Driving in Iceland: Winter Roadtrip

written by Hanie Hidayah May 27, 2014

 

“Why did you pick Iceland as your next destination?”
“We were hunting for the Aurora and this is sorta like our honeymoon?”

 


For any other average Malaysian, Iceland would not be in a typical travel bucketlist especially for a honeymoon destination. Why? It is far from our part of the world and we have always been more familiar with big cities like London, Melbourne and New York where you will find a small community of people from our home country. But Iceland have fascinated me since I watched their tourism ad a few years ago. Only then did I find out that one is able to view the Aurora Borealis from Iceland instead of going to Scandinavian countries or Canada. Why not Iceland? It’s very alien to a typical Asian, and that just made it even more appealing in my list. We’ve only had two friends that have been to Iceland on a first name basis, so we decided that it should be our next destination. Plus, the honeymoon excuse was perfect to just take a flight somewhere distant.

This Aurora, like a mysterious lady, only appears in the coldest nights where the clouds decide to hide. She only dances to those who go out and seek, waiting patiently in the subzero temperatures to be graced by her presence. I like the idea of playing hard to get. It just made the experience a little more special, don’t you think?

Within less than a month of planning, we departed to Reykjavik over 15 hours of flight from our tropical sunny home country. The erratic Icelandic weather decided to give us a warm welcome by sending some rain and crazy wind upon arrival. Just great, especially when we missed our bus to the city. We had to hop onto the next one, be dropped somewhere else and take another bus until we reached our Airbnb accomodation.

Driving in Iceland

Driving in Reykjavik town, Iceland

We settled in town for two nights, gathered our food supplies at the local Bonus supermarket with some pre-packed instant food brought from home. You can take an Asian out of their country but you can never take our taste for Asian food away. Food in Iceland was pricey even to American standards, so most people will cook in and aren’t we glad I decided to bring some curries with me. Since we were having our own car for the next two weeks, it was quite easy to bring as much food supplies and camera equipment possible. Bonus point for car rental there!

Driving in Iceland – Car Rental with Route1

Dealing with Route1 Iceland for car rental was one of the best experiences we have had. They were attentive to our questions (we had plenty as driving in Iceland is totally different than in our country) via emails prior to our trip and they provided us with clear, concise information that we would need during our journey. You can pick up your car at Keflavik airport if needed, but since we were only going to start our journey on the third day, we had a special home delivery. The staffs were friendly, spoke and wrote very good English so there was very little room for miscommunication. They gave us a card for petrol discount along with the keys after a short brief, and off we went anti-clockwise throughout the whole island in 11 days (except the West Fjords).

Driving in Iceland

Car Rental Route 1 Iceland

The Suzuki Grand Vitara looked brand new and spotless. We opted for a GPS to be included in the car and we were grateful for that nifty little technology. It brought us to the places we needed to go, and showed us the correct roads and corners when visibility was terrible. Icelandic drivers sit on the left side of the vehicle, so it took us a while to get used to the turns and driving on the right side of the road. Do note that you will need a valid license to drive in Iceland, and it is advisable to get driving insurance with the car rental company.

Driving in iceland

Driving in Iceland – Road Conditions

Driving in Iceland was a wonderful yet daunting experience. There’s a saying in Iceland that the weather changes every five minutes, especially in winter and you’d have a number of roads that you won’t be able to pass through during certain seasons, so Route1 usually posts up daily reports on the road conditions via their facebook page.

Driving in iceland

We went through snowy, icy roads so the studded tires (no more chains) provided by Route1 on their cars during winter were heaven-sent. It is advisable to not skimp on the car budget during winter, as you’d probably need a 4×4 and studded tires to drive safely in Iceland. We saw a couple of self-drive tourist cars not making it through the highway as they ended up stuck in the pile of snow, skidded from the main road on slippery ice.

Driving in iceland

The terrain in Iceland changes in each region of the island – flat straight roads, seaside cliffs, snowy mountainous areas and even some off-road areas for the outskirts. One of the Airbnb homes we stayed in required us to go to a hillside housing area overlooking a city and since it snowed pretty heavily the 4×4 was just right for the drive so it was best to have a car equipped for any possibilities before you go on your journey. Even then, we had a tough time driving to the house but luckily the owner sorted us out until we checked out.

Driving in iceland

Driving in Iceland – Road Rules

The speed limit was just right for the size of the road, and of course there are speed cameras around the island. It is advisable to follow the road rules in Iceland, or you’ll pay a hefty fine if found guilty on any breach of rules. On a last note, take your time while driving in Iceland; there are always beautiful things to look at and you’ll bound to be surprised. Don’t miss the scenic stops that they have in certain parts of the road. There’s usually a stopping area, a park bench and table for you to have a picnic or just a quick photo opp.

Driving in iceland

If you need more information on driving in Iceland, do not hesitate to email Route1 Iceland at route1@route1.is

Driving in Iceland – Quick Tips:

  • It’s a left-hand side driving. If you’re not familiar with it, drive slowly during your first few days.
  • It is advisable to get a car fit for your journey, do not skimp on the budget for cars especially in winter. In summer, smaller cars are good to take you around due to better road conditions.
  • Do check the road conditions before your journey; some roads are closed during certain weather. Check also weather forecast for the day – you do not want to be stuck in bad weather and having to turn back.
  • It is best to add on the GPS option from your car rental company. The GPS helped us figure out the best route, and alerted us for scenic stops in between our destinations.
  • Do speak with your car rental representative for advice on the best type of car for rent to reach your destination. Some parts of the island requires a better-equipped car to reach safely.
  • Download the 112 app on your smartphone. In any cases of emergencies, you can call for help with a touch of a button and it will automatically send signal of your location for help.

Driving in Iceland – Website Links

Route1 Iceland Car Rental: www.route1carrental.is

Road Conditions: www.road.is

Weather Forecast: www.en.vedur.is


Driving in Iceland – Scenic Winter Views

Driving in iceland

Driving in iceland

Driving in iceland

Driving in iceland

Driving in iceland

Driving in iceland

Driving in iceland

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