Earlier in the year a friend of mine (Nick Miners) asked me if I’d like to go on a photography trip to Iceland. I thought about it for a bit and decided ‘why not’. Nick’s been there half-a-dozen times now, so I knew he would know where all the best places would be to photograph. The trip took place last month, and this is my account.
I had an uneventful flight from Belfast to Gatwick, where I met up with Nick. It was a bit of a panic for Nick as the Iceland Express flight had been brought forward by an hour, so it’s just as well that my flight actually made time getting in to London. So we caught the ‘plane and landed in Keflavík airport at about 14:30 (local time). We collected the car and headed out to our first night’s accommodation in Vík.
On our way to Vík we stopped off at what would be a very tranquil start to the trip. I simply couldn’t believe how blue the water was at Kleifarvatn. Maybe it was because the landscape had very muted colours, but the intensity of the water just jumped out at me. I may have mentioned this to Nick once or twice whilst there. From there we moved on to the hot springs of Krýsuvík.
It quickly became apparent to me that Iceland is a very quiet place to be – especially out of the town/city regions. The birds, what there are of them, don’t make any song. There’s no aeroplanes flying overhead (something I particularly picked up on as I currently live under the flight path of a major airport). There are no trains thundering through the countryside … in fact, I’d go as far as to say that aside from the wind and sea the only other sounds are man-made ones.
There were parts of this trip when the only thing I could hear was the sound of my own tinnitus. Nick first pointed this out to me in Kleifarvatn, but I particularly picked up on it here in Krýsuvík. Aside from the sounds of our shutters’ actuations the only other sound was that of the water plopping and burbling. It’s a wonderful feeling having no auditory distractions getting in the way of you and your surroundings.
We then travelled to the first of many waterfalls – Seljalandsfoss (after briefly stopping to photograph the sunset and rising moon – a genuine real life Star Wars moment!). Iceland is peppered with waterfalls, and whilst I was suitably impressed with this one, it didn’t hold a candle to some others I saw on this trip. From there we moved on to Vík, which was to be our resting place for the night.
Day 2 started out with a stroll to a local beach, where we took in the early morning sea air (and took some photographs of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks). I could’ve stayed here for hours just photographing the white surf rushing in and rolling out on a black beach, but we had other locations to visit, so we had to move along.
From the sea we drove inland a little, only to walk (2 miles) back out to the site of an emergency landing in the late ’60s of a United States Navy plane. The fuselage has remained there ever since and is – not surprisingly – a popular destination for travellers to the island.
From there we made a quick stop off at Laufskálavarda – where hundreds of little piles of rocks been left as a tradition by travellers to supposedly bring them good luck on their journey, and then on to the Foss á Siðu waterfall.
From there we journeyed on to Skeiðarársandur, which is the largest sandur in the world, covering an area of 1300 km². We stopped at some of the only remains of the previous Ring Road which was washed away in 1996. What remains is a twisted metal hulk surrounded by nothing but flat lands of silt and sediment. It was a sobering thought that melted glacial water was the cause of this twisted iron sculpture.
Another stop, another waterfall, this time Svartifoss, which means Black Waterfall, and it’s not difficult to see where it derives that name from. The appearance of the hexagonal columns which surround this fall immediately drew comparisons with the Giants Causeway, which I guess shouldn’t have been a surprise as the same sort of volcanic rock cooling took place in both locations.
Last stop of the day was Jökulsárlón, and what a stop it was.
I was driving and I asked Nick what the place was that we were going to, Nick refused to tell me – which in hindsight was the best possible thing he could’ve done. He also told me not to look anywhere but the road ahead – again, a masterstroke on his part.
Jökulsárlón : my new favourite place in the world. Yes, I know it’s a cliché, and yes, I know it’s one of the most popular destinations for tourists on the south of the island, but when I got out of the car I just had to stand there and take it all in.
After a good few moments I said to Nick – without turning from the scene in front of me – “Where do you start?”.
And I wasn’t joking. What I saw was a perfectly calm lake of floating icebergs of varying shapes and sizes. There was an almost reverential calm about the place. The only sounds were the crunching of gravel under foot and the sound of camera clicks (there were quite a few people there when we arrived). I soon joined in with the camera crowd, finding myself a secluded little spot away from the rapidly thinning humans in the area (when we arrived it was getting late in the day). Pretty soon all I could hear was the gentle dripping of the icebergs as they slowly melted and added to the liquid volume of the lake. Occasionally, somewhere out of sight, a bit of an iceberg broke away and crashed in to the water, the sound of which was rapidly swallowed up again by the all-encompassing silence.
I have never experienced a place quite like this before.
A drive out to the small fishing town of Höfn started the third day with a rather hilarious attempt at me showing Nick how NOT to skip stones on water – I’m saying no more.
Another glacial iceberg lake (Fjallsárlón) followed, which always had an uphill struggle after Jökulsárlón the evening before. Perhaps it was the small child that insisted on throwing large rocks on the nearby ice and then decided it would be good to go clambering all over them instead, but Fjallsárlón just couldn’t live up to the majesty of Jökulsárlón.
Next stop was a small hill in the middle of some flatlands. What we couldn’t see from the road was what was hiding behind it. It took us getting to about two thirds of the way to the top when we turned around to take in the view and we were confronted by an incredibly large lava field that had been grown over with moss. It just sprawled out, almost as far as you could see.
A phenomenal sight.
Next we went to the most southerly point of Iceland, Dyrhólaey. Standing about 120 meters out of the sea is a huge black arch. Apparently puffins nest on the cliff face during the summer but they must have been all out at sea during our visit.
Final stop of the day was another waterfall, this time Skógafoss (the Skógar waterfall). This was the most impressive waterfall of the trip so far. On sunny days the spray that’s thrown up by this waterfall creates a rainbow. I wasn’t fortunate enough to visit on a sunny day but perhaps I’ll be luckier on a future visit.
We started the final day of the trip with Öxarárfoss waterfall (I did say there was a lot of waterfalls on the island, right?) at Þingvellir. From there we went to the geyser Strokkur at the Geysir geothermal area. This was a fun experience, as there were a lot of tourists here just waiting for the geyser to erupt.
One family in particular provided the humour; the father was wanting to film the eruption from a short distance away and instructed his son, who was standing much closer to the geyser, to give him warning when the eruption was imminent. Much humour was caused by the boy shouting to the father that it was about to go only for him to then declare that it was a false alarm. One of these false alarms caught me out and another caught Nick out. We both hit the shutter buttons at our respective false starts.
I managed to capture two eruptions on camera as well as simply watching one without the camera to my face. Sometimes it’s good to put the camera away and just enjoy the show for yourself.
That’s certainly something I did at the next location, though Nick would’ve had me spend more time with the camera away from my face than it actually was because I think Gullfoss (the Golden Waterfall) is for Nick what Jökulsárlón is for me.
And I can see why.
The approach to the falls hides the crevice from view, so the water appears to simply vanish in to the earth, leaving behind nothing but mist in the atmosphere. However, getting closer to the attraction reveals the waterfall in all its glory. It’s a massive three-step waterfall which plunges down into the crevice where the water is carried away downriver.
Final stop of the day (before heading on to Reykjavík) was the volcanic crater lake of Kerið. Here there was a spectacular contrast of colours – from a distance the water had a wonderful deep green tint which was in contrast to when you got down to the water’s edge where you saw that it was actually very clear. The vibrant red of the surrounding volcanic rock contrasting with the lush green of the grass all clashed against the flat grey sky that was present during our visit.
That just left the drive to Reykjavík and our final night in the country, which was spent in the company of a great bunch of people Nick has gotten to know through one means or another. I was a little apprehensive about meeting up for an evening with a bunch of people I’d never even conversed with (even in text form), let alone met before, but I needn’t have bothered, as everyone that turned up – I think there was eight in total, were a great bunch of people, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for taking the time out of their lives to spend an evening with two foreign visitors
It rounded out my trip perfectly.
Three hours sleep later we were up and packed and back on the road to Keflavik airport.
I will be going back to Iceland again.