3 Apr 2017

Iceland #12 - Day 6: Stafafell to Jökulsárlón via Stokksnes

The weather was rainy again when I woke up on my second and last morning at the yellow cottage. I had set the alarm for an early wake-up, kind of hoping it would be grey, so that I could have a little extra sleep. I poked my head under the curtain, saw greyness and went back to sleep for another couple of hours, not getting up until past 9am. These photography trips just make me so exhausted and I really struggle to get up early, so any opportunity to sleep is taken (ie. when the sky doesn't promise any good sunrise colours). I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my little cottage, went and said goodbye to Sigurður and his lovely shy sheepdog, paid him, and set off. First stop was the little road down towards the lagoon opposite the road up to the farm and the cottage. Fog clung to the base of Brunnhorn in the distance, with low cloud shrouding its pointed peaks.

I drove down the road for about a kilometre before parking and taking a few shots of the layers of sand in front of me. So much of the Icelandic landscape - especially along the southern coast - is made up of meandering, braided rivers, intertwined with sand banks made of black sand and gravel. The layers of the sand, water, fog, mountain and cloud looked beautiful from here, the sun just managing to shine on one of the layers in the distance.

The car even got its photo taken.

As I drove back up the road the sun shone on a couple of horses, wet from an earlier shower.

I also got a last glimpse of my lovely cabin, perched beneath the mountains.

I drove back along towards the tunnel. I thought about stopping at Skutafoss again, but decided to crack on as I wanted to spend a good amount of time at Stokksnes as well as Jökulsárlón again. I did pull over to take a couple of shots of the Lón lagoon and the winding road approaching the tunnel. The scenery looked a bit grim with most of the snow washed away from the recent rain. The light over the lagoon was lovely though, which bright patches and fog nestled in the valleys.

The sky brightened as I popped out the other side of the long tunnel, and I took the first turn down towards Stokksnes. The road has been resurfaced, so the entrance fee money is clearly being spent on something. I did enjoy it when it was a little more hairy though! I stopped briefly along the way to say hello to some horses, which were wet, busy eating and not remotely interested in me or my camera.

I love the colours of the scree slopes along that road - a tiny patch of snow somewhat spoiled the shot though!

I arrived at the café and went in to pay for my ticket. I'd only paid once before, as I certainly wasn't going to leave money in a box if no-one was there! There's been quite a lot of controversy about this, but now at least they've printed some tickets and it's kind-of official! I decided to check out the viking village and drove around the hillside towards it. I wasn't sure if I could drive all the way there, but given that there weren't any no-entry signs (and there are plenty everywhere else!) I decided it would be fine. The village is a very strange place, with replica viking houses and an odd structure covered in concrete. Apparently the place was built as a film set and was largely unused until 2014 when a film called Vikingr was set there (yet to come out). It was a very bleak, muddy and miserable place! I'd left the car with only the 70-200mm lens, so my photographic opportunities were a bit limited.

I drove back to the café and onwards across the long black strip towards the headland. Ah it was great to be back - it really is a truly magnificent spot! I pulled over along the way to capture the small mounds of grass-topped black sand - it was quite ethereal.

I stopped again to photograph a couple horse-riding, with a black lab trotting alongside them.

Unsurprisingly an area has been set aside as a car-park. Although it's a popular spot with photographers I've never seen more than a few cars there (although I'm sure it's busier at sunset), but even now there were only three other cars there.

I parked the car and headed towards the little pond that I love, to see how the reflections were doing. The reflections were doing great! The cloud had lifted a little, which accentuated a lower pointy peak, which was reflected beautifully in the still pond (what on earth had happened to the famous Icelandic wind on this trip?!). I took a couple of shots and then a woman in a long coat fortuitously wandered into the shot, adding a sense of drama and scale. After a moment she wandered off, but I was pretty pleased with what I captured.

Even without her, it was still pretty nice, and I put on a wider lens and got a bit more of the range that makes up Vestrahorn. I must return in summer to see the grass green, rather than the unattractive yellowy-brown, though...

I wandered down towards the beach, where the wind had picked up a little, but nothing like I've experienced on previous trips. I passed the woman in the long coat, who turned out to be a friendly Asian woman in her 50s - her husband was busy with a tripod in the dunes. The waves weren't particularly dramatic, but still the odd one came in a bit further and produced pretty trails as they receded. As usual I played around with a few different ND filters to get longer shutter speeds. A storm was coming in, so the skies were nice and contrasty.

The storm came in quickly and soon it began raining. Having learned my lesson with the camera's weatherproofness (or lack thereof) I got out the cover to protect it, and continued shooting a little blind.  I was using my 24-70mm lens that has a long hood, so the rain stayed off the filter at least. The three black points of Brunnhorn were soon hidden by black cloud.

I suddenly noticed a patch of sun towards the western side of Vestrahorn and the end of an intense rainbow appeared briefly.

Within a minute the sun and the rainbow were gone, the storm was moving away, Brunnhorn was back in view and it was brightening up a bit.

As the rain stopped I was able to remove the raincover, which makes it far easier to actually see what I'm doing! Another storm was moving in across the sea towards the mountains.

I wandered down onto the beach and out onto the wide open expanse of black sand. After waves recede the mountains are nicely reflected in the water for a few minutes before the water disappears completely.

The sky kept changing colour, as the storm moved eastwards, and the rain returned, so back on with the raincover.

The sun reappeared, bringing with it another rainbow stretched across across the mountain. I didn't have my wide-angle lens on the camera, and a brief attempt at a two-shot panorama failed miserably, given that I couldn't really see.

I could see the rain falling to the south of the mountain peaks as the storm passed by. A few minutes later and the rain stopped again. This is a typical kind of day in Iceland, and actually one of my favourites, despite being challenging.

I stood on the beach for ages, the odd larger wave coming in over my feet, with reflections visible in the rippled sand when the waves retreated each time. I put the wide angle lens on when the rain stopped so I was able to capture the whole of the Vestrahorn mountain from side to side, with Brunnhorn just peaking out behind it.

The dunes beckoned so I headed back up the beach. I put the macro lens on for a short while to photograph some of the usual beach detritus - stones, grass, feathers, bits of seaweed and fragments of shells.

Obviously first thing in the morning would be the best time of day to visit the dunes at Stokksnes, when the wind has blown away the previous day's footprints, and the sand looks pristine. By the time I got to the dunes it was already 1pm and the sand was criss-crossed with prints, somewhat restricting the photographic opportunities.

There are plenty of these mounds though, so if you wander around something will come along that pleases the eye (and hides the footprints!). There were some small streams of water in the sand, leading my eye towards the mounds. I realised that if I turned the polarising filter to a certain spot then the light reflected off the wet sand; otherwise it looked black and dull.

Footprints are just visible in the shot above, but only just! The sun even came out for me, lighting up parts of the scree slopes below the peaks. It wasn't long before another shower arrived and yet another rainbow appeared. This time the rain stayed away from me though.

I really could have stayed there all day, but I was mindful of that wonderful beach further west, littered with icebergs, calling my name... I headed back to the car, chatted to a photographer up on a dune, took a last couple of shots, and then drove back across the strip, past the café and back along the winding road.

The horses had stopped eating, so I pulled over and spent a little time with them, trying to capture some details of their heads and faces, now bathed in afternoon sunlight. I've never noticed how cool the inside of their ears was before!

And then it was back in the car, along the last stretch before rejoining the ring-road. I didn't stop again until just before the junction for the road to Höfn, where there were more horses - this time standing on the hillsides in the sunshine. Most were on the north side of the road, but three were on the other side and seemed to be communicating with the others - lots of horsey noises going on. I went up to say hello and they tried to eat my hand, as usual.

Back in the car and onwards. I didn't stop as many times as usual - driving straight on past the derelict graffiti house and stopping only briefly at my favourite tree, looking lovely and crooked as always.

I didn't stop again until I reached the little collection of settlements at Hali. I was staying in a newly opened guesthouse a couple of kilometres closer to Jökulsárlón, called Reynivellir, but it's part of the Gerdi guesthouse, so I had to check in there. While I was there I chatted for a while to a couple of guides from one of the many companies that offer trips there - they were having a little rest while their group was inside one of the ice caves nearby. They both seemed a little disillusioned by the whole thing - they spent far too long driving and far too little time actually enjoying Iceland. There was a cute dog there, curled up outside the front door by someone's wellies.

As I left, the dog got up, came and said hello to me, and then cocked his leg against the guides' van, and it was the longest wee I'd ever seen a dog do - must've lasted at least a minute! The guy from the guiding company had said he was a bit mad. The silly thing then tried to chase my car as I drove away. I got to Reynivellir, dumped some of my bags, had a quick cup of tea, and then headed to the beach at Jökulsárlón, this time parking on the eastern side of the bridge.

It was 5.45pm by the time I got there - just enough time to catch some late afternoon light and any sunset colours that might materialise. It had become pretty grey during my drive - I'd definitely left the best of the light behind me at Stokksnes! There were still plenty of icebergs - no repeat of the disaster the previous year - and one particularly caught my eye. As the sky hinted pink for a brief time this one (with a smaller one in front of it) looked to me like a sleeping animal, its head curved inwards as my dog does.

As the light faded I headed back to the car and to my new home - slightly closer than Hali had been, and not nearly as expensive as their new accommodation is. It also had a well-stocked kitchen so I was able to make my tuna pesto pasta, and save a bit of money on the restaurants nearby. The cloud cover was 100%, so no chance of any lights, so I had an early night; the forecast was for a brightening up morning, so the alarm clock was set early.

Click here for Day 5 - Exploring Hvalnes
Click here for Day 7 - Jökulsárlón

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