At long last, I was at customs about to leave Bangkok headed for New Zealand. I was in a strange place in my head, sad to leave Thailand behind after only one month there, but excited to be headed to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.
My arrival to New Zealand happened to coincide with the premiere of the final Hobbit film. I chose Wellington as my destination city because it had been home to the film’s studio and workshop as well as the previous two film premieres. But just a few weeks before my scheduled flight, I learned the final premiere would be held in London instead. At first I was disappointed, but then I remembered why I had planned to visit New Zealand in the first place: to see the gorgeous countryside. So my plan was to get out of the city as soon as possible. Easier said than done.
After dropping off the rental car and checking into our hostel in Reykjavik, I had a few hours to spend before the backpackers from Akureyri would be back in town. I took the opportunity to wander and see more of the streets of Reykjavik. I wanted to get a better feel for the city and pick up a few small souvenirs to bring to my hosts in Germany from the shops along Laugavegur. Here are a few highlights.
I watched Carolina trot away from the car toward the bus stop in Höfn. It was early in the morning and we had just said our goodbyes. I was excited to learn that one of her stops on her 10-month journey will be New Zealand—one of my main destinations. Perhaps we’ll see each other in a few months on the other side of the world.
Fabrice and I got back to Route 1 to continue our drive around the Ring Road. Today we would have to travel the most distance in one day: 360 km to Lake Mývatn. I had heard there were amazing natural hot springs there—less expensive and less touristy than the famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik.
I laid in my top bunk under a hand-woven blanket watching the sunlight trickle in through the far window. I smiled to myself as I heard the light ba-ah-ah-ing of sheep in the distance mixed with the faint breathing of my two new friends laying in the bunks next to me. We had all stayed together in the same room the night before even though we could have each had our own room in the place. I had chosen the room on the east side strategically so the sunlight would warm me up in the morning. What I did not anticipate was the emotional warmth I would feel when Carolina and Fabrice decided to stay in the room with me. We were becoming fast friends, and now it was like we were children away at camp together.
The day before we began our Ring Road trip by detouring around the Golden Circle. Today we planned to get back on Route 1 to see some waterfalls before reaching Vik for the night. Today was also the day that I was to learn how to drive manual—finally! I had always wanted to learn. Most cars for rent (especially the less expensive ones) are manual in Iceland. So with Fabrice and Carolina as my teachers and nobody around on these country back roads, this was my opportunity.
On Thursday, September 4, I met Fabrice (Quebec) at the Egilsborg guesthouse. We were handed over the keys to a white Toyota Aygo for just $60 a day. We picked up Carolina (northern Sweden) from Einar's place in Breiðholt and set out on Route 1 to go counterclockwise around the Ring Road (Route 1). We decided to take an initial detour along the Golden Circle first. This path would take us to many special sites and wonders despite having to go slightly out of the way of Route 1.
Every kilometer there was something new and beautiful to look upon. Thew constant spectacular views made the decision to stop and take a picture of what and when very difficult. What a dilemma, right? The first time we stopped the car to take pictures was when we first emerged from Rekjavik. Outside the city, the land suddenly stretched out to reach mountains surrounding us. Fields were dotted with cute homes, churches, farm houses, and animals (sheep, horses, etc.). We were instantly awe struck and had to stop the car by a little bridge just to stand outside the car and take it all in. Little did we know, this was only the beginning of what we were about to see over the following days.