16 Apr 2016

Iceland #10 - Day 9 - Driving West to Hrífunes

My penultimate day started early, with a trip down to Hvalnes beach for sunrise. The weather forecast was for clear skies, but obviously that never happens - and besides, a little cloud usually makes sunrise far more impressive. It wasn't going to be a spectacular one, however, and the intense light I was hoping would light up Eystrahorn as the sun broke above the horizon didn't happen. It still looked quite nice though.

I parked on the road to the lighthouse, as usual, and headed down to the beach on the east side. There was quite a lot of cloud around but the sun occasionally peeked through as it rose. A few rain clouds passed above the horizon. It was extremely windy, as usual.

It's a nice beach with some rocks which make for some pleasant water trails as the waves recede. The tide was in, so I could barely see the bigger rocks that sit a little further out, where I'd captured some cool shots of the water flowing down the steps of the rocks on my first visit there.

I kept checking behind me, and took a few shots of the clouds moving around the peak, but the sun just wasn't playing ball, stubbornly hiding behind low clouds on the horizon above the sea. Ominous rainclouds came and quickly passed.

After a while I wandered a bit further along the beach towards the rocks, where massive waves crashed against the shore every minute or so. I tried a few long exposure shots of the mountains behind, but the clouds weren't quite right for it.

The sun, at least, finally came out properly and made the mountain look rather special.

I walked on a bit and tried to photograph the waves. I've tried to capture them at that spot before, and it's pretty challenging to get a shutter speed fast enough to get the movement, and an aperture narrow enough not to have the foreground totally out of focus. The sun was now beginning to appear in its full glory, brightening up the clouds, making the task of photographing the waves even more challenging. Some of the waves were enormous.

It's a pretty exposed spot and eventually I had to leave as my fingers had frozen - a common occurrence. I say to myself "oh just a couple more" and my fingers then freeze up even more! Given the way my fingers felt slightly numb for a couple of weeks after I got back to London, I think I probably overdid it! I stopped to take a few shots of the mountain, upon which the sunlight still fell, before getting back in the car and heading back to my lovely yellow cabin to pack up.

Along the way I pulled in at the parking area and climbed down to the beach where chunks of ice had broken up and a few rocks lay on the surface. One thing I'd seen lots of before in Lónsfjorður were whooper swans, but now there were none and I hadn't seen any on my trip; it was obviously too early for them to be back in Iceland. My fingers were just about functioning again.

There was a lot of cloud over the mountains to the west, where I was heading; the best of the weather for the day was definitely behind me. As I reached the cabin I wanted to take a few more photos of the wonderful view down towards Brunnhorn and Vestrahorn, but the cloud was now obscuring the view.

After packing up the cabin I stopped by at the house to pay, and the owner, Sigurður, drove up from the farm (he has a lot of sheep!). His sheepdog is very cautious, but eventually lets me pet her before I leave each time. I promised to get a copy of the star trail photo for him, which he said he'd like to have on his wall. I'd left the key in the door, so no chance of forgetting it this time and a mad dash back to return it. As I left, the clouds had moved on a bit and the sun came out briefly over the farmland and the peaks in the distance.

The drive between Stafafell and the tunnel before Höfn is one of my favourite stretches of road, so obviously I had to stop a few times, even though I was excited to get back to Jökulsárlón for one last little session. The light wasn't great, with too much cloud, but occasionally a shaft of light would appear to illuminate a spot of the land near me.

After the obligatory stop before the tunnel I drove through and onwards towards Jökulsárlón. For once I didn't stop to capture the favourite tree, although I did make a very quick stop at the graffiti house, to photograph some reindeer, and at the line of trees a little further on.

Like the previous day the sides of the roads were lined with intensely blue ice pools, especially along the last stretch of the road before the lagoon.

By the time I reached Jökulsárlón the weather had totally deteriorated and it was sleeting. No worries, I had my rain cover and set off along the beach with the zoom lens only and the 6-stop ND filter - that should do it, I thought. There were a few icebergs on the beach of some size, but it wasn't massively inspiring, especially with contrast-less cloudy skies along the horizon. There was one rather nice iceberg, but otherwise there wasn't much to keep me there. The place was unusually deserted (actually it usually is when it's pissing with sleet). The sleet got heavier and battered at my back until I could bear it no more. I was drenched and freezing. I stayed less than half an hour - a very quick visit for me - and then headed off, hoping for something more inspiring on the road west, warming up and drying off in the car.

There wasn't much more to inspire me that day, and the drive was long and dull, through rain and high winds. I brightened it up by listening to some rather ridiculous music ('80s Madonna, for example - I don't think this is what she had in mind when she sang "Holiday"...), singing along, as usual. It seemed to brighten my mood a little, which is never great when the weather is poor. I stopped briefly at my beloved Lómagnúpur, the top of which was shrouded in low cloud. I realised that I'd never actually seen it before with a slight dusting of snow. What I could see of it looked lovely!

After passing Kirkjubæjarklaustur I pulled over again to take a few shots of the moss-covered lava, but the light was pretty poor and nothing looked very impressive.

I could've taken a detour to the canyon, but was worried about the snowiness of the roads, and didn't want to risk getting stuck. I continued onwards and soon found the turn-off up to Hrífunes, where I was spending the night. I passed more blue pools, but otherwise the landscape was fairly stark and dire. I drove straight to the guesthouse and checked in. I was greeted by a very friendly young woman, and was shown to my tiny room just off the dining room. It was nice to actually stay in a place with other people, having led a pretty solitary life the previous few days.

I headed back out to take a few shots of the surrounding area - there is a pretty river and canyon just down from the guesthouse, with a tight turning in the road down to a bridge. Part of the road had been washed away by recent rains, so driving needed a lot of care. I stopped by some of the blue pools, but the squally showers hampered any proper photography efforts. The snowy landscape was dotted with little patches of moss and small shrubs, and after a couple of handheld shots I soon headed back to the comfort of the guesthouse.

In the evening the place was packed, and we sat around two communal tables and ate dinner and chatted about our trips and the usual traveller conversations about where we were from and what we did back home. Most of the couples were English, but there were a couple of Canadian girls and a cute couple who'd met for one night in a bar in Switzerland months ago and had finally reunited in Iceland (he was French, she was American - and they were clearly smitten!!). I had a couple of the stouts and ended up feeling quite drunk - others were drinking too, so at least I wasn't alone. The biggest conversation topic, as is common among Brits and Icelandics - was the weather. One couple recounted a story of getting stuck in a parking area overlooking Þingvellir and having to call to get winched out, costing £180 - I'd clearly had a narrow (and cheap!) escape when I got bogged down in the Jökulsárlón parking area. As happened on the last day of my trip the previous February, a massive storm was forecast for the drive to Reykjavik; it was due to die down a little by the early afternoon, but  we were all a little worried. I went to bed listening to the wind and rain battering the place, hoping that I'd make it back to the capital safely.

Click here for my blog from Day 8 - Rain, Rain and then Vesturhorn!
Click here for my blog from Day 10 - A Stormy Drive Back to Reykjavík


  1. This makes me want to explore Iceland more than anything, what an incredible looking place! Some of the best Iceland photos I've seen (and trust me I have looked at a lot).

  2. Love the Jökulsárlón pictures. Must make that cold 30 minutes all worth it