6 Mar 2015

Iceland Feb 2015 - Day 8: From Höfn to Vík

My journey back towards Keflavik started in earnest on my eighth day; I was driving from Höfn to Vík. It wasn't a massive distance, but I had a few stops along the way planned, the first (and longest) being Jökulsárlón - I'd driven through it without stopping once before, but didn't want to do that this year! I didn't bother going back to Stokksnes - I didn't think I'd be able to match the conditions of the previous night, given that it was miserable and cloudy, so just set off at 9am and headed straight for my favourite Icelandic beach. My first stop was to capture a young reindeer that was near the side of the road - fortuitously there was a track leading up next to it. It looked at me briefly, then ran off skittishly, as they do.

I then stopped in a couple of my familiar spots on the way back - by the derelict house, the crooked tree and the line of crooked trees. Almost all of the snow had gone, with just a few frozen puddles dotted around. Although it was mostly cloudy, the sun would creep through small gaps in the clouds from time to time.

I continued on to Jökulsárlón, noticing huge numbers of fishing boats dotted along the horizon to my south; I'd only ever seen a couple of ships before, so this was quite an unusual sight (zooming in on one later it appeared to be from the Faroe Islands). I parked at the east beach and walked along the top of the beach to reach a slightly higher spot from where I set about taking some wave shots with the long lens. The place was packed with photographers - dotted all the way along the beach for as far as the icebergs were distributed. It was definitely busier this year than last and I can't think that February is any busier than March (for photographers).

I find the waves on this beach truly captivating. It was a relatively calm day - perhaps that's why the fishing boats were out in force - but even still the waves crashed against the beach with typical force. It was the first time, though, that I could clearly see the small islands on the horizon, upon one of which a lighthouse sits that I've vaguely been able to make out in photos before, through the waves. I tried out a few different focal lengths (all using the 100-400mm lens) and shutter speeds, using my Tiffen variable ND filter and B+W 2- and 6-stop ones. The sun would come out occasionally, casting a strange golden light on the water's surface.

Occasionally I'd include an iceberg, the boats or photographers in my shot, but I wanted to concentrate on the waves and their mesmerising beauty.

After a couple of hours my fingers began to ache with cold, so I wandered back towards the car. I didn't get very far, ending up stopping to take yet more photographs of a pretty iceberg that was being turned over and over by the waves.

I then tried to get some close-up shots of an iceberg that looked like a mountain range, as well as one when the water was swirling over it. I was fascinated by how different the ice looked when the light shone differently and water blocked out some light.

My fingers were by now so cold that I started to worry about them; I had to go back to the car and warm up before I got frost nip! I always feel so sad when I tear myself away from this beach; it really is my favourite photographic spot ever. Whatever the weather and the tides throw at me, I will always love Jökulsárlón beach, even if I don't find the perfect iceberg or get the perfect water trail. I think it's probably the one place that keeps on drawing me back to Iceland; there's just nowhere else quite like it. I just love it!

I sat in the car warming up for a while before heading over the pretty suspension bridge on my way west. As I drove over the bridge I noticed how stunning the bergs in the Jökulsá river looked - everything so turquoise! - so I pulled in just past the bridge and spent another half hour there, this time taking pictures of the river. While I was changing lenses I noticed two tiny figures out on the ice in the distance; I later read that they were stupid tourists who could easily have got themselves killed had they slipped into the water (luckily for them they were unharmed). You can just make out one or both of them in the photos below.

So finally I tore myself away and headed west. I passed the turn-off to Fjallsárlón, which I hadn't visited this year, and promised myself I'd return there next time. I stopped at another of my usual stopping places, where I'd once got a lovely shot of the mountains covered in mist, reflected perfectly in a small pond along the roadside. The pools were frozen, but still a little reflective, and contained more amazing patterns, some reminding me of an Escher painting or lizard-like creature.

As I approached the petrol station at Svinafell I drove through a heavy snow storm with the snow coming straight at me horizontally - it was absolutely mesmerising driving into it! I had to remind myself to concentrate on the road, not stare madly at the flakes coming at the windscreen over and over.

I stopped at the petrol station for a burger - definitely one of my little rituals! Like Jökulsárlón it was packed, where three years earlier I'd been the only customer. I filled up with petrol before heading off nervously - the road sign was warning of winds of 16 m/s with gusts of 27 m/s on the stretch past Lómagnúpur. I passed the turn-offs to Svínafellsjökull and Skaftafell, also unvisited on this trip, before crossing the sandur towards Lómagnúpur, my favourite Icelandic mountain, visible this time. The winds were not as bad as expected, and at no point did the car get swiped by nasty gusts, which was a relief. It was, however, far too windy to get any decent shots at Lómagnúpur, so although I drove down the little track before it, I took a couple of shots and got straight back in the car and continued on.

Leaving the snow storms and windy section behind me I continued on without stopping until I reached Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon (some Icelandic names I don't even begin to try to pronounce!), which I'd never even heard of before planning this trip! I knew that it wasn't going to be great, photographically, with patchy snow cover and dreadfully overcast skies, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway. The road to reach the parking area at the foot of the canyon was windy and partly snow-covered - definitely not suitable for a normal car. I got out and wandered up the canyon a little way, but didn't have the energy to go right up to the top of the hill. The views were impressive, but as expected it was challenging photographically, with poor light, scrubby browny-yellowy grass and patchy snow. Definitely somewhere to return in summer, although then it might be teeming with people.

By the time I left the unpronounceable canyon it was 4.45pm and I still had another 70km to drive to reach Vík. I wanted to catch the last light, but sunset wasn't until after 6pm, so I knew I'd make it. I was staying in the Nordur Vík hostel again (didn't treat myself to the beautiful Edda hotel with the view of the bird cliffs) and as usual wanted to get there in time to get a bottom bunk, but photographing sunset at the beach was my main priority. It took me exactly an hour to get there, and so by 5.45pm I was on my second-favourite black sandy Icelanic beach, this time using the long zoom to capture shots of the stacks with the waves in front of them. There was one other photographer on the beach and a couple came and quickly went. There was no sunset light to speak of, but with those big waves and stacks, it really didn't matter.

I got to the hostel to find the car park full but thankfully a lower bunk free. I felt a bit nervous about my camera gear, having forgotten to bring any padlocks. As a result I took my camera bag out to the nearby Suður-Vík restaurant with me. A young English guy from the hostel joined me and we ate and chatted together. He was an architecture graduate taking a year off before continuing on with his long training and had just driven speedily and solo around the ringroad in a Renault Clio. We both talked a lot, neither of us probably having had a long conversation with anyone else for days! He said he had begun talking to himself. I admitted that I did the same. I often shouted out "I love you Iceland!" for example. I ordered a large pizza, which gave me some leftovers for the next day's lunch, as I'd finished the bread I'd made sandwiches from. I wanted to make an early start, so packed all my bags so that I wouldn't disturb my room-mates at 7am the next morning, put my ear-plugs in and had an early night.

Click here for Day 7 - Lon & Stokksnes
Click here for Day 9 - From Vík to Þingvellir

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