Iceland is perhaps similar to New Zealand..it has many waterfalls, lush green hills, volcanoes, glaciers and geysers and it is an island. The roads are two lanes however unlike NZ they drive on the right. And to be honest it is totally different so do some research and plan a vacation! To discover why Iceland and Greenland are mis-named check out this. They were cunning back in those days!!
Anyway, I landed at the airport where chaos reigned at 6-30 am; people everywhere, no orderly queues and limited directions to customs and baggage! Despite this I was through customs quite quickly and off to collect my 4×4 rental car in the rain! The drive into the city passes an amazing lava field and the landscape was WOW!! I was surprised that there wasn’t a tree to be seen!! The joke in Iceland is that if you get lost in the forest stand up!! That’s because the few trees on the island struggle to survive and are short!!
Below: were the tallest trees I saw…
I found my hotel relatively easily but my room wouldn’t be ready until noon😬 the coffee shop doesn’t open until 11 am and we are a fair distance to the city. And I needed a shower!! The Grand Hotel Reykavich is not my favourite hotel so I suggest the Hilton or one of the newer hotels in the city. Once I was able to shower and unpack I drove out to the lighthouse area and admired the golf course and wind surfers. Walked up one of the main shopping streets and generally played tourist. The Harpa opera house is a striking building of hexagon coloured glass and steel and dominates the waterfront.
Further along the water front is Jón Gunnar Árnason’s famous and really beautiful sculpture ‘Sea Voyager’.
I Visited the famous landmark, the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral and a few local art galleries and then back to the hotel for dinner and an early night!
The next day after a much needed nights sleep I headed off in the rain to explore the southern regions of Iceland. I stopped at 3 gas stations before finding one that had a map! Meantime I’d got lost twice but finally I was headed in the right direction.
My first stop were the waterfalls at Seljalandsfoss. I turned off at Selfoss wondering how far they were and keeping an eye on the diminishing fuel gauge! The falls despite being famous still surprised me on arrival with their shear beauty and height, a drop of 60 metres. There were ten tour buses and 100 or more cars. The toilet queue was 15 minutes!! A small shop sold wonderful food and I enjoyed a green health smoothie.
At this waterfall you walk one way in behind the falls and can continue out the other side but the rocks were very wet and slippery. Fortunately I was prepared and had on my waterproof clothing. I retreated the same way but not before shooting 100 frames- wonderful. The sun came out and the day was clearing. I continued driving and loving the scenery, volcanic mountains sweeping down to the ocean with little farm houses dotted here and there and of course there were beautiful silky horned sheep and Icelandic horses in abundance. One of the strange things is the lack of gas stations so I often found myself nervously watching the fuel gauge!
Soon I spotted another large and well known waterfall??? Sporting a small rainbow so I drove into the area but I only took a few photos from the car park. I must say I wasn’t feeling very well, I had a head cold from before I left NZ that was pretty annoying and all that travelling hadn’t help one iota.
I think it was after 1 pm by now and I had little idea how far to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon. The bridges are all one way and the roads are narrow, built up high about 2 metres for snow and so one can’t pull over as there is no verge! Every so often I’d find a place to stop sometimes doing a u turn as I saw a roof covered in grass on an old stone building. These are charming historic sites and some have entrances to quite deep caves used by the early settlers in winter for shelter.
Driving driving driving; and its now almost 4 pm when I spot an iceberg amongst a very grey barren rocky landscape! Whoah!! Slow down…and then a sign Jokulsarlon Lagoon and a bridge . I turned left into a car park and I couldn’t believe my eyes; a sea of icebergs, well a lake really. Spectacular, this is why I was here , to see this and it really blew my mind. From the lake a narrow river ran out to sea and an iceberg the size of a house floated past me…. Unbelievable. I soon discovered it was about to enter the Atlantic Ocean. I walked around with my mouth wide open in awe at the beauty of the ice. Soon I drove across the bridge to the official side and inquired about a zodiac trip out on the lagoon for the next day…sorry all full. I was dismayed…. Anyway I then drove down to the ocean and this was a sight I’ll never forget. The Atlantic Ocean pounding onto the beach strewen with icebergs, some clear, some opaque, everyone totally unique. I was mesmerised.
The camera was in overdrive when I realised it was going to get dark and I still had to drive to the village of Hali. I shot past my village before realising I was lost for the third time this day. (the joys of travelling alone, you can only blame yourself). I stopped and asked a chap, turned out he was a Scottish chap on a working holiday and I followed him back down the road to my hotel. What a relief. I had managed day one and what a spectacular day it turned out to be.
I had a room overlooking the ocean and the mist and rain were rather persistent. In the morning the hotel told me of a different zodiac company that operated on the lake so I headed off to this place. There was a sign, an empty tent, a container and two locked port a loos Hours 10-6 pm. At 10-30 I gave up – as I was the only person anywhere in sight, and I returned to the previous day’s location and again asked if I could do a zodiac trip. Guess what? she said yes in 15 minutes. Yeah!! Paid my money and managed to somehow get into the huge dry suit and life jacket and then walk, or waddle, to the loading area…. Anyway we spent the next hour on the lake getting up close and personal with the icebergs, I was in heaven.
I returned to my hotel for lunch and a nana nap.. I needed it! At 4 pm I returned to the lagoon areas and photographed until dusk praying for a shaft of sunlight! No such luck so I turned the headlights onto the closet “berg” . The bergs are constantly moving so it’s not an easy subject photographically. But I enjoy a challenge! Back to the hotel and it’s raining again, no luck with auroras tonight!!
I ordered Langaoustine for dinner to celebrate life! Sweet beautiful small lobsters, absolutely divine. Below Langaoustine Soup from another night.
The next morning I am up at 5-30am and off to the lagoon again for sunrise..it’s raining so I must be mad! 2 degrees as well. By 7 am the rain stopped and the sun peeked out briefly… I lost my lens cap and my cable release hurrying back to the car to avoid a heavy shower! Such is life… I was over the ice for now….and I had 400 plus K’s to drive back to Reykjavik. I was slightly hungry and the petrol gauge was pretty low as I headed toward the town of VIK. I arrived at 9-10 am and found a gas station but the hotel breakfast closed at 9 am and the kitchen in the grill house opened at 11am – then I spotted a supermarket and found the local yogurt – Skyr – it is an Icelandic cultured dairy product. It has the consistency of strained greek yogurt but a much milder flavor. It has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years and I also bought a banana. 10 minutes down the road at Black Beach I discovered there is a great cafe with free wifi but the townspeople in VIK didn’t tell me that when I asked how far to the next town. I had the best coffee in Iceland here and this is a spectacular coastline. The waves crash in making a wall of water a metre high, impressive. Also the volcanic rock formations are impressive as are the rocky outcrops standing like sentinels along the coast.
Sadly no Puffins, evidently they leave early September to winter out at sea.
Waterfalls rolled down the steep hillsides and the sun came out in patches. The moss covered lava rocks were so unusual I had another photo session. In Selfoss I again filled the car, this Chevvy rental was so thirsty! I had a burger and chips, essential sustenance , it was burgers or KFC… I now could relax knowing I was making good time. I arrived back at the hotel in Reykjavik in pouring rain, dropped my gear in my room and returned the rental car but not before getting lost in the one way street systems!! By now I was drenched so back to the hotel, relax, shower and prepare to meet the 58 passengers for my Greenland expedition! That is another story. Suffice to say I absolutely loved my Iceland adventure and if you are going do try and have 8-10 days not the four I had allowed.
Iceland is only two hours flying from London and a newish American no frills airline called ‘WOW’ flies from San Francisco to Iceland direct. I flew to San Francisco from NZ then an overnight stop in Chicago and then a 6 hour flight to Iceland on Icelandic Air.. It is a long way from New Zealand 😍!!!! Iceland tourism is booming and the infra structure is desperately trying to keep up. New hotels are being built and more gas stations too 🙂
Currently there are no Polar Bears in Iceland. Since 2008 5 polar bears have survived the sea journey to Iceland from Greenland only to be shot on arrival. The latest very controversial shooting was a few months ago. They shoot them because they are dangerous to humans and livestock; supposedly. However there is an agreement on the table between Greenland and Iceland to see if upon capture Greenland will accept the bears being returned. I suspect this is a viable solution however it is also very expensive.