Driving In Iceland

It’s a little different driving in Iceland than it is at home in Australia. Many places are very remote and it is a long way between towns and any form of help if needed.

There is so much to see, making it easy to take your eyes off the road and if you do this too much it can lead to disaster. Most of the roads have built up embankments with a 45 degree slope down to the land service. In some places, the embankment is only about 1 metre in height, but in other places it can be up to 10 metres high. There are only guard rails in extreme places.

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Our car (Subaru Outback) is fitted with a lane departure warning feature. It seems to be very sensitive and starts to beep at the slightest deviation. It gets rather annoying. On the other hand, I have been very grateful for it  because it has saved me from drifting off the road (and down the embankment) on more than one occasion. We saw a van full of Chinese tourists that had ‘nosedived’ down an embankment at a T Intersection. Fortunately for them, a tour bus had arrived and was pulling them out with a rope.

Speed limits are rather low, but they suit the environment very well On made roads, the speed limit is 90 kmh. On gravel roads it is 80kmh and in the towns it is 50 kmh and sometimes, in the centre of large towns, as low as 35 kmh.

The roads have a very narrow (or no) shoulder and there are few places to stop for photographs. The car rental company told us that we should always pull over and not stop in the middle of the road. While this is common sense, The problem is that it is hard to find a stopping spot. Sometimes there are defined parking areas but these are never where the best view is located. Otherwise, there are steep gravel access tracks to farm gates or road junctions but these are often hard to see until you have passed them. Mostly, I just check the rear vision mirror to make sure that nothing is coming and stop in the middle off the road and take a quick photo out the window.

The roads here are quite narrow. I estimate that the total width of most roads to be only about 10 metres. Cars coming the other way seem to pass quite closely and especially trucks and busses that take up the full width of their lane.

There are lots of one-lane bridges over streams and rivers. Unlike in New Zealand where a sign indicates which direction has priority, here it is a case of courtesy and taking it in turns to cross. Most drivers will give a wave of ’thanks’ if you give away to them.

The biggest hazard (in summer, at least) is the number of sheep that graze beside the road. The only animal more stupid than a sheep is an emu and fortunately, they are back in Australia. The rule here is that if you hit a sheep where there is a fence, then the farmer pays. If you hit a sheep in open grazing country (most of Iceland) then you, the driver, pays. There is no telling which way these animals will go as you approach them, Some head left, others go to the right and some just run directly in front of you up the road. Some even change direction two or three times.

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There is no shortage of fuel stations. In the towns, they are just like those at home but  the stores rarely have anything to do with the fuel pumps. They are just an independent restaurant, or shop that shares the same location. In remote areas, there is just a fuel pump with an adjoining credit card facility. Buying fuel is simple – you pay then pump. To pay, you just insert your credit card and select the maximum amount of fuel you wish to buy. The pump authorises that amount (as a maximum) and then charges you only what you actually buy. We have only found one service station where you pay inside at the counter.

Out the back of every service station is a hose pipe where you can wash your car and clean the windscreen for free.

We try to fill up before the tank gets below half full.. Our car runs on diesel. It’s comparatively expensive and costs 202 kroner per litre. Thats about A$2.80 per litre. Prices are consistent everywhere in the country.

Driving on the right (as you do through all of Europe) is hardly a problem – especially in the rural and remote areas of the country. Mostly, Iceland is a very comfortable place to drive. There is not a great deal of traffic and the countryside is very interesting.

We rely on our Lonely Planet guidebook for information. It contains lots of helpful information and makes our trip much more interesting. Points of interest throughout Iceland are marked with roadsigns with a squiggly symbol a bit like a four-leaf clover. We have made a number of deviations to little villages, harbours, churches and museums that we have come across because of these signs.

We are enjoying this trip and having lots of fun.