Ramblings of an Amateur Photographer

Trip notes from Iceland

Day 1 - We started off ok. Picked up a couple of cars and got everyone packed up. About an hour outside of Reykjavik, one of the cars started to have problems. The Blue Car Rental drove us an upgraded car with GPS to use. Fantastic service. Once we started out again, we hit Seljalandsfoss Waterfall first. IT was a bit of an ice rink, but not a bad way to start the trip. We stopped at Iceland Erupts to watch the video about the volcanic eruption in the south of Iceland in 2010. This is where the weather started to turn on us. A beautiful day started to turn rainy. Our next stop Skogafoss. Another small ice rink, we got out of the car and it started to really get rainy. No shots to be had. We headed out to Vik for a little shopping at the Iceland Wear factory store. The night was spent at the Guesthouse Steig.



Day 2 - An early morning shoot at the Reynisdranger black sand black and sea stacks. Right about sunrise, the clouds started to sock us in. We then headed for the Jokulsarlon (Glacial Lagoon, Jokul mean Glacier in Icelandic and Sarlon means lagoon). It’s at the base of the Vatnajokul glacier. Vatnajokul is also the name of a pretty good beer (a little sweet) that only comes out of the region. I wish I could ship some back home. We did make a stop at the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon on the way. This is where things could have gotten ugly if we didn’t have a couple of 4 wheel drive vehicles. The entrance isn’t and F road (mountain road), but it was snow covers and pretty hairy.  Two other vehicles got stuck and we spent a good hour trying to help them get out, without any luck as they were buried up to the axles. This did increase our Karma Quotient. After a late check in at the hotel, we decided to start looking for the aurora, we spotted it almost as soon as it got dark. Out we went for an amazingly long auroral treat. From about 9:30 pm until we start shooting at 12:30 am it kept getting better. We made it down to the Ice Lagoon (30 minutes from where we spent the night) before it clouded up. We cashed in our Karma points. I think it was the best aurora I have ever seen.



Day 3 - A later start due to all the excitement from the night before. I looked at the weather / aurora possibilities and decided to have us move hotels back to Vik. The day was a cloudy day and we didn’t get the beautiful light we got on day 2. On the way back to Vik Chuck and Susan spotted a couple of Caribou on the hill. So of course Chuck had to pull out the 600mm lens and snap off a few shots. Everyone in the car is taking an assist on the shots. We also stopped at the Svínafellsjökull Glacier. What an amazing sight. Deep blue of the glacial ice jutted out into a frozen lagoon. On the lagoon we spotted a tent city. We think they were filming a movie or TV show. It’s where they film Game of Thrones and Interstellar. We then headed off to our hotel in Vik, the Guesthouse Katla. We had diner at the Sudur-Vik Restaurant in town, which has good pizza and steak sandwiches before retiring for the evening (or so we thought). Jim, Chuck and I decided to head out to see if we could spot the milky way and maybe the aurora. We set up an aurora watch for the night, anyone who spots them would knock on doors and wake people up. About a mile down the road and we spotted them. Running back to the hotel to tell the others we headed back out and were treated to a second night of amazing activity.



Day 4 - After checking out we headed to Dyrholaey for early light. These are the cliffs where the puffins come to roost starting in May. The light was pretty nice and not a bad place to spend the morning. Matt & Chuck tried their best to get washed away by the crashing waves, but they are still with us. ;)  We decided to swing by the downed DC-3 on the beach, even though it was bad light. I wanted to see the potential for night shooting and light painting. We then drove down to Skogafoss to see if we could get last light on the waterfall. As it turns out, there is a small mountain in the way and last light on the waterfall hits about 2 hours before sunset. Since we couldn’t get good late light on the falls, we drove back toward the hotel. The light was getting nice, so we stopped back at Dyrholaey and catch it over the water. We had a great meal of arctic char at the Volcano Hotel. We went out later that evening due to a slight glow we thought might be the aurora. It was, but it was much to windy & cold and the aurora was not as intense as it had been.  



Day 5 - We awoke to fairly heavy winds. After talking with Johann, we decided the tour to the ice cave would have to wait. It was a nice day to spend a down day. We did go to the Icelandic history museum at Skogafoss.



Day 6 - After a nice easy breakfast at the hotel, we mounted up for a mini adventure with Johann to the glacier. We went across the glacier Myrdal Jokull, near the volcano Katla.

The story goes that Katla was an evil witch. She lived in the valley where a monastery was built. The local bishop though that there was good in Katla, so he was trying to convert her to good. Katla created some magic britches (pants) from the souls of horses that would make her as fast as the wind. She lived on a small plot of land and had a shepherd named Bardi that would tend to her sheep. One day as the Bishop was going to take Katla to a wedding, Bardi told her one of the sheep was missing. She told Bardi, if he didn’t find that sheep, something evil would happen to him. Frightened, Bardi knew that Katla had some magic britches, which he could use to find the sheep. So he “borrowed” those britches and searched high and low until he found the lost sheep. He placed the britches back exactly where he found them. When Katla came home, she was sure that Bardi wouldn’t come up with the lost sheep and was surprised that he did so. When she went into the bedroom, she noticed the britches were out of place and was outraged, because she knew exactly what Bardi did. In the middle of the night, she killed Bardi and put his body in with the food stores. That winter as food was running low she was frightened that they would find the body and punish her. As they came for the food stores, she put on the britches and ran like the wind toward the glacier. She knew she would be caught, so she threw herself into a canyon on the glacier to hide. Shortly after, the canyon gave rise to a terrible flood and flooded the valley. People figured that due to her hot nature she became a volcano under the ice, which caused the flood. Which is why the volcano is named after her, Katla. It is still active to this day. The locals figure it’s overdue to erupt and have evacuation plans in place in case it does.

On this glacier is where they filmed latest Star Wars movie (and rumor has it, then next one will be filmed in the same place). As we drove across the glacier, we came closer to what looked like a crack in the mountain. This turned out to be a very pretty ice cave. Not the easiest thing to get to, but it was within walking distance and we had fun photographing it. After getting our fill of the ice cave we took a short detour to a large cave then back to the hotel. We then traveled to our next nightly stay. I rented a small house that slept 10 people (easily). After unpacking we drove the 40 minutes down to the lobster restaurant (Fjorubordid). It’s not cheap, but it was fantastic. Richard and June drove Matt and Diana toward the Blue Lagoon as the rest of us headed back to the rental house.


Day 7 - We headed out and drove the golden circle. The golden circle is the most popular route in Iceland. It’s not very far from Reykjavik and they bring tourists by the bus load. The golden circle consists of Geysir, Faxi waterfall, Gullfoss (the largest waterfall in Iceland) and Thingvellir (Iceland Parliament was established there in 930)  and Kerid (a volcanic crater lake). We bypassed Kerid and Thingvellir. A little farm where they made their own ice cream is where we ate lunch and Domino’s pizza for dinner. It was very cloudy and started to snow as we went to bed.



Day 8 - We awoke to no road. The snow had fallen and the wind obstructed the road. This is the second time on this trip that I am glad we rented 4x4 vehicles. The truck in 4 wheel drive made short work of it until we could get to a plowed out area. I am glad we decided to leave a little early for the airport. We did meander along the way and flew home that night.  


by John