much I enjoyed the one day tour with him. I had been emailing with Stefan since January 2015 and he managed to set up our tour seamlessly and respond to my never-ending streaming of questions. He booked our hotels for each night in addition to paying for breakfast and dinners (which were included in the cost of the trip). He was also so accommodating of my mother who I knew would have a difficult time getting into and out of his jeep. At every stop on the trip, he quickly hopped out of the car to grab a step stool for my mom, and I didn’t hear him complain about having to do that once! My mom always commented on how great the service was…when she was ready to step out of the jeep, he was right there with his handy step stool!

Our trip began with Stefan picking us up promptly from our accommodation in Reykjavik. We pretty much made his jeep our home for the next six days. I think we did everything in there aside from sleep and go to the bathroom. From our guesthouse, he decided to change the itinerary a bit in order to give us an opportunity to see the beautiful Landmannalaugar, a highlands region filled with stunning rhyolite mountains and hot springs. The road into it had been closed all summer due to snowfall, and he had to obtain a special permit to allow us to drive in there. And we weren’t let down…this was certainly a day to remember! It’s such a comforting feeling to head out onto roads that are blocked by chains and say impassable, but that’s exactly what we did! As we entered the road that would take us to the hot springs, the snow looked like a monstrous beast. But Stefan’s car and his sheer will managed to tackle the road and snow like a champ, and we bypassed another tour group twice whose vehicles actually got stuck in the snow (that must have really stunk for them, and it was fun to see them staring at Stefan’s car in bewilderment)! It was on this first day that I knew I had made the right decision in booking Stefan! You’ve never seen such skilled driving in your entire life (or been as scared s^*tless as we were when the car was near horizontal at times)! As we snaked our way through the beautiful landscape, we finally came upon some mountain huts where Stefan whipped out salmon, bread, and cheese for us to feast on at lunch. After great food and good conversation, my mom and I decided to go for a dip in the hot springs (which actually turned out to be cold springs because of all the snow melt), and the surroundings were just magical. After spending a bit of time there, we stumbled through the crazy amount of snow on the ground and hopped back in the car to experience another fun-filled ride since we had to exit the way we entered. We ended our evening at a beautiful little guest house in the country and we were very impressed with the quality of dinner and the adorable and comfortable rooms. I’ve also never slept so soundly in my entire life!

The next day, before we began our drive along the south coast, Stefan took us to some amazing turf houses down the street from our guesthouse. The houses were absolutely gorgeous and the view even more so. After that we began our drive along the south coast where we came upon the mighty volcano Eyjafjallajokull. It was unfortunately very cloudy that day so we couldn’t drive up to the top, but Stefan took us for a great tour through Thorsmork where we were able to get up close and personal with a beautiful glacier tongue and observe the magnificent landscape. We also stopped to see some beautiful Icelandic horses trotting through the area and a couple of really nice waterfalls. Stefan was wonderful in indulging my mom’s weird sheep interest, and stopped alongside the road so she could take pictures and make sounds at the animals (I will still never understand that fetish). He also played to my interests and drove us to the wreckage of a very cool US Navy plane crash from 1973 on the Sólheimasandur black sand beach. Along our drive, Stefan drove up to the top of a huge cliff so we could admire the birds and do some puffin watching! We got to hear wonderful stories about birds that vomit on you if you get too close to them. It was such an amazing backdrop and to mine and my mother’s delight, we did indeed spot puffins! From there we stopped at the black sand beaches of Vik to admire the beautiful basalt columns and do some more puffin watching! We were exhausted by the time we finally arrived at the hotel, but the day was unbelievably memorable!

Day three of our tour took us further along the south coast. We stopped at Skaftafell to look into the visitor centre and get a feeling for the ice cap (Iceland’s largest) we were about to see. We then stopped to view some of the beautiful glacier tongues of Vatnajökull glacier and read about some of the events that have taken place in the area. From there we headed straight to the stunning black sand beaches where chunks of ice wash up! It was freezing cold but the beach was out of this world! We spent the next hour at the glacier lagoon where we rode an amphibious boat to get a better view of the icebergs and learn more about the lagoon. The weather made for a perfect day and really cast an eerie but very surreal feeling over the lagoon. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Pakkhus in Hofn, a beautiful little seaside town in the southeast. I decided to splurge and try the lobster pizza, and I was not disappointed! It’s one of the most amazing meals I’ve had in my entire life (Is it weird that I still have dreams about it a few weeks later?). After lunch we continued to wind around the island, and we came upon a group of French tourists whose car had inadvertently become stuck in the sand. I alerted Stefan that they may need help, and he didn’t think twice. He backed up and we got the pleasure of watching his strong vehicle pull the other car out of the sand with a rope! We definitely weren’t short on adventure during this trip! We even saw those French folks cheering for us down the road! Stefan was a true Icelandic hero that day! We trekked on towards our hotel in east Iceland and the scenery changed drastically. Stefan said we might see reindeer on the way, and we did! They were marching across the landscape in a huge herd! Not sure where they were going, but they were certainly walking purposefully (probably to get away from all of the scary tourists)! He let us stop to admire the reindeer and see if we could get some better pictures. Before arriving at our hotel, we ended the day with breathtaking scenery of the fjords out east! I couldn’t take my eyes off of the landscape (or maybe they were glazed over from exhaustion), but either way it’s on my list to explore next time I’m back in Iceland! We spent the night at another Iceland Air hotel which was perfectly comfortable and had great food.

Day four took us up north. We experienced the might and power of Dettifoss, a waterfall reputed to be Europe’s most powerful. Despite how bad the midges were there (you have no idea how deep my bug phobia goes), it was a sight to remember! Stefan was wonderful and helped my mom up and down all of the rocks which proved to be a little difficult for her. I spent my time spitting out bugs and smacking them all over my face. From there, we made the decision to head to Husavik to join a whale watching tour. It wasn’t on our initial itinerary, but Stefan was really accommodating and didn’t mind sitting alone for three hours while we experienced the beauty and grace of blue whales, humpback whales, and minke whales (and a definite lack of bugs)! After the whale watching trip, he met us right back at the dock and we headed for our beautiful hotel in Myvatn, an interesting place which we would explore the next day. I was so afraid to arrive at this hotel because Myvatn is renowned for midges (and you can ask Stefan how many times I expressed my concern), but to my surprise there were barely any bugs there and we wound up having a great time. I was truly surprised at how nice the hotel was…I would certainly return there in the future.

Day five found us exploring Myvatn before we headed to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city. Myvatn was extraordinary. I’ve really never seen anything like it. Stefan hiked up a huge crater with me so I could get a view from the top, and I wasn’t let down (just a little out of breath)! From there we went to explore part of the rift zone and I was able to see an impressive hot spring underground. We then headed over to an area of boiling mud which was just mind-blowing! I felt like I was on another planet! We also took a look at a stunningly blue mini-lake in the middle of nowhere that was being fed by a power plant. We joked that we felt like we were in the Caribbean on holiday (and our pictures may in fact prove that)! From Myvatn we drove along the coast up north, stopping to see if we could spot any whales and exploring unique waterfalls. I was really convinced that I saw whales but apparently my eyes are crazy sensitive and no one else could see them. But I swear I’m not insane! The evening was one we would never forget! Stefan took us over to a friend’s house in Dalvik — the town he grew up in — so we could visit with some Icelandic horses. We spent some time talking with his friends who were extremely nice and hospitable. From there Stefan gave us a tour of his town, ordered some awesome Icelandic pizza for us, and dropped us off at his summer house while he went to stay at his mom’s house. He was kind enough to let us spend the night there, and it was the most peaceful 13 hours I’ve ever had. The scenery is stunning, there is no one around, and my mom and I stayed up late watching Eurovision on my mobile phone since there was nothing else to do.

The next day it was time to head back to Reykjavik. We were originally supposed to return via the mountain road Kjolur, but the road was still closed due to heavy snowfall. So we were forced to take the ring road back. It wasn’t the exciting day I had hoped for (because I think the scenery in the west is a little boring compared to the rest of the country), but I think we did a good job improvising and finding things to explore. Stefan got us back to our guesthouse on time so we could rest up before another tour the next day.

Overall, this was the trip of a lifetime! I can’t think of a better way to explore the island! I was so happy and satisfied with every aspect of the trip — from planning and interacting with Stefan, to the hotel, food (Icelandic french fries and cocktail sauce are the best!), and the sites we visited. Stefan ensured that we had a memorable trip in every way possible! While this type of travel is certainly not for the spend thrifty or those looking to cut financial corners when they travel, it is well worth the money! Stefan offered for us to stay in mountain huts but I couldn’t made that work with my mother (and I wasn’t disappointed about that). It was really the only way my mother and I could travel in comfort and get to explore some of the main sights of the country, and Stefan was so accommodating and caring at every point. I don’t know if there’s a better Icelandic tour guide out there. Iceland is exciting and breathtaking, but exploring should also be done safely, and I never felt anything but comfortable on this trip. I would highly recommend Stefan and his company Iceland All the Way. In fact, I hope to return in the winter this year for their “chasing the northern lights” trip! I don’t know if I would plan another trip to Iceland without using this tour company, I like them THAT much! While I haven’t met the other guides in the company, I don’t think anyone else can compare with their fleet of vehicles, knowledge, or sense of humour and adventure. This was truly one of the best experiences of mine and my mother’s entire lives. We won’t forget it anytime soon, and we have about ten million pictures when we want to reminisce.

Thank you Stefan for all of your hospitality, compassion, humour, knowledge, and tolerance (especially for putting up with all of my bathroom breaks and hot chocolate stops). You are truly one of a kind and I can’t wait to take another trip with you! I’ll be applying for Icelandic citizenship soon! 🙂

Rachel Kesselman