Due North: Iceland
Tracey McCallum discovers there’s much more to Iceland than the Northern Lights
With a population of only 338, 000, this cool and quirky island receives over two million visitors a year –that’s over six times the population. The big draw, of course, is the Northern Lights. This other worldly, colourful light phenomenon, also known as the Aurora Borealis, is seen in the skies above the northern Hemisphere.
As there’s no darkness between April and mid-August, the best time to see the lights is between September and early April when dark, clear nights are the perfect backdrop to the free light show. Of course, heading to Iceland in the depths of winter also means it’s pretty darn cold. Yes, even colder than Scotland. Fortunately, at the Hotel Ranga, you’re guaranteed everything you need for a cosy stay, including the warmest of welcomes.
Set within the stunning Icelandic countryside, south of Reykjavik and around 90 minutes from Keflavík International Airport, the luxurious timber lodge has welcomed the likes of the Kardashians and the Obamas. Inside, they’ve thought of everything. Huge comfy beds dominate the stylish bedrooms, private porches offer stunning views, hot tubs look out over the river, and snowsuits hang by the door so guests can layer up before braving the outdoors. You will want to venture out though, there’s so much to see and do here. If you’re unsure where to start, the hotel can book a local guide from Midgard Adventure to tailor-make an itinerary and escort you on your travels.
The Golden Circle is a must-do day tour taking in Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysirhot spring area, where you can get up close to boiling mud pits, exploding geysers and the spectacular Strokkur which spouts water 30 metres into the air every few minutes.
It’s also worth paying a visit to the Lava Centre where an interactive exhibit showcases Iceland’s volcanic and earthquake activity. After all that explosive drama, swing by Ölvisholt Microbrewery for a look around and a pint or two.Weirdly, beer was banned in Iceland until 1989 but microbreweries are now popping up all over the place and this little gem was set up in an old dairy shed by two neighbouring farmers.
If you’re feeling brave, Midgard also offer hiking, biking, snowmobile trips and all-day Super Jeep tours. These vehicles are monsters and perfect for getting off the beaten track,exploring the rough, dramatic, volcanic landscape.It’s up to your guide –and the unpredictable weather –which route you take. Ours took in the spectacular black sand beach at Landeyjafjara; the stunning Seljalandsfoss waterfall; and the dramatic caves and canyons of the Þórsmörkarea. Keep your eyes peeled and you might be lucky enough to spot an Arctic fox (we did!) or some seals bobbing in the crashing waves of the North Atlantic.
Bringing our tour to a close, we drove up to the lava fields of Hekla, one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland.It last erupted in 2000 and is due another eruption anytime soon.Where the moss had grown over the lava rock, we took the opportunity to lie down for a while and marvel at the magnificence of Hekla looming above us. We might not have been lucky enough to seethe Northern Lights but in this magical, mystical place, only one thing is certain –you are completely at the mercy of nature.