5 Dec 2015

Iceland Nov 2015 - Day 5: Jökulsárlón to Stafafell

In 2013 I discovered the area just a little further east of Jökulsárlón, and now on each trip I spend a few days there. There's probably so much more to see, but the beaches and mountain views from Stokksnes and Hvalnes are where I spend most of my time - the views are spectacular, as are the views along the way from Highway 1.

I woke up early and headed to Jökulsárlón for my last sunrise there. The weather was a little grey, and the forecast was the same for much of the day, with the usual rain included. When I reached the beach it was nearly light, but no sign of any colourful sunrise to speak of. The beach was also pretty empty of other photographers, unlike the previous day. There weren't a great deal of large icebergs left on the east beach, just small ones scattered along the shore.

The clouds began to break up and a patch of red appeared, which grew and grew, eventually illuminating small scattered clouds above, as well as reflecting pink in the relatively calm sea and icebergs in the surf. It was probably the most spectacular sunrise I've seen on all of my visits there; at least the colours were the most intense.

The pink began to fade away, but it was still beautiful and remarkably calm, with little wind.

I decided to try some more wave movement shots, even though the sea was relatively calm. The light wasn't great for this though, and the water just looked a greeny-grey drab colour. I'd seen much more pleasing colours in the water on previous visits.

Before I left I captured a couple of icebergs that looked as if it was a mother iceberg taking her baby to sea for the first time.

Just as I left a flock of cormorants flew overhead. I still had a couple of filters on the lens and it was on a 2-second delay, so impossible to get a sharp picture as they passed, but I quite liked the slightly-blurred shot I just managed to get.

I walked back to the car and passed a sweet little (dead) starfish among the pebbles.

I drove back to Hali, packed up my stuff, checked out, and then headed east towards Stafafell where I was staying in the same yellow cabin as last time for a couple of nights. As usual I stopped along the way at a couple of my favourite spots - the first of which is the line of birch trees. It was strange to see the landscape dotted with sheep - didn't feel quite so desolate.

My next stop was the pool with the my favourite Icelandic tree (yes, I have a favourite Icelandic tree!) with the mountains and glacier in the background. It had been a cold night and there was still a little frost around the edges of the pools. By now the sky was really dull, but there was a tiny patch of light on the horizon.

I noticed that the trees behind the pool were almost perfectly reflected in the still, partly-frozen water, so took a few tree-only shots that I rather liked.

Back in the car and onwards and the fog was coming down over the mountaintops. The only other stop I made before reaching the tunnel just east of Höfn was at a derelict house where I'd noticed some graffiti on my last visit but hadn't stopped. Previously I hadn't noticed the face.

I drove on, filled up with petrol at Nesjahverfi, turned left to continue east and through the tunnel, hoping for better weather on the other side (which has happened before!). No such luck, it was even worse!

I drove straight to the cottage, although I knew I was too early to check in. When I got there I called the owner, but he was out somewhere, so I decided to drive to Hvalnes before returning to check in.

I parked at the lighthouse on the promontory at Hvalnes and got out to take a few photos, just as it started to spit. Fog hung over the mountains back towards Stokksnes, and a gap in the clouds out to sea revealed the sun for a few minutes. Thousands of seabirds flew around the top of the peak, that drifted in and out of fog.

I jumped back in the car and headed back around the headland, pulling off to park at the beach along the lagoon that overlooks the mountains at Hvalnes. Last time I was there the lagoon was semi-frozen with ice bubbles along the shore. This time there was no ice to be seen, but a few swans paddled around at the shoreline.

I continued on, back towards Stafafell, pulling over at the car park along the shore of the lagoon. The sky was suddenly quite amazing, reflected in a patch of mirror-like water, the mountains just visible in the distance. Within minutes the wind had picked up and the still water had gone, so I tried a few long exposure shots with one of my ND filters - worked a treat!

I wanted to be at Stokksnes beach for sunset (if there was one), so I rushed back to the cabin, checked in and immediately headed back out, westwards, through the tunnel and along the wonderful road that leads around the bottom of the cliffs to Stokksnes. It looks far prettier with some snow and sunshine, though.

I pulled in next to the café to see if the owner was around, and whether I'd need to pay the "tourist tax" to drive along the spit. There was no sign of him, so I drove on, along the black sandy road. The light wasn't great, and it didn't look likely that I'd be graced with a sudden burst of light illuminating the mountain orange, as had happened on my last trip. As a result, the visit was a little disappointing. When you've seen something in extremely favourable conditions, nothing else will do!

I parked at the end of the road, near the entrance to the radar station, and walked past the little pond down towards the beach. Actually to the west - behind me - the sky had cleared and there were some pretty scattered clouds.

I reached the beach and was disappointed to find the tide fairly far out, the sea pretty calm, and no lovely pebbles for the waves to wash over. I walked onto the beach and found a few seaweed-covered rocks and set up my tripod to take a few long exposures. They didn't turn out too badly, but the light on the mountains was very dull. There was a vague hint of pink in the sky to the east, but it never amounted to any more.

I wandered over to the dunes, which too were dull without any sun and were blowing wildly in the wind. I noticed some remaining patches of green in the grasses on the dunes - it must look far more spectacular in the summer!

I decided to call it a day before it got dark, so headed back to the car and back along the road towards home. Before I reached the main road I noticed a stream in the sand, winding out into the lagoon. Behind the sky was dusky and some clouds were reflected in the lagoon. I parked and ran down the hill to get my last shot for the day.

The skies darkened and I got back to my warm yellow cabin in the dark. The weather forecast for the following day was for total cloud cover, as well as rain and wind, but tonight the skies remained clear. After I'd cooked my pasta I decided to try some star trail shots outside (northern lights forecast wasn't high). I did a few test shots, but the lights from the cabin were too bright and the car was in the way. I turned down off some lights, reversed the car down the hill a little and then finally set up my tripod and camera with the intervalometer programmed to take a series of shots (at shutter speed of 25 seconds, f/4, ISO 2000). I went back into the cabin, and checked from time to time from the front door that the red light on the camera was still showing. Once the light had stopped I knew that the battery had run out and it was time for a fresh battery and another series.

Some clouds came and went, but my star trail software managed to exclude the clouds. I managed to capture some northern lights, as well as a couple of hours of star trails - rather fortuitously, the north star was directly behind the cabin, so the star trails showed a circular movement right above it! I think it turned out quite nicely, also managing a few individual frames which I rather liked too. 

Not a bad end to a rather good day!

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