Getting off the ferry
was easy, but getting out of the port was slow and tedious. The
ferry was busy and all foreign vehicles sat while one Customs
official gave drivers a form to complete with full details of
the vehicle, including chassis number etc. Eventually the forms
were collected and a tax exemption certificate provided to display
in the windscreen. A very few vehicles were called in for inspection,
especially caravans, campervans and the like. We all then drove
out past one policeman who made a quick inspection of passports.
This took nearly two hours. The road away from Seydisfjördur
is a good, sealed road which climbs steeply to Fjardaheidi from
where there are good views. Normally empty the road was packed
with ferry traffic and it is as well to push on with the flow.
We suspect that on that day the Ring Road (Highway 1 which goes
round the country) will probably be fairly busy with ferry traffic
for a while, but we turned off onto Highway 92 which goes south
along the coast and was very quiet.
Rules of the road
Iceland drives on
the right. Headlights and seatbelts are compulsory at all times.
Unless otherwise signed speed limits are 90kph on sealed roads,
80kph on unsealed roads and 50kph in built up areas. The only
warning that you are in a built up area is usually a single yellow
sign showing the silhouette of buildings at the start, and the
same sign with a red bar across it at the end, of the town or
In general Icelandic drivers
drive defensively, but there did seem to be a pushy brigade in
larger 4WDs, but whether they were locals or tourists in hire
vehicles we knew not. We found tourist driven campervans a nuisance
as many drove slowly and would not pull over for following traffic.
In general the roads were
exceptionally quiet where we were. Admittedly the season was
not in full swing but even on the Ring Road outside town areas
we sometimes only saw five or six vehicles in an hour, even less
in the evening. On other roads you could drive for over an hour
and see nobody.
Types of road and opening
are classified by number and reach most significant settlements
and attractions. Some are sealed, many are not, except in towns.
Some of the national highways are classified with an F prefix.
These are the fjäll or mountain roads and may only be used
by 4WD drive vehicles. (It should, perhaps, be noted that some
F roads are very challenging, potentially dangerous with hazards
like river crossings and need a high degree of competence and
knowledge.) Local roads are un-numbered and have blue direction
signs. Except in towns they are unsealed.
Sealed surfaces are generally
good, but very lightly constructed and they can fail rapidly
where they have been damaged. Unsealed roads vary greatly. Some
on the main routes have a good smooth sandy gravel surface. However
most unsealed roads are covered with fairly large stones which
make for a rough ride unless you keep in the tyre tracks developed
by traffic. Recently maintained roads can be very rough as the
surface has not bedded down and tracks not emerged. Some roads
in need of maintenance can develop large potholes and on these
progress will be slow unless you are prepared to put up with
a lot of jolting and risk damage to your car.
In mountain areas many roads
are closed in the winter and do not open until well into the
summer. They sometimes remain closed long after snow has gone
as the ground needs to consolidate after winter frost and wet.
Driving offroad is a serious offence as it does major and long
lasting damage to the thin soil and its limited vegetation.
Extreme care and
attention is recommended at all times when driving. The general
lack of traffic lulls you into a false sense of security. It
is a sobering thought to remember that in Iceland they only put
barriers where you will definitely kill yourself if you go the
road. However having said that whilst many roads were challenging
and amazing none, driven with care, were scary.
Sealed roads have good, smooth
surfaces, but they are narrower than they look. They usually
have a small unsealed shoulder and it can be difficult to see
exactly where the tarmac ends and this begins. Most roads are
built on a small embankment and because the road, shoulder and
surrounding country are often of a similar dark colour it is
not always easy to judge edges and drops off the road. Surface
levels are unpredictable and odd cambers on bends can cause problems
at higher speeds. Where a sealed road becomes unsealed there
will be a warning sign (Malbik Endar) and reduction of speed
is highly desirable.
Unsealed roads present their
own problems. The loose surface can lead to unpredictable steering
and braking, apparently this is worse if you have fat tyres (such
as on big cars and 4WDs). Use of low gears when descending steep
hills seemed a very good idea! In places, especially where the
road is alongside a scree slope or mountain side there may be
stones or even boulders on an otherwise reasonable surface. When
meeting oncoming traffic it really is important to slow right
down, and advisable to pull over and give way in case they don't.
The Einbreid Brú
and other special hazards
Even on main roads
there are a number of single track bridges (Einbreid Brú)
which need great care on the approach. In sandur country these
can be quite long and have passing bays actually on the bridge.
There are occasions where a blind summit (Blindhæd) can
be really blind and particularly hazardous on an unsealed road
where traffic drives in the middle of the road - some actually
have two separate tracks over the summit.
Sheep can be anywhere and
have the usual suicidal tendencies, especially as lambs rush
to the ewe. Particularly Icelandic, though, seemed to be herds
of ponies wandering on the roads.
It is advisable to
fill up regularly. Petrol is usually readily available in settlements
of any size on a main road, but remember distances are long.
Expect the unexpected. One place we went to had no petrol because
the electricity was off while the shop was rewired, at another
the card machines on the pumps didn't work after a dust storm.
Keeping topped up is a sensible precaution. All the places we
used had pumps that took credit cards and were available 24 hours
a day. On the Ring Road we noticed a number of service stations
which had closed but still had automatic pumps that took cards.
Some of the service stations offer attendant service for a slightly
higher charge, so watch out for the signs at the pumps. (The
first time we filled up in Iceland we missed the sign and were
most impressed when an attendant rushed out. Oddly enough the
charge never came through from that place.)
in the interior is a very serious business and needs a lot of
thought. We had a number of short, impromptu walks from the car,
but did do some full day walks in the two national parks we visited.
We had chosen the easier routes (some are hairy) and they were
well within the capacity of people who regularly walk hill country
in England. However the emptiness of the country does need to
be recognised and the fact that, especially out of season, there
are very few people around.
A number of worthwhile
web sites are shown on the external links page for Iceland.
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