Into thin air

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01 September 2018
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Big Foot Defender Langjokull Glacier Drive Iceland : credit: © Patrick Cruywagen
What do you do when you have 48 hours to kill in Reykjavik? You hire a Bigfoot Defender and drive up a glacier
Into thin air Images

In our Winter 2018 issue we featured a travel piece on Iceland. Venture 4x4 took us on an epic week-long guided trip across the Highlands of Iceland. We were in a new Discovery while everyone else in our convoy drove Defenders. The landscapes impressed us all as it was like nothing we had ever seen or experienced. While our vehicle had been provided courtesy of Land Rover Iceland all the other clients had shipped their vehicles over from the UK, which is a rather expensive exercise. However, if you are staying in Iceland for a couple of weeks it is cheaper than renting a 4x4. 

My travel partner at the time Jacques Smit is one of the biggest Land Rover fans (and experts) that I know. In fact, he owns two independent Land Rover workshops in Cape Town. So, after handing back the Discovery keys Jacques hires a Bigfoot Defender for us from Ice Rovers and we now have 48 hours to kill before flying out. We decided to spend half of it exploring in a Bigfoot and the other would be spent seeing the sights of Reykjavik, the country’s capital city, which until the 1700s was only home to a single farm. 

Our Bigfoot has massive 37 inch tyres and you literally have to climb up it to get into it. The beefed-up side steps make this a little easier though. Definitely not the kind of vehicle to take someone to the prom in. We take Route 36 out of the city; our friends at Ice Rovers have recommended a route for the day which will take us over the highest mountain pass in all of Iceland. They told us that it is closed for most of the year, fortunately our visit coincides with the only month or two when it is open. The Defender floats really bad on the road and Jacques is constantly trying to correct it. It looks like he is fighting a losing battle with the steering wheel. I’m not too bothered as long as he stays on the right-hand side of the road when someone passes us. 

Our first stop is the Pingvellir National Park, which was where the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament. This centre of Icelandic culture was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 2004. One can camp, fish and hike in this scenic area and we take a short stroll to take a look at the spot where you can actually see the separating of the tectonic plates between America and Eurasia. It is almost as impressive as our Bigfoot.

 

The Reykjanes Peninsula is home to the rather impressive UNESCO Global Geopark 

From the park we take the 550 in a northerly direction, Bigfoot starts to climb as we wind our way up the highest mountain pass in all of Iceland. They call this unsurfaced road the Kaldidalur Corridor and it takes you along the edge of several glaciers. If that does not impress you then nothing will. I tell Jacques to turn off towards Porisjokull, which lies just to the south-west of the Langjokull glacier. Porisjokull is a 25 square km ice cap which is about 1350 m high. We are both in awe of our surroundings. Getting off the beaten track in Iceland rocks. Literally. The track to get the glacier is a very rocky one but once at the foot of the glacier we find a wet, sandy track and go racing across it. I’m a little worried about getting our Bigfoot stuck, though Jacques  says that rentals can go anywhere. This one certainly can and it eats up the track. I find it a bit of a hard ride when on the rocks though I am sure that if we deflated the tyres a little then it would not have been so much of a problem.

We deflate the tyres to 0.5 bar for the icy climb

Imagine the cost of replacing one of those tyres 

I had never heard of the Langjokull glacier until we took the 550. According to Lonely Planet it’s the second-biggest glacier in Iceland plus it’s the closest one to the capital.  As we are driving past it I tell Jacques to take the turn-off towards it. Our guide book says don’t attempt to drive up the glacier yourself. We just want to have a look. A Thor-lookalike is sitting outside the Glacier offices. He is busy on his phone. I ask him if we can drive up the glacier. He doesn't look up from his phone but answers, "Stay in the tracks or else you will fall into a crevasse and I won’t come and save you”. Jacques gives his trademark laugh. It’s glacier time. There are some massive MAN trucks parked up near the start of the icy climb; their wheels are as big as our whole Bigfoot. We pop it into low range before starting the steep climb. Bigfoot whines like a hyena that has not eaten for a week. We barely cover a hundred metres before it grinds to a halt. “Drive it like you stole it,” I tell Jacques. We both hop out and start deflating the big tyres. Each wheel has two valves for faster inflation and deflation. A black van that looks like the one from the A-Team (but on steroids) passes us going the other way. “Try deflating to 0.5 bar,” shouts the driver. We deflate some more. It makes the world of difference. We climb higher and higher. A few more trucks full of tourists pass us. They make our Bigfoot look like an Oxford Diecast model. We stop at what looks like a tunnel leading into the glacier.

The ice cave in Langjokull is a must-do activity 

During the Icelandic financial crash someone came up with a clever idea of doing tours into this glacier. Today it is a popular tourist activity. A guide offers to take us into the 300 metre long tunnel that has several caves where you can stop off. Our guide breaks into song to demonstrate the incredible acoustics of the place. There is a chapel where people can get married and they have even had concerts in the glacier. It is without a doubt one of the most unique things I have ever done.

Once back in Bigfoot we push on, it does not take us long to get to the top of the glacier. It is spectacular. The bright sun is out and the sky is bluer than I have ever seen it. Another truck full of tourists stops near us but not before the guide drives a full circle to check for crevasses. He tells his clients to stay within the circle. Jacques and I decide not to wander off too far away from the safety of our Bigfoot. After snapping a few once-in-a-lifetime shots we begin the descent. Even witnessing a whale juggling six seals at once will not top what we have just done.

Trucks full of tourists make us look miniature 

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Patrick and buddy Jacques Smit – troublesome two 

We head east once down the glacier and it does not take us long to get to the Barnafoss. Some might call it a waterfall while others say it is a series of rapids on a rocky narrowing of the Hvítá River. Locals refer to it as the Children’s Waterfall as legend has it that two kids went missing here a long time ago. Their mum thought they fell into the water and so she destroyed the bridge. The pools that the water cascade into are a deep blue colour.  

We continue west until we reach the coastal town of Borgarnes which was once home to the earliest Icelandic settlers. If you have the time do stop at the Settlement Centre as it will give you a good insight into the history of Iceland. We continue to follow the pretty coastal road south past the capital and onto the Reykjanes Peninsula, the Keflavik Airport lies on this piece of land but it is also home to several other tourist attractions such as Blue Lagoon. That is not the Brooke Shields movie but rather the popular geothermal spa. We do not have time for a dip and instead head for the UNESCO Global Geopark which is like an outdoors display of unusual geology. Don’t use the 42 to cross the park but rather take the 4WD-only 428. Obviously we opted for the 428, but unfortunately our visit coincides with some kids who were out practising their drifting skills in 2WD sedans. Whenever they see our Bigfoot their eyes widen like an owls and they back off the gas. I am blown away by the lava formations and we keep on stopping for more images. We are only 40 km away from the capital yet it feels as if we are on another planet. 

Once we reach the south coast we have run out of daylight. Fortunately we are only staying a few miles away near the airport but not before stopping at a seafood restaurant in Grindavik. Our Bigfoot is driving a whole lot better since we deflated the tyres on the glacier. It had been one of the best day’s off-roading in my life. It was a dream come true, cruising Iceland in a Bigfoot Defender.

The exploding geysers are an impressive sight  

Our last day is spent visiting some of the spots along the touristy Golden Circle. First up is the Geysir, a small geothermal field where bubbling mud holes and exploding geysers have tourists reaching for their phones. The Strokkur geyser is the most impressive because every few minutes it spews hot water about 30 metres into the air. Much to the delight and fright of the crowds in attendance. 

During our week-long tour of Iceland we have seen many impressive waterfalls but now it is time to stop off at Gullfoss, the most famous and photographed waterfall of them all. Not only does this noisy waterfall drop 32 metres, it also has the most spectacular double cascade that takes our breath away. We are lucky to catch it on a bright sunny day so we also see several rainbows. 

Our last stop in Iceland is at Blue Lagoon. When you pay to go in they ask if you would like to have a drink while you enjoy a swim in the famous outdoor pools. It is one of the most expensive beers of my life but it feels great sipping an icy beer in the hot waters in the middle of a lava field.

Our Bigfoot Defender was perfect for driving up the Langjökull glacier 

Jacques and I were both sad when handing back the keys to Bigfoot as it had safely transported us to some of Iceland’s most iconic attractions. We have probably driven about a hundred Defenders between the two of us yet none of them was anything like Bigfoot. It’s one of those boxes all Land Rover fans have to tick at least once in their lives. I know Iceland is expensive and it is probably cheaper shipping your Land Rover over than hiring one, but if you are four or five people on a long weekend away to Reykjavik, then hire a Bigfoot. You won’t regret the ride. You too can drive up the Langjokull glacier.

Ice Rovers 

If you want to hire a Bigfoot-type Defender then look no further than Ice Rovers. They were great to deal with and delivered it to our hotel. We only hired it for 48 hours and they were great in recommending a good route for us to follow. ice-rovers.is

Getting there  

I flew from Luton airport to Iceland using easyjet.com. It was the cheapest part of my trip. 

Travel Guide 

I used a Lonely Planet Iceland Guide for research and guidance. It will be the first thing I pack on my next trip to Iceland. While I purchased a Michelin map of Iceland, our friends at Venture 4x4 gave us a Freytag & Berndt Iceland map. freytagberndt.com, lonelyplanet.com

     

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