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Midgard Base Camp | Visiting The Adventure Hostel That Instagram Can’t Get Enough Of

In the small Icelandic town of Hvolsvollur, there's a hostel unlike any you've stayed in before

If you’ve ever ‘liked’ an Icelandic banger, chances are it was uploaded from here. We head to the Golden Circle to see why all our favourite Insta-explorers choose to feed, sleep and post at this family-run HQ…

Twelve hours before I arrived, Midgard Base Camp was a refugee camp. Walking to check-in would’ve meant stepping over bags, blankets, rations, and the twenty sleeping bodies of those caught out by an unapologetic and biblical winter snow storm – its heavy drifts and doomsday winds rendering the road I drove in on, and every other road on the south coast, officially closed, with all mid-journey travellers left without room or roof for the night. Or, at least, close to it, before Hildur Guðbjörg Kristjánsdóttir, a saint in the snowstorm, threw open her doors to these stranded nearby strangers.

“Twelve hours before I arrived, Midgard Base Camp was a refugee camp”

“We have a small-village feel here,” says Hildur, one of the many family members who own and run Midgard Base Camp, as we walked through the now empty and super chilled foyer, complete with seating suspended from the ceiling, long lazy sofas, a makeshift stage in the corner and fresh coffee on the bar. “We’re all here to help each other when we need it.”

These hugely homely vibes at Midgard are something I’ve read about over and over, not from guide books but instead during pretty much every single Instagram hole I’ve fallen down in the last 12 months, scrolling further and further down when my expedition envy demands an outdoorsy escapism hit to numb the reality of me sitting in my flat and fattening up in front of more Chef’s Table episodes. Shot after shot, story after story, bigging up this small and humble hostel in Hvolsvollur, just a 90-minute drive south-east from Reykjavik.

If social media is to be believed (and dear God, let’s be clear, it is absolutely not) Midgard Base Camp, which only opened in 2017, is the only place in Iceland for the UK Insta-adventurer to bed down between waterfall bangers and glacier hikes that earn the big likes. And I’d arrived to find out why.

“Going back to Midgard every time was like going home”

“I travelled to Iceland four times last year,” Sheffield-based photographer Tom Kahler (@tomkahler) tells me, a man who you’ll probably see here walking around in his padded The North Face slippers. “Going back to Midgard every time was like going home. ‘Base Camp’ really is the best description of it – it’s the best place for resting, recharging, eating and sleeping after an epic day of adventure and exploration in Iceland. There’s such a strong feeling of family and community there that you can’t help but chat to the locals and plan your next few days based on their stories and advice. Oh, and the rooftop hot tub and sauna is pretty awesome, too.”

Can confirm: the rooftop hot tub is pretty awesome. It’s where I stewed solo after dropping my bags in my room – a simple but super comfortable double with views over Eyjafjallajökul, the monster volcano that enraged your folks when it stopped them from going on their annual pilgrimage to Benidorm in April 2010 – before running back out the door to start ticking off the many photo gotta-gets nearby. Places like the hidden-in-the-hills Seljavallalaug pool, which was built almost a century ago for islanders to learn to swim in, and the insanely popular – read: stuffed with tourists – Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui waterfalls.

Pretty quickly, though, you’ll start to get the itch for exploring the kind of places the thousands of imitation Brendan From Coach Trips can’t reach. Or dare tread. The stuff that lies over those imposing hills, where ‘comfort breaks’ are a distant memory. And when that happens, get back to Midgard. The guys there have the cure.

“Walking on that ice, I felt like an extra in a Hollywood movie”

“Not only is it ideally located on the south coast, close to some must-hit locations,” adds Daryl Scott Walker (@darylswalker), who travelled to Midgard after seeing it hyped on social media too. “But I love the fact that they offer unique adventures that the tourist buses never see. I visited a remote glacier for the first time with the team, and it was absolutely mind-blowing. Walking on that ice, I felt like an extra in a Hollywood movie. With the crampons crunching on the ice below our feet, and the sun beaming down on us, we spent the morning hiking up to the midpoint of the glacier to shoot until we could shoot no more. Definitely a highlight of my Iceland trip, and one I will remember for a lifetime.”

The Midgard story was born in this kind of off-the-tracks adventure back in 2010, with the creation, just one day before the famous eruption of that volcano outside the window of my room, of Midgard Adventure. Founder Siggi Bjarni returned home from a trip to New Zealand with the idea of sharing, with the ever-increasing stream of tourists that had begun dripping into Iceland, the love he had for the rugged and unforgiving backyard that he’d grown up exploring, and created the guiding service you’ll see emblazed across the goliath ‘super jeeps’ parked out front. The very same super jeeps that thundered me into to the formidable, dramatic and almost completely inaccessible Thórsmörk Mountains on day two.

“This is a job for the big boys”

A bit of scale for you. I’m a pretty average 6ft tall. Picture that, and then picture a truck on which the tires reach my hips. A truck with a bonnet that I could comfortably rest my chin on. A truck that required me to use a freakin’ step ladder to climb into the front seat. A truly ludicrous vehicle, straight from the sketchbook of a Crayola-wielding little lad, but also a totally essential one for reaching the unforgiving heart of Iceland that 95% of tourists will never see; sticking, as they do, to the safety and oversubscribed waterfalls of the famous Golden Circle ring road.

Without a shadow of a doubt, my rental Dacia Duster would have feigned a theatrical cardiac arrest at first sight of the torrenting rivers or inclines we had to cross and scale to get out there. This is a job for the big boys.

And the rewards for putting your faith in driver, Midgard family member and ludicrously cool dude Stefnir, and a minor amount of spinal readjustment as you bounce over volcanic boulders, are truly awesome. As an activity that I implore, insist and will genuinely force you to add to your bucket list, I’ll leave the details a little light so to not spoil it for you. Save for one – you can mash the shutter release button of your camera with a large ham, and the photographs of the places you reach in Sefnir’s real-life child’s drawing of a vehicle will still come out looking jaw-droppingly, fist-bitingly, print-off-and-hang-in-your-bathroom epic.

Caves yawning with huge crystal clear columns of ice like giant teeth, monolithic volcanoes that want nothing more than to Pompeii the hell out of you, swirling storms atop distant mountains, and… I’ve said too much. Go see it. ‘Gram it. But don’t forget to actually experience it, too.

“Go see it. ‘Gram it. But don’t forget to actually experience it, too”

All that’s left for you to do, as you come down from your outrageous day back at Base Camp, is to grab one of their much-hyped veggie burgers (“They cater for vegans too – the food is amazing!” Daryl informed me) and a pint (Happy Hour, 5-7pm, six quid, decent) and work out where you’re going next.

If your time in Iceland is up, Midgard’s location and offerings mean you can hightail it back to Reykjavik content that you’ve done as much as is humanly possible, and more, from your 48 hours on this mean rock of an island. If you’re graced with a few more days of adventure, Midgard is the ideal springboard to leap further along the Golden Circle, on to the black beaches of Vik, the glacier fields of Hofn, and beyond. To you, I say: as long as this is the place you begin your adventure, and the next, you’ve done it right. To all my favourite adventurers I say: yeah, now I get it.

Do It Yourself

A twin room (with private bathroom) at Midgard Base Camp starts at 24,900 ISK (£150 approx) per night, with beds in dormitories (shared bathroom) starting at 5,800 ISK (£35 approx). The Midgard Adventure Super Jeep Experience to Thórsmörk Mountains costs 32,000 ISK (£200 approx). Big thanks to rentalcars.com for organizing car hire to and from Reykjavik.

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