Off the beaten track in the Highlands

A desolate landscape can be daunting but if you are adventurous, Iceland is an interesting land of surrealistic beauty and breathtaking wonder, writes JOSEPH ANDREWS

Desolate Highlands. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

How does it feel to be staring at vast emptiness, with nothing but multi-hued barren mountains ringing the horizon, and a few raging streams swollen with glacial waters that you will need to soon negotiate, in front of you, knowing fully well that there could be no single human being in a cool 100 km around you? We had this experience recently, when we crossed the Highlands of Iceland, from the north to south.

Greenery of Landmannalaugar, Highlands of Iceland.
Greenery of Landmannalaugar, Highlands of Iceland.

 

Iceland ranks as the eighth least-populated territory in the world, with a population density of a mere 3.24 persons per square kilometre. Of the total population of 3.35 lakh, 36% live in the capital city of Reykjavik. Even though the Highlands of Iceland cover the majority of land area in Iceland, it does not have any permanent residents, because of the inhospitable terrain. The roads (or rather, the tracks) in the Highlands remain closed for about eight months of a year. Most of the roads in the Highlands are designated as ‘F’ roads, on which only 4x4 WD vehicles are allowed to ply. Of the nearly two million tourists to Iceland (2016 figures), a miniscule ever venture into the Highlands.

 

Highland scene.
The Highland.

 

There are two north-south Highland routes in Iceland, the Kjolur route (on the west), and Sprengisandur (at the centre). We chose to do the latter, which is the more difficult one. F26 is the route generally considered to be Sprengisandur. We decided to make the journey a little more exciting by starting from Akureyri on F821, which is a lot more tougher to negotiate, and later join F26. It was very interesting to see how a normal road becomes an F road. For us, we started on Route #821 from Akureyri, and at one point, the road just lost tarmac abruptly, and a sign board instructed that only 4x4 WD vehicles are permitted beyond this point! On F821, we came across many tough spots where only the 4WD SUV could take us through. F233 and F261 are two difficult F roads that we later negotiated.

Difficult terrain that can be negotiated only with a 4WD SUV.
Difficult terrain that can be negotiated only with a 4WD SUV.

 

Rivers sans bridges

One major hurdle on the Highland roads is the numerous rivers that need to be crossed — without bridges! Some of the rivers are quite wide, and it is a bit tricky to estimate the depth of water. A few of the difficult rivers are equipped with a rope, marking the path you need to follow. On top of this, the car rental companies clearly caution you that water crossings are not covered by any insurance (which is a big risk indeed)! Another notable exception in coverage is any damage to the doors, due to high winds!

The diversity of terrains that you encounter when travelling in the Highlands makes the drive highly interesting. There are tough mountain climbs, desolate plateaus of black volcanic soil, valleys ringed with mountains of various hues, absolute rocky patches, and even a few swampy stretches. Of the F roads we used, F225 was particularly scenic, on which the colours of the surroundings seemed to change every minute! Going from a populous place like India, it is indeed an eerie feeling, not to see any other human being for hours on end, in the Highlands. Even though vast majority of the terrain in the Highlands is akin to a cold desert, there are a few delightful places like Landmannalaugar, where you have lots of water and vegetation around. Consequently, Landmannalaugar was the only place in the Highlands where we saw quite a few people!

Liked the story?

  • 3

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry

Comments:

Off the beaten track in the Highlands

0 comments

Write the first review for this !