Into the wild with Superjeeps
If you really want to go where the wild is in Iceland, these are your guys.
Superjeep.is is a family firm and the most popular Superjeep tour operator in Iceland. Year in, year out, they get 5 star reviews on Trip Adviser from elated travellers who, thanks to a trusty fleet of roughty toughty Superjeep 4x4s and a crew of highly skilled and fearless drivers, have just had the experience of a lifetime.
We were lucky enough to go out with them twice: first on their Northern Lights Tour and then their tour of the Golden Circle & Langjökull glacier. They may not be the cheapest option, but you’d be mad to go with anyone else. Really.
Read more about the Superjeep Northern Lights Tour and Superjeep Golden Circle Tour to find out why.
Northern Lights Hunt
This Northern Lights tour in Iceland takes you out of town to avoid light pollution in the hope of seeing the magical natural phenomenon also known as Aurora Borealis.
Given clear skies and a little bit of luck, the lights can be seen from the end of September till the beginning of April, although the darker winter months are a better bet. We went out on the last night in February.
Our Superjeep was a Land Rover Defender on 40 inch tyres complete with Wi-Fi, GPS, a radio communication system and fold down steps and most important of all, a superb driver, Eggert.
Superjeep.is will pick you up from your hotel, or anywhere else in the city at your request. We were picked up from a downtown restaurant. The jeeps take 6 passengers – two in the back, three in the middle and one in the prime Aurora spotting place, next to the driver.
They had 3 jeeps out that evening with a total of 18 passengers. We travelled in convoy, with drivers Eggert, Arni and Kate in constant touch by radio, switching from Icelandic to English to keep us Aurora hunters entertained.
They told us the aurora forecast was showing a 4 (out of a KP index from 1-9) meaning geomagnetic activity was strong, bright, constant and dynamic. The Northern Lights could be visible - if only we could find clear enough skies.
As we drove out of the city, Eggert explained how it was going to work: we needed to get away from the city and basically follow the stars. For where there are stars, there are possibilities of seeing the elusive Aurora Borealis.
The Superjeeps guides were fun, funny and knowledgeable, but above all else they are absolutely bloody determined. We WERE going to find the lights. The 5 hours that followed were totally exhilarating.
After a first stop at a valley in the direction of þingvellir, only to see the skies clouding over, we hit the road again, chasing the stars further from the city. Our drivers knew exactly how to read the skies and the weather, so I knew we were in the best possible hands. We’d drive for a while, get out and gaze at the skies, maybe see a bit of a glow, then pile back in and keep moving.
They were relentless in their hunt, full of energy and enthusiasm, which was really infectious. When we got cold and our necks ached from looking skywards, they pulled big flasks of hot chocolate from the back of the jeep, and topped our steaming cups up with Icelandic vodka to keep the chill at bay. When Eggert and his colleagues took off over the rocky lava fields, following rivers and skidding across banks of snow, our spirits were high and our adrenaline pumping.
Midnight came and went and, after a hairy scary drive way off road, we stopped the jeeps in what felt like a natural bowl – a flat, marshy area alongside a river, totally surrounded by mountains. And above us, stars.
The Superjeeps drivers talk about the aurora as if they’re describing a tempestuous love affair with a fickle siren. Arni’s elated cry as the sky opened up and a slash of bright green light widened into a shimmering roll of colour will stay with me for a very long time. Here’s a man who does these tours night after night after night, and yet he sounded totally bewitched as he shouted to the heavens: “She’s dancing for us!”
One of the other brilliant things about Superjeeps (I’m a fan – can you tell?) is that they take photos for you. Very few phone cameras have the long exposure capability to be able to capture the Northern Lights, so the Superjeep guys take a whole load of photos for their hunters. They’re all available on their facebook page the day after the hunt, or by emailing them. There’s no branding or watermark on them, just wonderful reminders of an awesome trip. If you want to get pictures on your own camera, the drivers are happy to spend time help you get the settings right and find the perfect position for a great shot too.
And if you’re not as lucky as we were, and don’t see the Northern Lights on your first attempt, they’ll take you on a second hunt, totally free.
Our trip back to the city was what you might call bumpy at first, but back on the road it didn’t seem long before we were back in the city. Eggert dropped us right at our hotel door, and we went straight to bed for sweet dreams… about dancing lights in the sky.
To find out more about hunting the Northern lights, get in touch.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle Superjeep tour takes in some of the most spectacular sights in Iceland: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. A whole day tour taking 8 - 9 hours, it’s an amazing chance to see and experience some of Iceland’s most beautiful nature, geology and history.
Our Superjeep driver for the day was the wonderful Halli, who picked us up at our hotel and described the day ahead, encouraging us to ask any questions as we went. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, just 45 minutes south of Reykjavik.
Thingvellir National Park
If you ever did GCSE Geography, you should know that Iceland is divided by the mid Atlantic rift and it’s the only place in the world where the rift is above sea-level. At Thingvellir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you see the edges of both plates, and walk between them.
The tectonic plates move apart by about an inch a year and have done for millennia. The lava fields all around us came from magma welling up as the continents spread. The whole area is scarred with deep ravines, ripped apart by centuries of earthquakes.
At the viewpoint, Halli took some photos for us and told us a bit about the park. The Superjeep guys really know their stuff and they love their country. It was great to hear him talk about the founding of the Icelandic parliament over 1000 years ago, the growing impact of the Earth’s tectonic plates pulling apart and concern about glacial erosion, as well as pointing us to where many a Game of Thrones scene has been filmed.
Halli invited us to take a 20 minute walk through the Almannagjá gorge, between the continents, promising to pick us up at the other side.
The start of the path is a wooden walkway, put in place when holes with 10m drops started to appear on the stone path in 2011 – a reminder of the volatile earth below us.
We strolled through the gorge, gazing in wonder at the precipitous rock face and the landscape beyond. The views are amazing, and an Iceland flag flies proudly beside the path. You really have a sense of the earth at its most elemental here. I confess our walk may have taken a little more than 20 minutes, but after a lovely little waterfall, we followed the path to join Halli at the jeep and continue our journey.
Our next stop on the Golden Circle was the Geysir geothermal area in Haukadalur.
The main event and crowd pleaser here is Strokkur - one of the largest and most powerful geysers in Iceland. To the delight of the watching and waiting, it erupts in a towering burst of water, gas and steam every 5 minutes or so.
This felt like the busiest and most touristy place of our entire trip (and yes, that does include Blue Lagoon.) We could see the steam from a distance, and as we approached there was quite a crowd around Strokkur.
Halli dropped us off opposite the main geothermal area, outside a restaurant, cafe, hotel and luxury gift shop. We headed straight across the road and followed the track towards the geysirs. The path has a strange bluey-silvery silica glaze and the air is distinctly sulphuric. Signs warn visitors against straying from the path – what looks like solid ground can be deceptive and going off piste could land you in very hot water. The bubbling pools here are 80 -100°C.
Having caught the magnificent Strokkur on video and admired the cute little cauldron called Litli-Geysir, we headed back to the Kantina to visit the loos and the café. The shop here has some really beautiful things. We lusted after the eye-wateringly expensive Icelandic jumpers before grabbing a coffee to go and jumping back into the jeep. Next up: Gullfoss.
How do you even start to describe Gullfoss? Its might and fury is breathtaking – an amazing spectacle of power and water and sound and light.
You can see the waterfall from two levels. Halli dropped us at the bottom and we climbed to the top, arranging to meet him beside the café. We had 30 minutes to take in the spectacular sight before us. As the water thunders into a canyon of the Hvítá river, the air at Gullfoss is full of mist and sunlight creates rainbows, adding to the feeling that you’re experiencing something really magical.
Gullfoss means golden falls and there are three theories about the name. Inspired by the golden evening hue that colours the glacial water, because of the rainbows that appear when sunshine hits the spray, or to honour a local farmer who cast all his gold into the waterfall so no one else could get their hands on it – you decide.
Reading the information boards beside the falls, we also learned the story of Sigrídur Tómasdóttir. When foreign investors wanted to build a hydroelectric powerplant at Gullfoss in the early 1900s, she fought tooth and nail to save the falls, eventually threatening to throw herself in. Fortunately, it never came to that and construction plans were cancelled. Go Sigrídur!
Back to the jeep, where Halli and his colleague Arni were waiting for us. We were teaming up with another jeep to going off-road and visit Langjökull.
Langjökull is Icelandic for long glacier and is 953km² of pure, unblemished beauty – it’s the second largest ice cap in Iceland.
Neither Strokkur or Gullfoss would exist in their current breathtaking forms without Langjökull’s melting ice. While the glacier is providing us with the experience of a lifetime today and it’s really important that people understand why our natural world needs protecting, the sad irony is that tourists like us are only exacerbating the impact of global warming. Halli told us that Langjökull is shrinking fast - researchers fear that if climate change continues at its current rate, the glacier may be gone in 50 years.
That knowledge was really important to us in choosing to travel with Where The Wild Is. Their eco philosophy is a founding principle of the business, not a ‘greenwash’ add on, so when they say they do everything they can to balance tourism with environmental protection, you can absolutely believe it.
Where the Wild Is only offer journeys built around conscious choices and carefully considered decisions, working with like-minded friends who share their ambition.
It’s not easy to get onto the glacier – once we were off road, those Superjeep driving skills definitely kicked in. We were lucky with the weather too – if it had been as forecast, there’s no way we’d have got up to the top. When we did though, wow. It felt like we were on top of the world. Endless, clean crisp snow, stretching right to the sky. It felt amazing – the air was so clean it made your skin tingle. For a while, we all just stood and gazed around in total silence.
Arni and Halli took some photos for us and after we’d been up there for a while, just absorbing the vastness of it all, we could see a weather front coming in. It was moving fast, providing a thunderous looking backdrop to a tiny line of snowmobilers in the distance. Time to get off the glacier. We piled back in to the jeep and said goodbye to what, for me was the high point of our trip. I loved it up there.
The road down was every bit as precarious as the road up – if not more. We met some totally bonkers self drive people as we headed back to the road. Halli and Arni were despairing of them – there’s no way a normal car can handle glacial terrain – they were sure to get stuck. And with the bad weather moving in fast, it wasn’t going to be easy to turn back. Note to self – if you really want to get into wild Iceland, self drive is probably not your best option.
The fresh air had definitely given us an appetite and Halli told us he was going to take us somewhere a bit different for lunch.
First though, he had to make some changes to his snow tyres (technical stuff, something about cables. Don’t ask. He and Arni seemed to know what they were doing.) That meant a quick stop at another waterfall, Faxi, and this time we had the entire place to ourselves. It was a great little spot.
Faxi is a low, wide waterfall in the Tungufljót River. A fish ladder by the side of the waterfall helps the salmon get up river, without having to battle the thunderous current.
When we climbed back up onto the banking above the fall, you could feel the earth moving beneath your feet with the impact of the water.
We were just managing to stay ahead of the rain – it began to fall at Faxi just as we got back in the Superjeep to find some lunch.
Different he said and different it was. Fridheimer tomato farm was featured on Rick Stein’s Long Weekends when he visited Reykjavik, and is well worth a visit. Basically, you’ll have lunch in a massive greenhouse full of row after row of tomatoes. Take a look around while you wait for a table – it’s fascinating to see how Fridheimer grow such a bountiful crop all year round, despite Iceland’s long, dark winters, thanks to geothermal heating pumped up from the earth and lighting powered by hydroelectricity. Look out for a little wooden box with a glass lid where you can get up close and personal with the bees that pollinate the plants.
Once you’ve had a look round the greenhouse, you can enjoy a taste of the crop. Everything on the menu is tomato based, and the soup buffet is hard to beat. You can help yourself to as much tomato soup and fresh baked bread as you can eat, and after our glacier adventure, it tasted heavenly. There’s a basil plant on every table so you can add your own herbs, and the soup comes with sides of sour cream, cucumber salsa, butter and fresh herbs. If you want to add an extra ingredient, you can order vegetable, cheese, chicken or seafood sticks to bulk up your soup.
We went for the soup and bread. As we ate, Arni told us that it was a special day in Iceland. 1st March is Icelandic beer day and in 2019 it was a special one - 30 years since the country’s beer ban was lifted. What a brilliant excuse to try the tomato beer – and it was surprisingly delicious.
The only downside about endless tomato soup and fresh baked bread and beer is that there was no room left for the green tomato and apple pie with whipped cream. Something to come back to.
As we left Fridheimer, we all had a noticeably healthy glow. Not sure if it was the glacial air or the tomato beer, but we looked and felt great. We went to say hello to the Icelandic horses (Fridheimer breed tomatoes and horses) before biding farewell to Arni and heading back to the city. The weather had really taken a turn for the worse. Halli dropped us off right where we’d started: at our hotel door. What an amazing day!
If you want to find out more about the Superjeep Golden Circle tour, get in touch.