2014 Southern Iceland

September 2014

Packing

The trip to Iceland has been discussed since October 2013, with myself being involved since February 2014.

I was looking forward to packing well before we left for Iceland, but some last minute freelance work put stop to that. Here I am at 8pm, six hours before we leave, having just finished packing.

If you know me, you won't be surprised by the amount of photography, and computer equipment. As usual boxers and socks take up a surprising amount of space. Below is my full kit list:

  • Canon 5D mk2 + 50mm + 70mm - 200mm + 17mm to 40mm
  • dSLR memory cards + remote shutter release + flash
  • Tripod + head
  • GoPro Hero 3+
  • GoPro chesty + pole + tripod mount + batteries + memory cards
  • Several Anker batteries
  • Torch + chargers and leads
  • MacBook Pro + external HDD
  • iPad
  • Toiletries + sunglasses
  • Boxers + socks
  • Jeans + t-shirts + shirt
  • Base layers + walking trousers + jumper + jacket
  • Swim shorts
  • Hat + gloves + snood
  • Walking boots + casual trainers

Mundane

Mundane: lacking interest or excitement; dull: his mundane, humdrum existence.

After about 30 minutes sleep, my alarm clock shrieked to life at the ungodly time of 01:15 this morning. Just time for a cup of tea and some breakfast before being picked up to begin the drive down to Luton airport.

A three hour flight and we have arrived in Iceland, today is just an acclimatisation day, we pick up the hire car, get some food, and go to the cabin to unpack and chill out.

For some reason, a lack of sleep doesn't effect me as much as some people (maybe it's all those late nights programming) - I decide I'm going to explore the local area, naturally I drag Jenny along too :)

On the plane over I was reading Shooting Stars by Phil Hart, and all day I have been hoping for a clear night so I could put some of the things I had read about into practice. So when it was getting dark, and I saw it was clear I grabbed the camera, tripod, and started shooting some photos, I'm pretty happy of this one:

But I was even happier when Tanya saw some green wisps in the sky, and there, on the first night, was the aurora borealis. Unfortunatly it was bearly visible with the naked eye and required a long exposure to take a photo of it, but this is why I brought that heavy tripod :D

Natural Waters

This morning we headed out to Strokkur Geyser, the geyser is formed in a high temperature geothermal area, a cavity develops in the lithosphere and fills with water, when this water is superheated by the surrounding rock, water flashes to steam, forcing the rest of the water upwards into the air. At the Strokkur geyser this happens every eight to ten minutes.

After taking some photos, we all stood around at the point closest to the geyser, it went off, however it was quite small, and we didn't get wet, that lulled me and Steve into a false sense of security, as it went off a few moments later, Jenny and Tanya moved away, while myself and Steve got soaked as the water returned to earth.

At thirty-one meters high the Gullfoss Waterfall is a sight to behold, consisting of two waterfalls one eleven meters high, and the second twenty meters. The average water flow is one-hundred and nine cubic meters per second, however at times this can be two-thousand cubic meters per second.

After arriving back at the cabin we had a lovely dinner cooked by Tanya, followed by watching Despicable Me in the hot tub, and a few quick photos of the sky before bed.

Rafting

My alarm was set for six in the morning, however in my sleepy daze I turned off the alarm and rolled over. This lead to a mass rush around at seven-thirty to get ready, jump in the car to drive to the rafting centre.

Upon arrival we slithered into the wet suits, donned the life jackets, grabbed a paddle, and got into an old American school bus which took us down to the river a few miles away. During the hour in the water (some of the time inside the raft) we splashed, dived, jumped, and larked about. Really good fun, and surprisingly not too cold!

The river we were rafting down is fed by the Gullfoss Waterfall we visited the day before, and when the water flow is exceptionally high our guide told us the bridge over part of the river is susceptible to being washed away.

We then visited Kerio, a 55 meter deep crater formed 6,500 years ago which we walked down into. The bottom of the crater is below the water table, causing the water level to fluctuate with the water table.

On the way back towards Reykjavik the weather (as it had been in the morning) was not very pleasant, although it made for a nice view of the surrounding hills.

Quad Biking

I made sure to get up with my alarm straight away this morning, setting off on 24km quad bike trip, two quad bikes; boys on one, girls on the other. Fording rivers, and splashing through huge puddles, it was really cool. I think we all came away wanting to buy a quad!

We then had a walk around Reykjavik, took some photos of the Sun Voyager, a steel sculpture which appears to resemble a Viking ship, but is actually a dream boat and ode to the sun. We had lunch before heading back to the cabin, we need to be well rested for what's in store tomorrow…

Busy day of Epicness

It's been a very long day, we left our cabin at 04:30 heading to Skaftafell National Park where we took part in a guided glacier walk, on the Falljokull glacier, our guide, Dan, was a very charismatic guy, who after allowing us to get used to walking in crampons took us up part of the glacier. After two hours we headed back to the base camp, squeezing in a small abseil down part of the icepack.

We then headed to the Black Sand Beach where we climbed around, and even jumped off, some basalt columns, after which we walked along the beach taking in the awesome power of the waves.

From there we walked (a long, boring, 4km each way, walk) to the abandoned DC3 which crash landed slightly further down the Black Sand Beach, on the South coast of Iceland.

Finally heading to Seljalandfoss Waterfall shortly after sunset.

A very action packed day, and Tanya's birthday. Tomorrow it's time to relax!

Blue Lagoon

After the busy day yesterday, today was a refreshing, and relaxing day at the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is not natural, and is caused by surplus mineral-rich water from the neighboring geothermal power plant.

We started out in the lagoon, having a walk / swim around, moving between areas of too-hot-to-stand, hot, and warm water. After getting a cold beer, and applying a face mask, we took some more silly photos and headed over to the sauna / steam room.

Following our relaxing time in the pool we ate an outstanding three-course meal at the LAVA Restaurant within the complex.

After arriving back at the cabin, we had some birthday Bollinger for Tanyas birthday and planned tomorrows activities…

Thingvellir National Park

This morning we chilled out a little, went to the shop and bought some food for out last few days, then headed off to Thingvellir National Park in the afternoon.

Thingvellir was the site of the ancient Icelandic parliament, a beautiful area, most striking of all are the faults between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates which scar the landscape. Many of these are filled with surprisingly clear, blue water.

The beautiful area of water shown below is where women were drowned after being convicted of either incest or prostitution, depending on what account you read.

Swimming

We headed out this morning to go to a geothermal beach, however upon arriving we discovered two things; firstly the water wasn't above fifteen degrees, and secondly, the place closed in twenty minutes. At this point we decided to go for a walk up to the Perlan, a group of hot water storage tanks with an observation deck, and grand hemispherical dome.

After trying to find / think of something else to do, we decided to go swimming, it's worth noting that even having gone white water rafting neither I nor Tanya can swim with much confidence. Fortunately the heated outdoor pool which we were in wasn't every deep at all. We played around in the pool for a while, had a few slides down the waterside, and then myself and Jenny headed over to the hot tub for a few hours.

Upon returning to the cabin we each ate a large, half-molten lump of vanilla ice cream, and while everyone else relaxed, I got frustrated as I was unable to top up the local pay-as-you sim card I had purchased earlier this week.

After about an hour after we started, the rules of blackjack were half-written on a sheet of paper, Jenny was already taking penalties for constantly flouting the rules, we all had some nice Icelandic beers, and helped Tanya complete her Ice Bucket Challenge before jumping in the hot tub.

Dog Sledding

We drove back down part of the South coast this morning, arriving at the only dog sledding centre in Iceland late in the morning, where we were pulled on a summer sled by twelve beautiful dogs.

My favorite by far was Brutus, who at six years old is getting on, but he can, I was told, easily pull 250kg on his own. It was funny when the musher who pilotted the sled, noticed individual dogs slacking off, he would call them by name, and they would start pulling on the lines again.

Just up the road from the dog sledding centre, was a lighthouse, the tallest structure in South Iceland, and of course past the lighthouse was a beach.

All day we were teased by clear skys and sunny weather, however despite very little cloud, by eleven pm I was getting doubtful that I would be able to take any further photos of the aurora borealis. And by midnight I decided to bring the stuff back inside to warm up, ready to pack it back in the camera bag.

Returning Home

I'm writing this in the back of Steve's car, on the way back to Sheffield, the conclusion of the trip to Iceland has almost been reached. While I have nothing better to do, I'd like to reflect on some of the memorable points of the trip.

The Surprising

It's not been cold, yes it's only September, but I was expecting to see frost and negative figures when on the glacier, in reality it has been like the UK, in the teens most days.

It's so relaxed, in the ten days we were in Iceland, we were only stuck in traffic twice; once in heavy fog, and once coming through Monday afternoon rush hour.

It's not actually too embarrassing using a GoPro selfie pole when you know you'll never see the people around you again.

The Frustrating

I called the first blog post mundane, however I now regret that, as it was the only night we saw the aurora borealis, and that was certainly not mundane.

Having reviewed the photos, learning how to set up the camera, and progressing my post processing skills over the week. I was really looking forward to capturing more photos of the aurora borealis. Alas, I'm planning a trip to Finland in early 2016 and I should be able to get some amazing photos then.

Unfortunately we rented a Ford Focus, and while it was a lovely modern car, having a 4x4 would be opened more opportunities for exploration.

It was really easy to buy a local Simmin sim card for my phone, however I did get annoyed when I tried to top it up and both my credit card and debit card were declined, I dread to think how much Three are going to charge me for data this month.

The Awesome

The group consensus is certainly that the glacier walk was the best activity all week. I would really like to do more of a glacier hike in the future.

On the seventh day I could finally spell Reykjavik without having to look it up. I suppose that's something :P

The Tasty

The cabin we stayed in didn't have an oven, however it did have a barbecue, this and the high price of food in Iceland meant that most of the meals were quite basic, but after being active all day, and driving for hours, simple food tastes so good.

I was all up for trying some whale, but the opportunity didn't arise.

Goodbye

I speak for all four of us when I say we've had a blast. I'm already planning a trip back to Iceland, renting a big 4x4 and camping different areas rather than retuning to Reykjavik each evening.