There’s a lot to like about Iceland. Most of the country runs on clean geothermal power (one of the few benefits of living on top of a giant ball of magma), gender pay gaps are illegal, and it’s easy on the eyes too.
The best bit? You don’t need a big bus tour to explore Iceland Anyone can hire a 4WD and get going, and you can drive around the entire island in about 10 days. Whether it’s finally checking out IRL their iconic long black sandy beaches, scaling enormous glaciers, dipping your toes into secret geothermal pools (you’re sold already, aren’t you?), or hiking their National Parks full of geysers, waterfalls and a myriad of other geological wonders, you’ll want to check Iceland out for yourself STAT.
Here’s everything you need to check out on your 4WD tour of Iceland.
Image credit: Nordic Visitor
Hveravellir Geothermal Pools
Prepare your feed for some seriously stunning natural hot springs. Hveravellir is located right in the Mars-like desert centre of Iceland. The springs are sandwiched between two mountains ranges and a handful of glaciers, making it one epic drive (luckily you’re all about that off road life, right?)
And unlike the Blue Lagoon, there’s a decent chance you’ll have this one all to yourself. Keep your eyes peeled for a long, winding wooden pathway through bubbling pools. The water in these bad boys is a cheeky 100 degrees Celsius (ICYMI that is hot, team), so the only safe spot to swim is at the very beginning of the pathway, where added cold water from surrounding streams makes it perfect for a dip.
Image credit: Iceland24
Sitting pretty in Vatnajökull National Park, towards the North of Iceland, you’ll find Askja. Picture a caldera (that’s a large volcanic crater in case you were wondering) that’s a cheeky 50 square kilometres wide and filled with milky blue warm water. Unlike other natural hot pools, this one is enormous and pretty much tourist-free. We recommend a 30-minute walk around the slopes of the crater then treating yourself to a dip, obviously.
Hot tip: this region of Iceland is home to several volcanoes and can be tricky to access. You’ll need to navigate across two small river crossings in your 4WD. But for those that dare, you’ll get to check out the lunar landscapes where US astronauts trained before they went to the moon back in 1969.
Famous for its long hiking trails, this Iceland spot is also ideal for your next off-road holiday. The best time to tackle this one is summer. Get ready to drive through sprawling lava fields, up around some spectacular mountain ranges (we’re talking shades of pink, red, golden yellow and green), beneath the Hekla volcano (like we said, it’s an adventure) and across long grassy fields where you’ll probably spot some wild Icelandic horses.
Landmannalaugar loosely translates to ‘The People’s Pools’, so (you guessed it) this National Park is also known for geothermal baths. Pack your bathers so you’re always ready for your next dip. You might even find a warm flowing river, like the famous one in Hveragardurinn.
Image credit: Arctic Adventures
If you’ve been tracking Iceland influencers on Instagram, you will have seen the famous black, volcanic beaches that run along the southern coast. The big ones are Reynisfjall and Diamond Beach, by the Jokulsarlon Lagoon, but there’s plenty more coastline to explore in your trusty 4WD.
In the Western Fjords, you can take the long and winding Kjaransbraut Avenue for some pretty incredible beach views. This one takes you along narrow roads on steep cliffs overlooking the sea, and continues right down to the water’s edge, where the waves almost crash up onto the road. Pro tip: do this drive at low tide.
Image credit: Arctic Adventures
What’s guaranteed to up your next adventure holiday? Driving across an actual glacier. Head to Vatnajokull, Iceland’s largest glacier, and jump on a tour. The guys from Glacier Jeeps run multiple tours through both snow and electric blue ice. Pack something warm and waterproof for maximum enjoyment.
A few tips
A few words of caution. Icelandic highways are known to be well looked-after, but they can still be dangerous. High wind speeds have been known to blow doors off their hinges and push cars across lanes, storms can turn small river crossings into gushing rapids within minutes and snow can consume entire roads. The key is research, both online and chatting to locals. They’ll be able to give you the best advice.
Here are 5 things to remember.
- Check the latest info on road conditions before you start your journey (call 1777 or check www.road.is)
- Make sure the road you plan to travel is open for traffic (and never drive off these roads, like, EVER).
- The emergency number in Iceland is 112. You can call it in the highlands, even without a mobile connection.
- Fill up with petrol BEFORE you go, there are no stations in the highlands
- Most importantly, have the adventure of your life.
Want something a little closer to home? Check out New Zealand's best ski retreats.
Image credit: Jon Flobrant