Faroe and Iceland - Facts and Information
Getting around Iceland
Good roads, rough roads, awesome scenery and no traffic
Some comments on our experience of driving our own car in Iceland.

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Arrival
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 village.

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 dates
National highways 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.

Driving safely
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.

Petrol
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.)

Walking
Obviously walking 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.

More information
A number of worthwhile web sites are shown on the external links page for Iceland.

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