12 Dec 2015

Iceland Nov 2015 - Day 8: From Höfn to Vík

The weather-forecast for the morning of my last day in the south-east of Iceland was for near-gale-force winds, dying down a little after 10am. I almost decided against heading back to Stokksnes, thinking it might be too dangerous, stuck out at the end of an exposed spit. But I went anyway, hoping again to match the stunning light that I'd had on the previous trip. The wind was so strong along the way that waterfalls coming over the edge of the cliff under which the tunnel goes were blowing upwards. Not like I've seen at Foss á Siðu, where the wind takes the water upwards a little, but fully upwards over the cliff. I didn't stop to take photos, as I was on a tight time schedule, but managed a couple of rubbish ones from the car on the iPhone.

(iPhone 4S photo)

I pulled up at the café and again the man wasn't there (it wasn't that early - post-sunrise, so I'd expected to see him) so I didn't have to pay the fee, again. The wind wasn't bad along the spit, after all. I parked near the radar station and as I was getting my gear together I noticed a key ring sitting in the centre console pocket. I picked it up, wondering where it was from, and soon remembered that it was the front door key from the yellow cabin, which I'd clearly failed to hand to the owner when I checked out! I was then faced with three options: drive the 30km back through the tunnel and return it to the man by hand, mail it back to the man from Reykjavik (or Vik), or pretend I'd never seen it. Obviously the first option was the only one, even though it meant that time would be even tighter, with an extra 60km added on to my drive.

Feeling annoyed with myself I locked the car and wandered past the pond and down to the beach. A low fast-moving cloud constantly shrouded the top of Vesturhorn, but tiny glimpses of sunlight came and went on the scree slopes below the peaks from time to time. I was using the 60D as the 5Diii was packed away, awaiting its new home of rice (I left before the supermarket opened, so would have to wait until I got to Vík to sort out the rice), meaning that I couldn't get the super-wide shots using the 16-35mm lens (because of the 60D's cropped frame). I used some filters to capture the fast-moving clouds' movement, but there wasn't a great deal of contrast. The tide was out, and again there were no small pebbles to make the cool wave trails; the compositions just looked a bit uninspiring. The sky began to brighten up, but the mountain still looked grey and drab.

After a while I went down on to the beach, took a few from there, then wandered along to the dunes. The sun came out on the grasses and then disappeared. The wind was a little stronger there, so any shots including the grasses showed them blowing around.

I knew I had to leave by around 12pm if I was going to have time for my little detour back to Stafafell and then drive all the way to Vík in time for the pre-sunset golden hour (around 4pm), so I dragged myself away, even though the sun had just come out and now everything looked far more spectacular. A quick stop to take a few last shots of the waves, then back to the car. The first of the other photographers arrived; until then I was alone.

The wind had died down but the waterfalls above the tunnel cliff were still being blown upwards as I approached.

Back through the tunnel I went and continued on towards the yellow cabin. When I was about 5km away I pulled aside to let a car with trailer pass, and noticed that it was the cabin owner with his sheepdog in the passenger seat; he didn't see me. I raced across the bridge, found somewhere to turn around and then sped towards him, chasing him! I soon caught up with him (he was driving at the speed limit - definitely a good idea in windy conditions with a trailer). As I approached I flashed him, then overtook and drew alongside him and waved, before indicating for him to stop. He looked confused but the recognised that it was me, as I ran back to his car waving the key. He wound down his window and thanked me and said, in his usual slow, delivered way, "I did notice that it wasn't there". I apologised and ran back to the car and continued back on my journey towards Vík. Had I left Stokksnes about twenty minutes later I would have passed him closer to Stokksnes, or maybe not at all. Feeling happy that I'd done the right thing I drove onwards.

The clouds along my journey were really fantastic from time to time. I wished that I'd had more time, or that sunset was a couple of hours later, as I just wanted to stop all the time! I pulled off the road a few times when something particularly caught my fancy - like the view of the wonderful Eystrahorn, a couple of reindeer (the only ones I saw on the whole trip, and only because of my detour), the graffiti house with mad clouds above, and the little pond near Hali.

By the time I turned the bend in the road that lies parallel with Jökulsárlón beach the rain that I'd seen in ominous clouds for the past hour hit me. It was torrential, with very little visibility. No stop there this time then - I certainly wan't going to risk ruining another camera with water damage! I drove across the suspension bridge with sadness - it's hard not to stop somewhere that you love so much! I continued on in the rain until I reached the petrol station at Svínafell, where I always stop for one of their yummy burgers (another of my Icelandic road-trip traditions). I didn't hang around long, keen to continue, still fighting with the time to get to Vík in time for the last light. On the weather board there it showed strong winds ahead, so I took it carefully and drove a little slower. At Lómagnúpur I just pulled the car off to the side of the road and took a couple of very quick shots before carrying on. The top was covered by cloud, and there was a vague glow in the distance that I wanted to reach.

From time to time the light was absolutely incredible, with the sun bursting through and lighting up a small patch of the landscape, contrasting vividly with the darkness of the sky and rest of the view. There were some magnificent crepuscular rays in the distance. Iceland at its best!

I pulled off the road at Foss á Siðu and was interested to see that there was a "no entry" sign in front of it. I remembered clambering up the slippery, mossy bank on my first visit, a few years back, so that I was practically underneath the waterfall - that clearly wasn't possible any more (if one paid attention to the rules, anyway). The view from there was lovely, with the sun pouring golden light onto the landscape to the west.

I continued on, now feeling quite rushed if I had any change to get to see any light at Vík. And then the light would be beautiful, so I'd have to stop, setting me back even further.

I was still making good time, and now the rain had stopped and the wind died down it was easier to drive at a decent speed. I slowed down through Kirkjubæyarklaustur, knowing that there were always police cars around. Indeed there were, so driving at 90kmph was definitely sensible. As I drove up and out of the town through the mossy area I noticed some smoke in the distance. Eventually I reached it and noticed a little hut with a fire raging through it, and a bunch of fireman standing around it. I turned round and drove back so that I could stop and get a better look. My friends thought it might have been an exercise for the firemen.

I finally reached Vík at 4.45pm - the same time as sunset. The intense light I'd seen earlier had gone, as the sun had disappeared behind clouds low on the horizon and there wasn't a great deal of sunset light. I headed straight down to the beach, where they'd built a bigger carpark. The beach looked the same as ever, except for a large hay bail that had made its way down to the shoreline, which I tried to avoid capturing in any of my shots. The waves were a bit frothy, so getting some nice shots of the water receding didn't really happen. Doing some longer exposures with filters on seemed to work okay, as the clouds were moving quickly.

As last year I tried to get some good wave shots with the stacks in the background. Once I nearly got covered by a wave that came in about 20 metres further than any other - luckily I saw it coming, picked up my tripod and scarpered up the beach to safety. The light faded quickly, and it started to rain. The wind picked up too, making it not only unpleasant to be out in, but also difficult to take clear photos, as rain was blown onto the filter. A patch of light did appear near the horizon for my last couple of shots.

I called it a day and headed back through the town to the supermarket to get some rice and then on to my lovely hotel - the Icelandair one. I ate in the restaurant there - a bit pricey, but tasty, and then put the 5Diii in its new home for the next few days - a bag of basmati! From my hotel room I could see the stacks (if it were light) and the petrol station, and there was definitely no sign of northern lights. Thick clouds covered the skies and rain belted the windows.

Click here for my Day 7 blog - Back to Jökulsárlón in the Rain
Click here for my Day 9 blog - From Vík to Álftanes

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