The beauty of living in Iceland is that even if you reside right in the heart of downtown Reykjavík, you are never more than a short drive from being in the middle of nature. In the summer, when the days are endlessly long and every second Monday seems to be a public holiday, it’s possible to message a few friends as you walk out the door of the office on Friday evening, throw a tent or two in the back of the car, and be on the road by 6pm. And so, that’s exactly what we did.
Many people who come to Iceland don’t have the luxury of an impromptu trip. There is so much to see in this tiny country that visitors often have tightly packed schedules and detailed itineraries. But for residents, or guests enjoying an extended stay, the joy of spontaneity is one to be treasured.
We decided that our destination this time was the south. Specifically, Þakgil, a small campsite in a valley just north of Vík. It’s a few hours drive away from Reykjavík, but with the weekend stretching out before us and the sun on our side, the prospect of spending a while in the car cruising through the beautiful, ethereal scenery of southern Iceland was not one we minded.
We arrived at Þakgil just as the sun was beginning to touch the tops of the surrounding mountains, setting the clouds alight with pink and orange hues. We strapped on our packs and headed up an almost vertically-steep incline, puffing and panting and stopping regularly to catch our breath and admire the view. Þakgil valley is deeply lush and green, with views that leave you as breathless as the hike. Small streams criss-cross the land, leaving streaks of fluorescent-green flora on either side. We walked for hours, kept awake by our delight in the landscape and the omnipresent sun, and sustained by mars bars and mountain water.
What we were seeking was a camping spot with a good view over the expansive Vatnajökull glacier. This meant wild camping, which is a controversial topic in Iceland—and for good reason. With the tourism boom, many popular parts of the country have seen footfall increase exponentially. Whilst most visitors are mindful of the fragility of the landscape and respect it appropriately, all it takes is a small percentage of idiots to mess things up. The results can be catastrophic for the unique and vulnerable ecosystems that exist in Iceland.
So while wild camping is not illegal in Iceland, as is commonly misreported, it is highly discouraged. Our group was made up of experienced hikers and campers, with the right gear and equipment and an ex-ranger as a guide. If you know what you are doing, wild camping is a great way to enjoy nature. If you don’t, do yourselves, the rescue services, and nature a favour and stay in a marked campsite.
Our efforts were thoroughly rewarded by the most spectacular sunrise that lit up the whole glacier not long after 2am. We sat on the mountain, with drams in hand, surrounded by friends and views so beautiful it was almost laughable. As Friday evenings go, I’ve had worse.
Info: To get to Þakgil, take Route 1 south to Vík then turn onto Route 214. You can check out Þakgil’s website here.
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