Late last year, I had the totally exhilarating experience of travelling in Iceland. Because there was so much to see, I have broken down blogging about my travels into days. You can click here to see the first day around The Golden Circle: Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir. In the evening of our first day we had a look at the weather forecast and it looked like a stormy front was blowing through for a couple of days so we decided to merge two days of road tripping into one epic day. This really was the most epic day and I will probably use that word too much but it really is such an epic place!
We set off before sunrise, around 6am and it was sleeting as we followed the South of the ring road, stopping for coffee and giant sticky sweet cakes. Nothing had prepared any of use for the amazement we were going to see, the vastness and emptiness of the landscape had such beauty of its own and the ring road clung to the sea as we drove across flat lava fields with volcanic giants looming in the distance.
This was the day we saw the waterfalls, the black sand and most southerly point of the country, gigantic glaciers that I studied in school and finally the moment I will never forget as we all shrieked as we arrived at Jokulsarlon, the glacial lagoon, littered with mystical icebergs drifting out to the sea. We waited here for darkness to fall and this was the night we saw the first glimmer of the aurora borealis, it was simply mind-blowing. Its hard to pick one image to start this blog off and I’ll chat as we shimmy through the images but this one is one that seems to just instil an inner calm each time I look at it. The black sand iceberg beach at dusk, it makes me well up every time I see it, I can’t pinpoint why, but it is a place that will always hold such treasured memories.
As the daylight started to emerge the barren beauty of the landscape wrapped itself around the panoramic views of nothingness from our windows. Rolling lava fields leading the eye to mountain ranges in the distance, drawing our imagination to think about the destructive and fractious past they will have had. Our first stop was at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, this one was one we were all excited about, with it’s ferocity carving out a cave that you could walk behind the flow of the water! You can see just how much spray there was as it clung to my lens! We were limited on how far we could go round as the spray was freezing on the paths forming black ice so we whimped out on the full loop! The spray had soaked us through and as we moved on, we were all drying our hats on the heaters in the car!
This was one point I’d been looking forward to seeing. The legendary ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ volcano that caused so much havoc a few years ago with the giant ash cloud affecting flights across Europe as it erupted. Sitting so quietly with it’s dormant status it didn’t look as monstrous as I would have expected something to look that caused so much havoc!
The next stop was Skogafoss, another of the great waterfalls on the ‘must see’ list when in Iceland. We arrived just ahead of a coach and as I took my first image, I realised my lens had steamed up with temperature change from the car to the outside! I quite liked the bleak feel it added to the first shot as the day was so grey and flat. As we approached, we could see a set of stairs climbing to the top and so we set off to take in the view. I loved that we could see all the way to Dyrholaey, just making out the stacks in the sea.
This part of the journey had a captivating monotony about it. We’d seen our target from the crest of Skogafoss, yet as we drove it seemed so far away. The landscape around us was so flat, black sandy, rock plains reached from the mountains to the sea. Crystal clear coppery blue water had carved its way through the landscape with a capillary network of streams colliding into larger veins and running off into the sea.
We stopped to see these horses and a ditch separated us as they walked over to see what we were up to. I loved the amount of horses on the landscape and these ones were as intrigued by us as we were with them.
We carried on down the road towards the coast, arching round to a car park. With every stop we were on and off with winter over trousers and all of our layers and I could not dress for the elements fast enough here. The excitement of the sea, the crash of the waves and anticipation of what we would see was so exciting! I was born in a coastal town and there is something that stirs inside when I am by the sea, a feeling of calm and contentment, I know I am a coastliner. Being at Iceland’s most southerly point was such a treat, the view from the basalt stack that we climbed was amazing, panoramic views back inland and tracking the line of the coast east and west. We watched the power of the sea work its force on the sandy spit that sat out, with the water winning the battle and the sand collapsing into the sea. I loved the tourist on the beach in bright orange, such a dazzling juxtaposition!
After we left the headland, we passed through Vik but didn’t stop other than to shoot this lonesome church up above the town.
For the next hour or so this undulating, mysterious landscape was all we could see, lava fields stacked and covered in moss as the road carved its way through. Some of the bridges were immense, I couldn’t get over how long they stretched for as we crossed river mouths or what felt more like being suspended over the sea! And then the glimmer of Skaftafell teased us on the horizon, the first sign of the Vatnajökull National Park in the distance and the vastness, again wowed us. Mother nature is one beautiful lady!
I love how tiny the road looked as we approached Skaftafell. When we parked up at the visitor centre, we set off with the glacier in the distance. It felt like we were never going to reach it, it looked so close as we set on a confident stride. We were power walking yet the distance didn’t seem to diminish. We knew we were starting to race the light to get to Jokulsarlon (the iceberg lagoon) in time for daylight. When were arrived the creeping glacier in all of it’s jagged glory was just amazing, we only stopped for time to catch our breaths and ooh and aah before we turned on our heal and legged it back to the car to continue on our quest!
The snow capped mountains in the rear view mirror were stunning as dusk fell and we stopped just for a moment, on our quest to get to the icebergs with a glint of light! Rarely did we see other cars on this route. The freedom of space and not seeing other people is one of the invigorating things about Iceland! I loved seeing the almost full moon and the car coming towards us!
And here is that wow moment we’d been driving for over 4 hours to get to and boy was it worth the trek. the Jokulsarlon lagoon and beach has to be one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever seen. We were lucky to arrive at dusk and I love the gentle hues in the sky, just adding to the magic of the view that we were taking. We only had daylight for about 6.5 hours so we breathed a sigh of relief when our two days in one worked out and we got her with a little big of last light!This beautiful lump of ice has been 1000s if not millions of years in the making to get to the shore of the lagoon and it was so crystal clear, so pure. Just amazing.
One of the reasons we’d aimed for this part of Iceland on this day, is that the weather forecast said there would be clear skies and the aurora was forecast to be active and to see the clear skies, but with encroaching clouds built excitement and anticipation. Would we be waiting for the ‘tricky lady’ to show or would the aurora be shrouded in cloud by the time it was dark enough?
We drove over to the moonlight Iceberg black sand beach. The shoreline was littered with chunks of ice that had been dumped as the glacial flow moves icebergs into the sea. It was so magical and we took in the view as night started to fall. Standing here and seeing this felt unreal, you dream of somewhere for so long and its the only place you’ve ever wished to see to be there was a pinch myself moment.
We then headed back to the visitor centre that served lovely soup while we waited for true darkness to fall and there were a few others waiting and departing as the last light dipped behind the hills.
We then headed out to the lagoon side. I set the camera for a long exposure and shrieked. In the first image below you can see that there is a faint green line above the mountain in the sky – the aurora was active but we couldn’t see it with our eyes, only the sensor on the camera could pick it up.
After a little wait, the clouds started to draw in and we still couldn’t see the aurora even although it was shimmering green in the camera display, so we knew it was there. My camera was on a tripod, on a trigger by my ankles, as low as possible to get as much sky in was we could. I loved that The Big Dipper was sparkling away in shot too. Because of the full moon behind us it was lighting the icebergs beautifully, although this can make seeing the aurora harder as it was surprising how bright the moon is when you’re somewhere that is away from any light pollution! The ground was icing up around us and as we stood we could hear the groan of the glacier and hear lumps crashing down. It sounded a bit like whales under water, and admittedly was a little eery when you’re stood there!
This one picked up some high level pinky aurora, burning up different gasses as the reaction with the atmosphere picked up.
And then we turned and all of us said, what is that on the horizon. A shot with the camera in that direction and it confirmed what we could see so delicately was the Aurora, it was there. It is so strange, when it is very gentle, you think it is almost a corn trail or a bit of cloud and it was only having the picture to look at that we knew 100% our eyes were seeing this, it was happening. We watched it for quite some time and scrambled up the icy hill at the back of the glacier to get a better view but the cold was starting to become more present in our minds.
I was so excited to be seeing the aurora with Mark at my side. He did a PhD in Solar Physics, in my layman’s terms, it was something to do with the Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are the explosions on the sun that cause the solar flares to kick out and it is when they reach earth that they cause the northern lights to happen. For all of the equations and the monster thesis that he did, I loved seeing these with him and him explaining the science to me!
After we braced the cold for long enough, we went back to the car and realised we were only with one third of a tank of fuel, meaning we didn’t have enough to get home and had no idea where the nearest fuel station was, with the knowledge that we were driving into the middle of empty, pitch black lava fields. The heaters went off, the radio off and we were on fuel conservation mode. Thankfully, we stumbled across a 24 hour station and when the pin worked and the fuel pump clicked in there was an audible sigh of relief. When Mark got back in the car, Fraser announced ‘Morale is high’. On the long drive back to our temporary home we chatted through the day and were trying to spot aurora which we did very briefly before arriving home and tucking into bed after one of the best days ever.