Iceland attracts a lot of specialized tourism. Some people come just for volcanoes, or for glaciers, or for the sagas. Now with big festivals like Airwaves and ATP, music has become a big draw. This summer, Iceland was the destination for my heavy metal road trip.
I’ve already written here and in other places (also here) about the close-knit Eistnaflug festival that drew me (and about 200 other foreigners) to a remote fjord in Iceland in July. Iceland really only has one main road outside of Reykjavik – the Ring Road, which, you guessed it, rings the island. The north route along the ring road to the Eistnaflug festival is only slightly longer than the south route; both take a solid day of driving. To save time, many people take the short flight from Reykjavik to the small airport nearest the fjord that hosts the festival, but I would rather see as much of the country as I can. (And plane tickets are expensive.)
So I caught a ride in a festival-sponsored van driven by Thorsteinn, the man responsible for Iceland’s Wacken Metal Battle. The organizational skills required to pull off a national battle of the bands was in evidence as we embarked on a customized, two-day, heavy metal road trip (south route to Eistnaflug, north route return) around Iceland’s ring road.
So just what does heavy metal tourism include?
Well, for starters, how about swimming in a semi-natural pool filled with glacial runoff heated by Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that infamously shut down European air travel a few years ago?
Everyone knows that metalheads cherish the underground and obscure even more than MFA students. So a metal road trip will involve many of the same natural wonders that other tourists visit, only viewed from secret and undiscovered angles.
In our case, that meant bypassing the famous Seljalandsfoss for the less well-known waterfall Glúfrabúi nearby. The top of this waterfall is visible from the road, but its landing is hidden behind a cleft in the rock. From within the cleft it is possible to stand in the mist of the fall and view the open sky. Above the fall, the river runs through Troll Gorge Marsh. At its base, a small cave is named for a female hermit who once lived there.
Likewise, the famous iceberg lagoon, Jökulsárlón, is best viewed far from the cafe and tourist boat launches on a quiet strip of beach ornamented by the tiny flowers of arctic thyme as if to further confuse the eye and confound any sense of scale.
The landscape of south Iceland is metal. For several hours, the view out of the van window was as bleak and barren as any doom fan could hope. Black sand desert gave way to black sand beach on one side of the road, while glacial peaks dominated the view on the other.
But of course, no heavy metal tour of south Iceland would be complete without visiting the beach where Sólstafir filmed their famous video for Fjara.
I’m an environmentalist as well as a metalhead, so I know that the corollary to “pack it in pack it out” is that you should never take things out of a natural area. Those pine cones, seashells, and rocks are part of a natural system that can be damaged by thousands of people who “just take one for a souvenir.” I know this. But.
Come back next week for the most metal tourist activities on the northern route.