Tuesday, 17 January 2017

All The Gear Iceland Special

We've just returned from a short trip to Iceland - a country I have wanted to visit for a long time. While we didn't do much in the way of walking, we certainly crammed a lot into a short period of time, especially considering the short daylight hours that prevail in the winter - sunrise was not until 11am while we were there.

Here's a short synopsis of our trip.

Our flight arrived into Keflavík mid-morning which gave us ample time to collect our car and head straight to the Blue Lagoon - Iceland's premier tourist trap. That said, the Blue Lagoon is a wonderful experience, more so in the winter I think.
The Blue Lagoon entrance - around lunchtime
The lagoon itself is man-made, however, the constant 39 degree water is natural, pumped out of the ground by the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station. The water is rich in minerals which are supposedly very good for treating skin complaints. Most of these photos were taken with a waterproof camera, which is allowed in the pool.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon
Sunset at the Blue Lagoon
It was dark by the time we left, making the short drive to Reykjavík and finding our hotel on the outskirts of the main centre.

Reykjavík is an interesting little city, the most northerly capital city of any sovereign states in the world. The city (and surrounds) is home to two thirds of Iceland's population (200,000). We spent our first full day wandering around the streets in the bitter cold, visiting the sights including the Sun Voyager sculpture, the Harpa conference centre, Tjörnin (Reykjavík's central lake which was frozen solid) and the main streets of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur. The highlight of any trip to Reykjavík is its immense modern cathedral, Hallgrímskirkja.
Tjörnin and the city hall
Tjörnin 
Reykjavik
Reykjavik
Reykjavik
The famous Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand
The impressive Harpa
The Sun Voyager
Hallgrímskirkja was built in 1986, designed to reflect aspects of Iceland's landscape. For example, the rectangular posts that flank the main church tower resemble the basalt columns found along the south coast.
Hallgrimskirkja
Hallgrimskirkja and the statue of Leif Eriksson
Hallgrimskirkja 
Perhaps more impressive at night
We followed up our first day in Iceland by striking out on the snow-covered open roads, following the prescribed route around the Golden Circle before continuing on to the southern village / town of Vík. The Golden Circle encompasses a stop at three of Iceland's most famous attractions; Þingvellir, Geysir and Gulfoss.
Arriving at Þingvellir mid-morning
Þingvellir (pronouncend Thing-vellir) is a national park in about 40 km northeast of Reykjavík. It is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

We arrived at the site mid-morning, still early enough for it to be dark as we left the car to make a brief tour of the main sights. This included Almannagjá, one of the mighty cracks formed by the shifting plates, Öxarárfoss, a lovely waterfall that cascades over Almannagjá, the Alþingi (assembly), Iceland's first parliamentary location (formed in the year 930) and the Lögberg, or Law Rock, a rocky outcrop that was used for lawmakers to make speeches.
Almannagjá
Almannagjá
Sara beneath the towering rift
The river Öxará at Drekkingarhylur
Looking across the rift valley
Öxarárfoss
Öxarárfoss
Öxarárfoss
The Lögberg
An hours drive from Þingvellir are the geyser fields, home to the Great Geysir and Strokkur - two spouting geysers from which the worldwide term 'geyser' takes its name. Despite the site generally being referred to as 'Geysir' it is actually Strokkur that is the more active of the two, erupting every five minutes or so, much to the delight of the gathered crowds.
The erupting Strokkur
Strokkur
Sara wrapped up against the elements
The Geyser fields
A short drive further is the huge Gullfoss waterfall - an absolute must-see, where the wide Hvítá rushes southward, and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages into a crevice 32m deep. It's a remarkable sight.
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
After a hair raising drive along the snow-covered Rte 30 lead us back to the Rte 1, where we drove through the night to Vík, stopping on route for a brief look at the Sejalandsfoss waterfall. Vík would be our temporary base while we explored the Skaftafell National Park and the immense Vatnajökull glacier.
Sejalandsfoss 
The following day, we set off early for another long drive in the dark along the south coast to Jökulsárlón, one of the jewels of Iceland. Translated literally as "glacial river lagoon", it is the location where the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier meets the sea.
Some of the immense scenery along the Ring Road en-route to Jökulsárlón
As the icebergs break away from the tongue of the glacier, they drift slowly to the mouth of the lagoon and eventually join the ocean. They are stated to float in the deep lagoon for around 5 years before they are released. Most are then broken up as they hit the waves and end up marooned on the black sands of the beach. It is an incredible place, even in the pouring rain.
Jökulsárlón 
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
In front of the camera for once
A few miles east still is the Hali Farm where we met our guide for a tour of a natural ice cave. The caves form as glacial melt water forms rivers during the summer which. Once the glacier stops melting in the winter, the tunnels remain open, allowing tourists like us to step inside. These caves are stunningly beautiful and, as I mentioned, are 100% natural.
Gearing up
The entrance to the cave
Inside the ice cave
Inside the ice cave
Inside the ice cave
The ice cave
Transportation - Iceland style
The following day we were heading back west towards Reykjavík, first stopping at Reynisfjara - the legendary black sand beach. We hadn't anticipated a stop here but decided we'd give it a go anyway, despite the snowy weather. I'm glad we did. It's another beautiful location.
Reynisfjara
The sea stacks
Reynisfjara
Our visit coincided with the sunrise which dramatically lit the restless sea and the eerie basalt sea stacks of Reynisdrangar which stand a short distance off shore.
Sunrise
Reynisdrangar 
A restless sea
Reynisdrangar 
Reynisdrangar 
Reynisdrangar 
Sunrise at Reynisfjara
Continuing on, we made a short stop at the legendary Skógafoss waterfall, feature of many Icelandic postcards. Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25m and a drop of 60m. I had hoped to take some long exposure photos of it but the weather was awful while we were there so the big camera stayed in the car.
Skógafoss 
Skógafoss
Luckily, by the time we had reached Sólheimajökull, the weather had picked up and, once again, we were meeting some guides.
The car at Sólheimajökull
Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap and, thanks to its location near the main ring road, it's ripe for exploration. We donned our crampons and headed off, single file, into an interesting and exciting world of ice.
Sólheimajökull 
Sólheimajökull 
The crumpled front of Sólheimajökull 
Heading out onto the ice
Remains of an ice tunnel
Remains of an ice tunnel
Sólheimajökull 
Sólheimajökull 
Sólheimajökull 
Sólheimajökull 
The glacier walk was probably the highlight of the whole trip and it will live long in the memory. Another long drive along the snowy south coast took us back to Keflavik in preparation for our flight home the following day.
Sólheimajökull  
The beautiful blue ice
Another amazing ice tunnel
The sun begins to set
Sólheimajökull 
Sólheimajökull 
Sunset
I was blown away by Iceland, even if the weather was pretty questionable for our entire stay. It's a remarkable country and I was already thinking about another trip on the flight home. A winter visit can be a challenge, particularly because of the weather and short daylight but I believe you are rewarded with a greater sense of adventure. If we do return it will be in the spring as we did miss out on some of the amazing scenery thanks to most of our driving being done in the dark. Then we will have more time to explore this amazing place.