14 Nov 2015

Iceland Nov 2015 - Day 1: From Keflavík to Vík

I had a glorious start to my ninth trip to Iceland. I'd arrived late the previous night, had a good night's sleep at the Smári Hotel, a spot of breakfast, then got picked up by the car rental company, taken to their office to sort out the car (a two-tone Suzuki Vitara), and then off I set, headed east, with a beautiful sky greeting me. I pulled off the main road a couple of times to try to capture the stunning dawn colours against the stark lava landscape.

First stop was to visit my friends Sigrún and Johannes, in Álftanes, just outside of Reykjavík. They'd kindly offered to lend a few things for my trip - the most important one being a sturdy tripod. It was the same one that I had at home, with a different head, saving me a huge additional weight on my flights. I also borrowed an Aeropress coffee maker, a large cup (as all the cups in the guesthouses I stayed were tiny - not big enough for a British tea-drinker!), and a flask. After a couple of coffees I headed on my way, planning on a little detour via the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel en route to Vík.I stopped in the suburbs of Reykjavík at a fantastic Krónan supermarket and stocked up on the usual produce for my trip - rye bread, cheese and ham for my lunches; pasta, pesto, tuna and a few veggies for dinners; some chocolate-covered licorice, dried fruit and nuts for the car; and of course the delicious Icelandic granola and Skyr for breakfast. After an inevitable wrong turn I eventually got on to the Route 1 and soon turned north-east onto the 431, heading towards Nesjavellir. After about 5km it turned into the 435 - I hadn't taken this road before and it was quite something. For a good few kilometres it was pretty straight, uphill, with a huge pipeline running alongside it (taking geothermal power down from the plant at Nesjavellir into Reykjavík). 
After about 10km it suddenly became rather spectacular, winding for a few km in and out of an area of rocky outcrops. I stopped a few times to try and capture the magical road, but the light was tricky by this point (nearly midday).

I drove on, and from the top of the hill I was greeted with a delightful view down into Þingvallavatn and the backlit steam fumaroles of the geothermal plant at Nesjavellir.

The road wove down the hill towards the lake, and I took a right turn onto the 436. I then noticed the strange-looking Ion hotel, nestled beneath the bottom of the hill that I'd just driven down. It's a striking building, jutting out into the meadow, a large glass box on stilts. I took the right-hand turn that led up to the power plant and the hotel, stopping along the way to photograph the backlit steam.

I reached the hotel and parked, desperate to go to the loo after the coffee earlier! The staff weren't initially very friendly or helpful, but then a very nice woman who was head of HR introduced herself and offered to show me around. Unfortunately the pièce de résistance of the hotel - the Northern Lights bar - was occupied by a German company conference, but she said that I might be able to sneak in about 25 minutes later at 1pm when the delegates went to get lunch. She showed me the outside hot spring, nicely located underneath the stilts at the front of the building, with a view towards the fumaroles on one side and towards the mountains behind Þingvellir in the other direction. I then wandered around the mossy lava in front of the hotel, waiting for the Germans to disappear, photographing the place from different angles. They had covered the windows with paper, slightly spoiling its appearance too. Unfortunately they didn't vacate the room at all, so I didn't get a chance to go inside; I'll just have to go back and stay there instead.

I tore myself away, determined to stay there next time, passing more beautifully backlit steamy ponds.

The downside of visiting Iceland at this time of the year is that the hours of daylight are limited, so on my travelling days I feel quite rushed as I want to be in a certain spot for sunset (which was just after 5pm in Vík on my first day - the 31st October). As a result, I hurried on, and only stopped another couple of times in this wonderful area, south of the Golden Circle sights. I drove along the southern edge of Þingvallavatn and pulled over when I saw some reflections of a line of trees and snow-dusted mountains.

Next stop was to photograph a picturesque church sitting overlooking the next lake I passed - Úlfljótsvatn.

My next stop was a very brief one at Seljalandsfoss to use the loo, before heading around the coast to a lovely little spot that I once drove past without stopping a few years ago, immediately regretting it! I stopped there on my last journey along the same stretch of road in February this year, and the shore was covered in interesting ice patterns and I could see the Vestmannaeyjar islands in the distance. This time it was also totally serene, ice-free, with the selection of rocks that lie in the lagoon (called Holtsos) completely silhouetted against the afternoon sun. Vestmannaeyjar was nowhere to be seen; a light sea-fog had drastically reduced visibility. I wandered along the shore getting various different angles and combinations of the rocks. I just love the spot!

I continued east, driving straight past Skogafoss, prettily illuminated by the afternoon sun, and drove straight on to Dyrholaey, where I'd decided I'd go for my sunset shoot. There were barely any clouds in the sky, so the sunset wouldn't be particularly spectacular, but it was still a glorious drive.

I drove to the east side of the promontory, instead of up the hill to the lighthouse. The beach that I'd watched people nearly get hit by huge waves on had now been cordoned off, and new cordons and warning signs had been added everywhere - one of the impacts of the recent influx of tourists.

I didn't have my hat or gloves on, and as the sun began to disappear it got much much cooler. I stayed out, cold hands and all, until the last of the light had gone, before driving on to Vík, where I stayed at a nice new little guesthouse (Carina).

I headed up the hill and ate at thSuður-Vík restaurant, which wasn't particularly pleasant as it sounded as if there was a herd of elephants running across the floor above my head (toddlers, perhaps?). I then headed home where I enjoyed one of the duty free Borg beers I'd bought, Skyped home, and had an early night, setting my alarm for a reasonable 8.30am (rain was forecast for the following morning). Not a bad little first day.

Click here for my blog from Day 2 - From Vík to Jökulsárlón

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