28 Mar 2016

Iceland #10 - Day 7: A Glorious Drive East

Some days in Iceland are just utterly glorious. The seventh day of my tenth trip was one such day. It started early, after very little sleep, but that didn't stop me trying to make the most of it. First stop was to visit the beach, before heading off to the east, where I was staying in a new cabin.

The weather forecast was good, and the skies were almost completely clear of cloud, apart from little ones on or just above the horizon. I got to the beach at 7.30am - a little later than hoped - to find quite a scattering of icebergs above the shoreline. Occasional waves would wash over the bergs, but mostly they just sat on the black sand, looking magnificent.

There were already a number of other photographers there, and I got the usual slightly annoyed feeling of not having the place to myself and having to wait my turn to photograph certain icebergs.

I wanted to find the perfect ice for when the sun came above the clouds, but couldn't decide on one, so ended up walking east along the beach and photographing a few, none of which I wasn't all that happy with. I had the zoom lens on with various filter combinations, and nothing really worked. I got some nice results, but nothing as spectacular as I'd hoped. Had the beach been empty I'm sure I would've done better, but that - sadly - is the way it is on the beach at Jökulsárlón these days. Perhaps I should go in early January and hope for solitude...

Once the sun was up I wandered back towards the first and most impressive iceberg I'd found and took a few close-ups of the ice patterns.

The patterns were quite incredible and the some of the photos didn't even really look like ice.

I had my extension tubes with me so tried a few macro shots, but it's quite challenging to work out what to focus on and what aperture to use, since the icebergs have so much depth.

Eventually my back was aching from crouching down and I had set myself a time limit of 10am, so I headed back to Hali. I had to eat breakfast, shower, pack and check out by 11am, but didn't want to be too rushed. The morning light as I left was lovely, so it was sad to drag myself away, but the drive east beckoned. The weather always seems to be nice on the day I have to leave... Obviously I stopped a couple of times on the way back, as I always do.

I always feel sad leaving Hali - it's the one place in Iceland that feels a bit like home. As I walked in the place smelled strongly of rice, and in the kitchen was an enormous rice cooker. A group of Chinese guests had actually brought the cooker with them on holiday, as well as a selection of Tupperware containers and cooking pans. No wonder they have so much luggage with them! I had a nice relaxing breakfast, having a quick look through the sunrise and ice shots, before getting packed up and heading off. In spite of my sadness at leaving, I've become more and more fond of the area to the east of Hali and knew that today would continue to be wonderful. Near the car were frozen puddles with lovely ice patterns.

I stop at a couple of the same places on each trip now - the line of the trees, the favourite tree, the windy road past the tunnel, the cottage at Stafafell - but today the views were so stunning that I seemed to be pulling over every few kilometres. The snow-covered mountains above the stark black roads disappearing into the distance were just mesmerising. I had plenty of time (didn't have to check in at the Bragdavellir cottage until 4pm), and not all that far to drive, so it didn't matter how many stops I made. There were lots.

I was pleased to see my favourite trees still looking as lovely as usual.

I'd seen a lovely dark brown horse with white patches on my last trip, just where the ring-road takes a turn-off to the left (near Höfn) and hoped that it would be close to the road this time so I could get a few shots. The colour is called black skewbald or brúnskjóttur). It was there, but the light was in the wrong place. Its companions came up to me and tried to eat my glove.

As I approached the tunnel the reflection of Vestrahorn and other mountains in the fjords was incredible, so I pulled off near the Dynjandi guesthouse to get a few shots. A tour group was having a picnic in the sunshine.

After I set off again I considered turning off to visit Stokksnes (the beach from which you can see Vestrahorn) but decided to save it for the following day (or the next), since I'd be coming back this way then. I headed instead towards Hvalnes, stopping to capture the bendy road that comes from the tunnel and my little yellow cottage, where I'd be staying the next night.

As I drove further east I kept looking back to see Vestrahorn and Brunnhorn (the pointy mountain next to it) in the most magical light. There was a layer of sea fog on the horizon and scattered hazy clouds above, with the sun illuminating the frozen ground beneath. I must have stopped about 4 or 5 times to capture it, as Brunnhorn eventually disappeared in front of its bigger neighbour. I was transfixed!

I reached Hvalnes and couldn't believe how gorgeous the weather was; I don't think I've ever seen the mountain free of fog or mist before. I parked near the lagoon and wandered along the edge of the water for a while. The previous year I'd seen some wonderful ice bubbles patterns, but this time the lagoon beach was partially covered with snow and the water was frozen and covered in snow.

I then headed over the ridge and down to the ocean beach, completely alone. It was scattered with the usual detritus of shells and seaweed, but I was dismayed to see a plastic bottle with thick black oil had spilled onto the pebbles. There were lots of cool crab shells that looked a bit like skull and crossbones, which I hadn't seen before. Seabirds caught the sunlight as they flitted around the peaks of Eystrahorn above.

I wandered back to the car and took a few more shots on the other side of the road, where the frozen lagoon was a strange greeny-yellow colour, before driving around the corner to the parking area near the lighthouse.

The weather was just glorious: blue skies, no wind and really mild. I remembered a visit there the previous year where I'd had to shelter behind the small hill from gale force winds. And on my last visit when it rained and rained and rained all day. I took a few self-portrait shots (including a few silly ones), using the remote control, before heading onwards, keen to get past the scary bit of road (where there had been a few avalanches recently) and on to the cottage near Djúpivogur.

I was fairly nervous driving along the avalanche section, past huge piles of fallen snow and rock and smaller piles of freshly-fallen rock at the side of the road. There was a 4km section where the road is cut out of a very steep scree cliff, and is the only road I've driven on in Iceland with guardrails (for which I was thankful!). Soon I had passed the difficult section and from then on the roads were fine, undulating around hills and fjords. The sky had become more and more hazy as the afternoon wore on, and the further I drove east.

By the time I reached the turn-off to Bragdavellir I was on the edge of a patch of sea-fog that clung to the ground. I found my cottage and parked up as the sun was about to dip behind the ridge behind, with an outlook of fog to the front. The cottage was nice - one of 5 identical ones - with a lovely terrace at the front, which would make a lovely spot for an evening beer in summer. It had become much cooler as the sun disappeared. The internet in the cabin wasn't working, so I tried to call the owner, but got no answer. I wanted to know what the weather and aurora-forecast were doing, so I really wanted to get online. I should really have driven to Djúpivogur to see if it was clear of fog but was too exhausted after my lack of sleep the previous night. I took a few photos of the cabin, farm and trees nearby.

After hearing nothing for an hour and still no wifi I texted my hubby to ask him to email them. An hour later the owner came by and informed me that all the internet and 3G communications in the whole of the area were down, and that usually it would take a couple of hours to get fixed. As the skies darkened the area fell into a grey foggy mizzle.

I cooked some pasta, had a beer, downloaded photos and felt unbelievably tired, listening to the increasingly heavy rain outside. At 9pm I was just about to take myself to bed when the internet came back on. I spent an hour doing the usual social media stuff, chatted to hubby on Skype, and checked the forecasts. Unfortunately the weather was going to be poor until around 4pm the following day, so I wasn't sure what I was going to do, given that I'd have to check out by 11am, I only had a short drive back to Stafafell, where I could check in from around 3pm. I didn't fancy driving all the way back to the icebergs again - like on my last trip - so I felt a bit gloomy as I finally went to bed, listening to the wind and rain battering the cabin with increasing force.

Click here for my blog from Day 6: The Icebergs Return
Click here for my blog from Day 8: Rain, Rain and Then Vesturhorn