The Puffin Example.

After you get over the sense of amazement that much of Iceland induces, you begin to wonder - how do they do it?

Not the waterfalls and volcanoes themselves but the way they are presented. I have travelled by campervan in a lot of countries and Iceland feels different. Actually Iceland is different. For example:

At the very tip of the Látrabjarg peninsula is the Bjargtangar lighthouse, the most westerly point in Europe. On the cliffs bellow the lighthouse nest tens of thousands of birds, including puffins.

To get to Bjargtangar from the nearest town (Ísafjörður - Population 3500) you have to drive 200kms over dramatic serpentine roads, many of them single track gravel.

At the end of the road there is a small car park. Twenty metres beyond the car park is the edge of a 100 metre high cliff, with puffins nesting just over the edge.

There is a notice that explains the geology of the area and the types of birds to be seen. The notice is in several languages. There is also a notice (in Icelandic and English) that explains that it is unsafe to camp on the cliff top...

There is no entrance fee (indeed no entrance or fence), there is no advertising*, no shops selling snack food, no safety barriers and no litter. (If this reminds you of Land's End or John o'Groats (in the UK) then you haven't been there!)

Two kilometers back along the road is a stunning free camping area (N65.51350 W24.49376) with running cold water and two toilets. The toilets are clean, have lights (solar powered) and toilet paper. There is no graffiti, no advertising and no litter.

The night we stayed there were three campervans and two tents (there is room for a 100 of each). The sunset over the sea was awesome and apart from the noise of the waves and the birds there was total silence.

If you like adventurous, but not dangerous travel, have a campervan (or a 4x4 and a tent) and five or six weeks to spare then Iceland is easily the best place in Europe I know of to go. However the Icelandic response to the current economic pressure may end up spoiling it, so come soon.

I don't know how Iceland pays for its many free camping areas or how it maintains the roads and parks round its natural wonders - they are all free at the point of enjoyment! I for one would be happy to pay a tourist tax to keep it that way.

* I assume roadside advertising is prohibited in Iceland. Each town, village, camp site and tourist attraction seems to get a single official road sign with standard icons indicating the facilities available. Not having to filter out all the roadside advertising clutter found in other countries is very refreshing. Rather disappointingly in 2009 there was an "advert" on the Bjargtangar lighthouse. I hope this was a single aberration (or possibly a joke?) and that it will be removed.

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2009-09-09.