29 Jun 2019

Iceland #16 - Day 10: Driving from Vík to Álftanes

I woke up early feeling fairly hungover and headed out to the beach, a few steps away. Reynisfjara is always busy, so there was no chance of being first there unless I'd been there an hour before civil twilight. It was a still, clear-ish morning, with just some light wispy clouds out to sea. There wasn't much colour in the sky yet, ten minutes before sunrise. It was fairly cold, but that was just what my hangover needed to push it on its way. The tide was in again, so no chance to walk around the end of the basalt columns area to the cave and closer to the stacks. On all my visits I've only managed to be there at low tide once. The waves crashed against the columns from time to time - as usual the odd sneaker wave would come in further up the beach, causing anyone too close to scarper away from its path.

I wandered along the beach a bit, like on my last visit, until the bigger stack loomed into view. This is a typical sight at Reynisfjara:

The vague pinkness of the skies began to increase on some criss-crossed lines behind the stacks.

I could watch the waves there for hours - and indeed I have done on a number of occasions. But always from a safe distance...

Thousands of birds were flying around the crashing waves - I suppose lots of fish get thrown up for them in the churning waves, although all I've ever seen is flying pebbles!

As I walked further along the beach I could see a woman in white - the usual sight these days in Iceland - having photos taken in a wedding dress, in spite of the biting wind and freezing air temperature that usually accompanies these mornings. No visit to Jökulsárlón these days seems to be complete without a wedding shoot going on either.

I watched a man walk down towards the water's edge, having perhaps not seen the massive warning signs, or more likely just not bothering to worry about them. He walked quite a lot closer than in the shot below before a massive sneaker wave came in, sending him running up the beach, together with a couple of dozen other people who were standing where the wedding couple had been. Second shot was taken from the exact same spot and shows how far the water comes in (only thirty seconds later). My advice here is to look for footprints - if there are none then the water has come in that far and washed them away, and will come in that far again (or further). Just keep way back from the water's edge people!

The sun had come up behind the headland, now illuminating the waves in front of the stacks and the spray from the breaking waves a little - it was quite delightful, once again. The sky had turned from a dusky pink to a dusky orange.

Still I witnessed the same repeated patterns of behaviour - one or two people coming down to the water's edge every couple of minutes, then dashing back as the wave chased them up the beach to safety. A couple would stumble; this time no serious falls or worse.

As the sun rose I walked back towards the cottage and stopped to chat to another photographer on his own. He was a farmer from Northern Ireland and his wife was waiting back at the hotel for him. I advised him to come back to Iceland on his own, but he said he'd have to come back with his photography club, but one was a bit of a liability (the kind that wouldn't keep away from the dangerous waves). Now the sun was up the light had become far harsher so I headed back towards the basalt columns (and the crowds).

I got quite close to the basalt columns to take a few shots of the detail on the rocks and the waves crashing against them, noting where the footprints disappeared (ie. where the biggest sneaker waves were coming up to) and keeping an eye on the sea to my right.

I spent a little time photographing some of the columns and layers of rock along the cliffside at the back of the beach. I just love basalt columns! There were some enormous icicles too, so worth not getting too close to the walls or under the overhangs either!

I took a last couple of shots of the waves, which certainly weren't letting up, before heading back to the cottage (so wonderfully close!).

I got back inside at 10am, but didn't have to check out until 12pm, so took my time showering, downloading photos, recharging batteries, eating breakfast, drinking tea, and eventually packing. I left the sweet little place and went up to the house to pay - no cute old women knitting this time, and then headed on my way. First stop was a little way up the road at Reyniskirkja. The weather was glorious - the skies had more-or-less cleared of clouds and the sun was warm; quite blissful, especially compared with the previous two stormy days. I love the way there is so much variability with the Icelandic weather!

I drove up the hill and back to the main road. Instead of turning left and continuing my journey west I decided to do a little detour, first turning right and then taking a left turn off towards Heiðarvatn. I drove for a few kilometres before reaching a gate and a sign telling me to go no further and that it was private property. It was a beautiful spot - with mountains above the lake and farmland in the foreground. Nice place to live, if a little remote!

Next stop was Dyrholaey, which I hadn't visited for a couple of trips. I pulled over along the way to take a few shots of the surrounding countryside, just before the lagoon.

The road up to the lighthouse is always fun - a series of switchbacks on bumpy, gravelly roads. It was pretty busy, but there was still room to park. I decided to explore in the other direction from usual, walking inland a bit to look at the views. The sky had become hazy and a little overcast, and the light was fairly harsh given it was nearly 1pm. I could just make out the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) in the distance.

I could see some fulmars on the cliffs below, nesting precariously between the patches of remaining snow and icicles. The views from that spot are incredible.

I wandered across to the other side to get a view down towards Reynsifjara and my beloved stacks. The sky was pretty hazy, with a light sea fog over the stacks. It was such a nice day, though, after the previous couple - there was no wind and it was very mild. I decided it would be a good time to do a couple of self-portraits, so set to work with the tripod and running back and forth checking shots.

I turned back and headed up to the lighthouse and beyond it to the view of the arch and stacks in the sea below. I'm always mesmerised watching the massive waves coming in and crashing against the rocks - almost as if they're in slow-motion from that distance. Fulmars flitted and glided around below me.

I continued down along the cliff edge (you can't get too close as there's a rope restricting access for everyone's safety) and headed downhill. The view towards Reynisfjara was less hazy than up on the hill, and again I watched the massive waves slowly coming in. The path led all the way down to the other viewpoint, but I didn't have time to do the whole loop, so turned around and headed back up the hill to the lighthouse. Of course I stopped again to take a few more shots of the stacks, this time with the telephoto lens to get a bit closer.

I took a few last shots of the waves lapping against the magnificent black sand beach stretching out towards the west before getting back on the road in that direction.

My next stop was a waterfall that I hadn't visited before, and oddly had only just learned about. I sometimes think I know Iceland really well, and then I see a couple of photos of somewhere completely new that I've just driven past for the last few years. The one I was visiting was Kvernufoss, just next to Skógafoss, and a short walk up a pretty canyon to reach it.

It was pretty busy on the track there, with quite a few people coming back towards me. I hoped therefore the falls themselves would be empty, but this was not to be so. It's another waterfall where you can walk behind it, and there behind it were a number of photographers, trying to get an original shot of the view from behind a waterfall, like everyone else! The area was mostly in shadow, and so there was a huge amount of ice in various forms - smooth, deadly glass on the paths, little tubes covering grasses, and huge icicles above.

I didn't stay very long, and had no desire to join the others on the treacherous path, so headed back to the car to finish my journey for the day - back towards Reykjavik and on to Álftanes and the warm welcome of my friends.

I stopped at the rocks - relieved to see that they were indeed still there - I had just passed by on the way when the tide was far higher than I'd ever seen it before. The number of bras on the fence opposite had increased. Strange old habit of tourists to leave their underwear on a fence!

I arrived back at Álftanes just before 6pm and spent a lovely evening catching up my friends (of course Sigrún had made delicious food), telling them all about my trip. I was hoping to get a lopapeysa of my own, which Jóhannes' mother was knitting for me, but found out that she had finished it but was not happy with it, so had undone it to start again! I wouldn't need it in the next six months in the UK anyway, so was happy to wait (it is now complete and I will pick it up in September - my very own lopapeysa!!). I set my alarm to get up early with the others, but the weather forecast was dreadful for my last (short) day, so wasn't expecting to see much (apart from the inside of the wonderful Orr shop!).

Click here for my blog from Day 9: More Snow Driving West