Iceland · 11 Days · 54 Moments · May 2012

Thomas Straubinger

The Natural Wonders of Iceland

27 May 2012

My personal conclusion My first trip to Iceland turned me into a true fan of Iceland! A paradise for photographers. For tourists and nature lovers, the country offers a wide range of stunning sights which are so different from everything else we're used to from Central Europe and most other places in this world. The nature of Iceland is fantastic - and so are the people. Everyone is really helpful and doesn't expect something in return - unlike other places. Almost everyone speaks good English - a plus for travelers. One thing I can guarantee: this was certainly not my last trip to Iceland! It offers photographers a big variety of scenes and made me want to experience more of the country. Even though the weather in Iceland can be somewhat a gamble - you somehow always win when traveling here.
A. Bernhard's Bed & Breakfast in Keflavik My last day in Iceland began. i hadn't planned it to be very eventful - the car had to be cleaned and made ready for its return. Afterwards checked into A.Bernhard's Bed & Breakfast in Keflavik; approximately 50 Euro per night. Here, I spent my last night in Iceland in a very cosy and friendly atmosphere. My flight back to Munich left early in the morning the next day.

26 May 2012

The Solfar sculpture Solfar, a sculpture of a viking ship in Reyjkavik, looking stunning in the evening light.
Straumur - photo spot Around 9pm (the closing time of the Blue Lagoon) the light was perfect and therefore I decided to visit Straumur - a popular destination for photographers.
The bar in the water There is a small bar which is accessible from the water. Just to let you know, you're not allowed to purchase more than three alcoholic drinks a day here!
A day at the blue lagoon After this exhausting trip, I really deserved some relaxation! The entrance fee for a whole day is 35 Euro. In addition you can rent a towel and/or a bathing gown for 5 Euro each. Due to the fact that the Blue Lagoon is one of the main tourist attractions, it's pretty crowded. The water itself has a pleasant temperature which changes between warm and hot depending on your location in the lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is located on an old solidified lava field and is therefore surrounded by typical lava stone formations. The rocks in the water are covered to prevent their sharp edges from causing injuries. The small geysir in the middle of the big blue pool provides fresh hot water continuously. The Blue Lagoon closes at 9pm.

25 May 2012

Exploring Keflavik The rest of the day I spent at Keflavik, where I was looking for possible photo spots. Unfortunately, I couldn't really find anything great.
The Blue Lagoon My trip is slowly but surely coming to an end and looking back, I have to admit that even though I've seen so many remarkable sights and experienced much, the trip has been very tiring. The answer to my problems: a relaxing day at the Blue Lagoon. But prior to this, I wanted to take pictures of the surrounding area and drove about 100 km until I finally arrived at the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a thermal bath, created more or less by accident it seems. The nearby nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi provides the thermal water for the lagoon, which after its usage is pumped out on the enclosed lava field. Some Icelanders got the grand idea that the warm water would be great for bathing - and created the thermal bath. Shortly before arrival a remarkable landscape appears. The combination of beautiful turquoise-blue water and moss-covered stones creates an unique impression.

24 May 2012

Öxarárfoss Don't miss out on the Öxaráfoss - another great waterfall very close by.
The volcanic area of Thingvellir The last point of interest for today! Thingvellir is a national park and also part of the Golden Circle. It's located in the middle of a rift, surrounded by four active volcanos. This is the exact spot where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The tectonic plates are drifting away from each other, the tension in the Earth's crust causes the volcanic activity in this area. Not surprisingly, earth quakes can be felt in this area. In the past 10.000 years the tectonic plates have been drifting, creating a wide (140m) and deep (40m) canyon.
An expensive soup At the nearby buffet I treated myself to a soup for 8 Euro. However, I have to acknowledge that even though the Gullfoss is a major tourist attraction, the prices weren't much higher than anywhere else in Iceland. The typical tourist rip-off doesn't seem to be part of the Icelandic mentality.
Gullfoss - Waterfall It takes only a few minutes of driving to get to Gulfoss which is also part of the Golden Circle (a tourist day trip from Reykjavik that includes three major sights). Once arrived here, it was clear to me that it had to be an important touristic sight - there were tons of buses. However, I still didn't get the impression that it was over-crowded. Because of the bad weather that didn‘t seem to change, I didn't really feel like photographing which is why these pictures didn't turn out too well.
Strokkur Geysir - a tourist spot Very close to the Strokkur Geysir the "Big Geysir" is located. It's the name giver of the word "Geysir" - all other geysirs got their name from it. Sadly the weather was bad when I arrived there - it was raining very hard which was the reason why I only had one try to take a picture of Strokkur's eruption. However, the eruptions occur every 10 minutes! Still, I believe that the picture clearly shows what stunning nature sight this is. The Strokkur geyser has a depth of 25-30m. Down there the water gets affected by geothermal heat until it is brought up to the surface as part of a big eruption. In comparison, the "Big Geyser" is 70-80 meters deep. Normally this one only erupts during earth quakes - last time in 2000.
Budir's church Next stop: the Church of Budir (Icelandic spelling: Búðir). Like Kirkjufelsfoss, the church is located on the peninsula of Snæfellsnes and is very popular among photographers. The reason for this is probably the outside of the church that perfectly meets all the clichés about Icelandic churches - it's totally worth a visit. In case you go there, make sure you don't miss out on the beautiful beach nearby. Sadly, I got aware of this beach only afterwards. With its sand dunes and lava stones, it forms a very interesting sight and you can take pictures of the church from the beach. Actually, the Church of Budir is not a typical Icelandic church - because in Iceland there is no typical look for churches. Usually the churches don‘t look alike and often they are very stylish: see the second picture.
Kirkjufellsfoss My night wasn't peaceful at all - the wind kept hitting the car so hard that I feared it would brake a window or even knock over my vehicle. The car was rocking from one side to the other and prevented me from getting a good night's rest. At least the weather was a little better by next morning - and I was able to do some photography at least.

23 May 2012

A drive and a movie-night The drive to Kirkjufellsfoss was accompanied by very bad weather - it was rainy and stormy. On arrival I only got out of the car for a moment to take a look at the location and check out the surroundings. However, I went back into the car right away and watched a movie on my laptop. Before departure I had downloaded several movies on my laptop which were a great pastime whenever the weather wasn't in my favour or the light wasn't right for photography. In that case, all you can do is to wait for time to pass. I had arrived at around 7pm, and even after my movie the weather hadn't improved. It was time to go to bed.
Hvitserkur-Rocks The next two stops on my tour of Iceland were Hvitserkur and Kirkjufelsfoss. The first of those two is located in the North East, the second one in the outer West on the peninsular Snaefellsnes. A long car drive was awaiting me today. The Hvitserkur is a freestanding basalt rock with a hight of 15 meters, hollow at two spots. A very remarkable sight in the surrounding landscape. Here I also took pictures of a sandy beach covered with stones.

22 May 2012

Staying the night right at the waterfall That night I spent directly at the waterfall which in my opinion was the second prettiest waterfall on my trip. You really shouldn't miss out on this one!
Godafoss (waterfall of the gods) When I left for Godafoss the weather was great for once. Godafoss (Icelandic spelling: Goðafoss) is one of Iceland's most famous waterfalls and its name's translates into "Waterfall of the Gods". Regarding to historians, Porgeir, chief of the Ljósavatn area got the task to decide whether Iceland should convert to Christianity (around 1000 AC). After his decision was approved, he threw his heathen artefacts into this waterfall. Godafoss, a reminder of this important incident, is supplied with water by Iceland's fourth longest river - the Skjáfandafljót (180 kilometers) and measures a height of 12 meters.
Grjótagjá - natural grotto Next stop was Grjótagjá, a natural groto which is also located in the Myvatn area and perfect for swimming. The water had a temperature of 44,6°C (measured with Cobalt® Digitalthermometre / May 2012) which is nice for swimming. In front of the cave's entrance there's a a sign that says "WARNING! Rocks have recently fallen from the roof of the cave, not for the last time!" That didn't really improve my feeling of comfort when I entered the cave, however I couldn‘t miss out on such a stunning sight.
Beautiful turquoise lake Bjarnarflag, the Geo-power station, is not far from here. You can visit it if you want to. Heading towards Myvatn, you'll find a small, however stunningly beautiful lake along your way. It's a man-made lake (pretty common for Iceland) which is provided with water by the Geo-power station. Even though the lake's temperature and colour may seem inviting, you better not consider taking a swim there. The water's high speed when entering the lake is pretty dangerous.
Haverarönd - a remarkable area of geothermal temperature Today I expected it to be a wonderful sunny day with perfect Iceland weather 16°C in the shade. First I took off to Namafjall, a mountain which is actually an active volcano in the Myvatn area. At its Eastern side Hverarönd can be found (it's marked as Hvervir) at the mountain pass Námaskaro. Haverarönd is a spectacular geothermal area located in an area with a remarkably thin earth crust. Experiencing the steam make its way through the soil is an impressive sight. What an exciting and unique place!

21 May 2012

Selfoss - the last waterfall for this day The Selfoss is located only a 5-minute walk away from the Dettifoss. Even though the Selfoss is so close to the Dettifoss, it appears to be totally different. The stone formations are way more striking, the landscape seems surreal, the atmosphere awakens a feeling of traveling back in time. For the rest of the day I decided to make myself comfortable in the car and relaxed. I also spent that night in the car at the parking lot.
Visit at Dettifoss Again, I had to face a long drive -190 km to Dettifoss. If Road 864 (East Side) is closed (it wwas, in my case), you can choose take the Western road instead. This street however wasn‘t showing up neither on my GPS nor on Google Maps. Deltifoss is the biggest waterfall and because of a combination of volume flow and height, the most efficient waterfall. From the parking lot it takes you 5 more minutes walking to the waterfall that is awaiting you with billions of litres of water splashing loudly down Dettifoss‘ cliffs.
Additional Information on Geology Are you curious to know how the red layers at the Hengifoss emerged? Between the basalt layers there are several spots of sandy clay layers that fell on volcanic and surface tephra. With time passing by, the layers turned into soil. Because of the warm and humid Tertiary climate, clay and iron bonds formed in the soil. When the next lava layer ran over the acidic soil, the iron bonded with the oxygen which led to the layers' red colour. At the same time hot lava seared the upper layer of its substratum and coloured it red.
Hengifoss This stunning waterfall has a hight of approximately 118 meters. After the Hengifoss you'll find evil Sauron's Mordor - I'm pretty sure that Iceland must have been on Peter Jackon's list of possible shooting locations for "Lord of the Rings".
Litlanesfoss Once more you get to see remarkable hexagonal stone columns. At the Litlanesfoss the lava probably filled the brook bed and the longest columns are a little vaulted at the top. That indicates that the lava still was in some kind of movement when it solidified and formed columns.
Parking and Hiking The weather was still disappointing. Because I never got the chance to get any pictures out of the past day, I hoped that the Hengifoss (Iceland‘s third highest waterfall) would make up for it. It was a short drive to get there, about 35 km. Starting at the parking lot, it's a hike of approximately 1.5 hours to get up to the Hengifoss (if you also invest some time for pictures along the way). On your way you'll also find the Litlantesfoss, a smaller waterfall.

20 May 2012

Finally relaxing at a hotel Because of the weather, which didn't seem to improve, I took a hotel room at the Hotel Egilsstaöir (located in Egilsstaöir- a pretty big town by Icelandic measures) for about 55 Euro. Finally I could take a shower! Even though I love my Jeep, I was looking forward to sleeping in a real bed. The weather conditions didn‘t allow for any more photographic activities that day, I could relax and enjoy the comforts of my room.
Waterfall Gufufoss 2.200 kilometers by car in 12 days. That's a lot of driving! At some point I had to drive longer distances, of course. That's why this day was more or less dedicated to driving. From Jökulsárlón it‘s about 320 kilometers to Gufufoss - a rather unknown small waterfall. At my destination a serious case of bad weather was waiting for me. Wind, rain, cold; no way of taking pictures under these conditions. The only sensible thing to do was to get back in the car and drive on.
Spontaneous photo shooting at 05:00 I woke up at 5am, the rising sun in my face. I got out of the car and took some pictures of the sun above the icebergs. This is one of several advantages of sleeping in the car: 1. You're always right where you want to be. 2. You don‘t have to waste time (and money) on organising and booking accommodations. 3. You‘re fast - no waste of time for setting up a tent. 4. You're perfectly protected from the weather 5. It's cheap, because you'll need to rent a car, anyway. 6. No need to find camp sites.

19 May 2012

Sandy beach with icebergs Don‘t miss out on this sandy beach! It's located very close to the glacier lagoon. Smaller and bigger icebergs are washed in from the sea where the Jökulsárlón enters it. This is a wonderful motive for your iceland photos. Iceland simply is a paradise for nature photographers. The wind - my steady companion - put me to sleep that night. Surprisingly, this was one of my trip‘s warmest nights.
Sleeping next to icebergs? Yes, please! Slowly it started to become a habit: sleeping with a view. True to this, I chose a pretty special parking position for this night as well. This time with a great view on the glacier. I even spotted a seal (right in front of my window) while I was lying in my bed, taking a glance at the lake. I had been hoping for a beautiful sunset. Of course, Iceland's weather didn't disappoint me: and around 10pm the clouds separated and revealed nature's beauty.
Jökulsárlón - glacial river lagoon My next destination was the glacial lake Jökulsárlón - Iceland's most famous glacial lake (with a depth of 248 meters). It is located at the Southern edge of the Vatnajökull (the biggest glacier on the island). Floating on the lake's surface are the very characteristic icebergs which are up to 15 meters high - a photographer's dream. Furthermore, there are several hiking trails around the lake and seals can be spotted here as well.
Lunch with a wonderful view Lunch-time! My camping grill really was worth every penny on this trip; it enabled me to cook for myself - this time I made sausages. I have to admit that I didn‘t really focus on a healthy diet, however the wonderful view that I got to enjoy made up for it.
Waterfall beneath Svartifos After visiting the waterfall located beneath the Svartifos, it was time for lunch.
Svartifoss and the hexagonal stone columns The Svartifoss is a very interesting waterfall whose most remarkable attributes are the hexagonal stone columns that are famous for Iceland. After lava solidifies it cools down even more and starts to form hexagonal columns. These columns are at right angles with its cooling surface. This is why beds of lava are vertical, and intrusions are horizontal. If the cool-down occurs slowly, the columns are especially beautiful.
On the way to Svartifoss During the night the wind weakened and I was woken by the sun. Happily, I got up to get ready for my next destination, Svartifoss. With the rising of the sun, however, the wind from the past night started to come back. But it was time to leave and drive the 140 km from Vik to Svartifoss, anyway.

18 May 2012

Reynisdrangar - a landscape with a myth According to asn Icelandic myth, these rocks are a petrified sailing boat, a female troll named Skessudrangur and a concupiscent giant called Landdrangur. It's said that they were surprised by the sun which led to them turning into stone (the usual reaction of trolls who get in touch with the sun light). Nowadays the rocks give this beach a one-of-a-kind touch.
Parking space for a night I parked my car in Vic at a black sandy beach - a beautiful beach with a remarkable view on the Reynisdrangar. From here I really had a VIP-view on this stunning nature sight.
Cape Dyrhólaey Once I arrived at Kap Dyrhólaey I got to experience a stunning view on wall rocks arising from the ground. The peninsula which drops down abrasively to the sea has a hight of 115 meters. Its origin was a subaqueous volcanic eruption about 80.000 years ago. Even today you can still sense a smell of brimstone rising at the summit. Furthermore you can find many birds here: sea swallows and Atlantic puffins! Road 218 will lead you there. To get on the plateau, however, you need to go on a dirt road with partly high altitude.
Plane DC 3 Sólheimasandur Iceland The plane wrack is positioned on the West side of a small river. Because I ended up on the wrong side of it, I decided to simply cross through the water which worked without any problems. Besides the wreck there is also a wide range of other interesting things you can find in this stony desert as a rusty power shovel proves. I have to admit that even driving around out here was amazing. However, I need to indicate you that going off-road is illegal and fines up to thousands of euros are possible, in case you get caught. Sadly I wasn't aware of this before.
Moonscape On the Southern side of the road shortly after Skógafass, a real moonscape begins - it appears as a broad field that stretches out over kilometers and consists of rocks, boulders and debris.

17 May 2012

A little hiking tour up to the waterfall If you feel like a little hiking, just take the steps that lead up the waterfall. Once you reach your goal, you have the possibility to wander around on the plateau. Of course, I didn‘t want to miss this chance on enjoying Iceland's nature up here, all by myself. By the way, there are showers at the Skógafoss- 300 Icelandic krona (á 100 ISK coins) for 5 minutes of showering. Even though the water was unbelievably hot and smelled like sulphur, I still very much enjoyed it.
Skógafoss - Iceland's prettiest waterfall The next nature-sight on my route was Skógafoss. Finally! I felt like a little child waiting impatiently for seeing one of my main reasons for going on a trip to Iceland. Arriving there after a 30 km-drive, I realized that all the pictures of this waterfall that I‘ve seen before were nothing compared to seeing its stunning beauty in reality. I can go on about this impressive waterfall for hours - if a designer team would try to come up with a waterfall, it would look like Skògafoss. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful waterfall throughout Iceland.
Nature's beauty After I had supplied myself with the most essential things, I took off to this waterfall in the South of Iceland which is approximately about 120 km away. Even though there were already some people here when I arrived at the parking lot, it was not overcrowded. Sadly the weather wasn‘t good and rain seemed to come up. That is why I could only try to make the best out of the light situation. However, the picture still proves the remarkable beauty of Seljalandsfoss.
Stoneformations near Hafnarfjördur I dedicated the rest of the day to the stone formations near Hafnarfjördur where I took pictures until bed-time. I had underestimated the cold a bit. Without a thin fleece-garment and a cap, sleeping at around 0°C wouldn‘t have been possible.
The church of Halgrim in Reykjavik My first stop was the church of Halgrim (Hallgrímskirkja) in Reykjavik which is only about 50 km away. With 74.5 metres hight, it's the largest church and the sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland! It took 38 years to build this Lutheran church. Construction work began in 1945. Situated in the centre of Reykjavík, it is one of the city's best-known landmarks and is visible throughout the city.
Eating in Iceland Despite the widely spread belief that Iceland is generally very expensive, I have to disagree - prices are not that bad. If you desire freshly cooked meals or even want to go to a restaurant, you have to reckon with leaving a lot of money there, though. For a smaller budget the best option is being a self-supplier.
The moving hotel Here you can see my living room, bed room and kitchen for the next 11 nights. In the beginning, of course, it was quite hard to get used to it. Therefore I didn‘t sleep well at all during the first night. With time passing by, however, it became a real bed to me. Especially at the end of my Iceland trip I easily got a good night's rest of 8 hours. Even for me, a tall guy of 185 cm, the Cherokee provided enough space. You should't be too sensitive regarding the light situation though, because starting with May no total darkness occurs anymore.
Renting a car At the airport Keflavik I got my Jeep Grand Cherokee which I had booked prior to embarking on my trip on the Internet for about 1100 Euro. I have to admit that also my photographical intensions influenced the choice of car -the Grand Cherokee fits just perfectly into Iceland's beautiful scenery and therefore can be spotted in my pictures from time to time. Furthermore, I also wanted my "accommodation" to meet a certain level of comfort, it needed to be a 100% suitable for sleeping and generally offer enough space. It totally fulfilled all these requirements- a great car.
What's the right vehicle for Iceland? There's a common belief that traveling in Iceland requires a four-wheel drive. It's not true, though. In fact, a standard passenger car is just fine, if going on the ring road (on which I also mainly drove). Only off-road and especially on the so-called “F“- streets which can be found mainly in the highlands, a four-wheel drive is partly necessary. Actually, the streets in the highlands are already an adventure themselves. Usually they are only accessible from June to August. This is also the reason why you can find some very special off-road vehicles in Iceland that truly deserve the name “off-road vehicle 4x4“.
About Iceland What do you associate with Iceland? Fishing and whaling? The cold? Bad weather? All answers are correct, but also somehow wrong, because Iceland is so much more! I didn‘t know much about Iceland myself but when some photographers showed me their pictures of Iceland, I was instantly enthusiastic about going there! During my trip it was a great pleasure realising that Iceland‘s beauty did not only meet my expectations, but its stunning and incomparable nature even exceeded them.
What should I bring along on a trip to Iceland? This is a very good question and the answer depends on various factors. I however, took along the following things that I can highly recommend: In case you would like to go on a photo-tour like me, you will certainly need a voltage converter for loading batteries or for the usage of a laptop. Furthermore a camping grill / independent hotplate, a good sleeping bag, camping dishes, a camping pillow, a map over Iceland, some water canisters are also necessities.