Land of Fire & Ice - 8 Days | ICE
During my three-week China trip that I had back in November/December (2016), I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in almost 5 years, Mark Harrison. He showed me what it’s like to go outside your comfort zone onto some of Shanghai’s tallest buildings, get off the beaten path laid out by tourists and enjoy every moment set in front of you. While working on photos and having a coffee one evening in the Tunxi district of Huangshan, we thought it’d be a great venture to head out to Iceland for a week.
Upon returning to Canada from China, I kept in contact with Mark about dates that could possibly work and we decided that April 30th till May 6th would be ideal. I had a bit more flexibility with my dates and decided to book my flight there a day earlier so I’d be able to check out the capital, Reykjavik.
With everything set in stone, we began the waiting game as the months led up to our departure. It seriously felt like forever as we anxiously awaited this new country that we had insanely high expectations for. Then before you know it, it was time to pack and get ready to leave.
Iceland. What do you know about Iceland so far? I remember watching The Mighty Ducks while I was younger and hearing that it's more green, and that Greenland is actually ice. I've been told of the active volcanic activity and the fridges winters that bring along a beautiful summer.
What was to come in the next eight days was nothing short of spectacular and I couldn't be looking forward to sharing those stories with you more!
Day 1 – April 28th
(Departure to Reykjavik)
The day has come! I’ve been excited about travelling each and every time but this I knew was going to be something special. My first memory of Iceland correlates with the movie The Mighty Ducks when coach Gordon Bombay is told by team Iceland’s assistant coach that Iceland is in fact green and Greenland is actually ice. That has stuck with me ever since. Over the last couple years, Iceland’s tourism rate has increased dramatically. As of now, the country with a population barely scraping past 300,000 sees more than 5 million tourists a year. With the rate constantly increasing, I knew it was better to get there now.
The struggle with living in southwestern Ontario is this… The main international hub is located in Toronto, roughly 4 hours a way which means you’ll either be taking a 3 ½ hour car ride, a four train ride or an hours plane ride. I chose to go with the train since it’s quite relaxing to float along the tracks, get caught up on some work and do any final preparations that need to be done.
With taking the train from Windsor to Toronto, you’ll arrive at Union station. Union station is the main rail hub of downtown Toronto where you’ll need to catch another train called the UP Express to head on over to Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). Once I arrived at Terminal 1, I needed to make my way over to another Terminal via a sky train type service and then it was onto the regular routine of checking into an airport. A lot of people hate the idea of sitting in an airport waiting for their plane but I enjoy it. Security checkpoint is always a bit tense but the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. I arrived quite early since I took the VIA Rail train from Windsor so time was completely on my side.
Took one last warm meal from Tim Hortons and then it was the red eye flight straight to Keflavik, Iceland!
Day 2 – April 29th
The red eye flight to Keflavik means I was arriving at 04:00 local time. Can you imagine how dead the streets were at that time of day? Unfortunately, the weather had a slight drizzle to it. I picked up my luggage from the turnstile and proceeded to my shuttle bus that would drop me off downtown Reykjavik. Customary to many large cities, the airport is often located in the country side or nearby city. The airport here was based in Keflavik, which was a short 30-40 minute ride to the capital.
We made a quick transition from shuttle bus to shuttle bus at a separate location and then within 10 minutes I was let off in the middle of a new city waiting to be explored. Dealing with luggage while it’s raining out isn’t ideal, so I made my way towards the hostel I would be staying at for the night, Oddsson. Oddsson hostel was perched right along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline and my bedroom view was overlooking the nearby roundabout leading to the mountains.
Not one to waste time in a new place, I quickly dropped my luggage and headed out towards my first point of interest. I chose to walk along the shoreline during the slight drizzle and only whip my camera out on certain occasions. I must have walked a good 2.5 km’s before reaching a lighthouse with waves crashing up against it as the wind began to increase.
The slight increase in wind began to grow and grow… Then it all decided to come down. Remember the last time you got stuck in a downpour of heavy rain mixed with hail? I sure do. I put my rain cover over my backpack as fast as possible and started to make my way back to the hostel. When you’re 2.5 km’s away and the sky is falling down this hard, the chance of staying dry is zero. I got back absolutely drenched from head to toe. I took this time to lay out my wet clothes across the heater, throw on something fresh and wait for the rain to die down a bit.
Upon having a cup of coffee in the hostel lobby, I came across an application called Maps.Me that little did I know at this point that it would be insanely useful during the Icelandic adventure and so on. It is completely based offline with the exception of downloading the maps to begin with. I chose to just download the Iceland segment of it and it held all the main attractions throughout the country. The rain began to fizzle out shortly after and it was still only 09:30 by this point thanks in part to being wide awake at 04:30 in the morning. I grabbed my gear and headed out.
I first headed over to Landakotskirkja, a church that I had passed earlier in the morning while I was making my way to the hostel. It was quite muddy at this point and I ended up taking a pretty good slip to the ground. After laughing it off, I headed over to Hallgrímskirkja, the most beautiful church in all of Iceland. This allowed me to get out of the rain for a bit, and head up to the top of the tower for a 360 degree of Reykjavik.
There wasn’t much in Reykjavik that I had set out to see, so I spent a bit of time checking out the shops and wandering the streets. Eventually making my way back to the hostel by 16:00, I thought it’d be a good time to take a quick nap and dry off the second set of clothes I had just warn. A quick power nap was all I needed before making my way to the market across the street to gather some groceries for the 7 day road trip that was kicking off the next morning.
This would be a good time to mention that Iceland doesn’t see much nighttime this time of year, as the summer solstice quickly approaches. It was beginning to get dark around 22:00 and I was thinking it’d be awesome to get onto the rooftop for some long exposure shots of the nearby roundabout. I tried to bargain with the receptionist but no dice. Although the rooftop was currently under construction, the gentleman gave me some other locations in Reykjavik that could make for some nice photos. I took his recommendations and headed out into the night.
I scurried along from spot to spot getting the photos I was hoping for before making my way up to what I envisioned to be an awesome lookout spot. I was let down upon arrival when a guard quickly made his way over to me and let me know that the lookout closed at 21:00. Bummer! Not too long after that it started to hail again leading me to believe that’s a wrap for Reykjavik. Ended up back at the hostel around 01:30 and did my absolute best to keep quiet in order not to wake the others sleeping in the dorm with me.
Day 3 – April 30th
(The Golden Circle)
My alarm was set for 07:00 this morning but a quick pull of the finger and it was back off. I awoke around 08:00 and realized I had shut off my alarm. I quickly looked at my phone to see if Mark had messaged me since he was set to arrive late last night. Of course… I had three messages already with the last one saying “You sleep in? Haha”. I got myself out of bed and got in contact with Mark, who at the time was busy getting our rental vehicle from Cheap Jeep Rentals all set up. I took a quick shower, freshened up for the long haul ahead then went down for my morning coffee to wait for Mark to arrive.
As I’m sitting down conversing with a couple of travellers in the lobby, in comes the man of the hour. It’s crazy to think we hadn’t seen each other in five months already. Without much hesitation after the greetings, we grabbed my bags and headed out to the parking lot. There it was. The vehicle that would be catering us around Iceland over the next seven days. Did I mention that it’s also going to be our accommodations? Oh yeah, we got a Hyundai Tucson!
First thing we did was drive over to a mobile store to get a SIM card, but due to the outrageous pricing in Iceland we chose to just get one and tether one another between it. Once we were setup on the Icelandic airwaves, we made our move over to a grocery store to gather some other necessities we may need. Now it was time to put our heads together and get a rough idea of the areas around Iceland we wanted to see the most. This is where Maps.Me came in extremely handy.
The destinations were set and we were on route to the golden circle. The golden circle is the most famous tourist route in Iceland and we’ll soon find out why. The first stop of the circle was Thingvellir National Park where we’d get the opportunity to walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. You can visually see the separation of the two plates and knowing they are constantly separating (1-18mm/year) is pretty amazing. We hung out in this area for quite a bit all the while dealing with random bursts of hail through the sunlight. Öxarárfoss, the first waterfall out of well over a hundred I’d say we saw on this trip rushed over the edge and into the rift below.
I’ve only driven a manual transmission car less than a handful of times and wanted to use this trip as practice tool. Sure enough, I was taking advantage of that opportunity and Mark was happy to give me pointers along the way to our next stop off.
Everyone knows the word geyser, right? Well something you may not know about that word, is that it actually originated from one specific geyser in general – Geysir! Geysir was the first geyser written in modern literature and actually translates to – to gush. That’s certainly the sight we saw as well. Although the famous Geysir doesn’t erupt as often as it once has due to seismic activity, it’s little brother Strokkur still continues to entertain.
Our final stop of the day was at a waterfall called Gulfoss. Perhaps you’ve seen many photos of this one and with good reason. It’s enormous! Plus, it’s pretty darn easy to get to. By this point of the day (22:30) it was getting dark and the rain was making a comeback. Not to let an opportunity pass us by; We put on some warm thermals and headed out to the falls for some quick shots. Blue hour was in full effect. We got in and got out faster than probably any waterfall throughout the journey, but don’t get me wrong. Gulfoss left quite the impression.
Jetlag was starting to set in on Mark since he had just flown from Shanghai which included some delayed flights in the process. I knew we had to make up some lost ground and opted to drive through the night as much as possible to get a head start on the ring road. We ended up making it to a town called Borgarnes around 01:00 and Mark suggested we stay the night there. We pulled off into a parking lot, converted our luxurious vehicle into a sleeper and called it a night.
Day 2 – May 1st
(Western Region – Kirkjufell)
We awoke this morning still stunned on how much we saw the day before. Could this be just a taste of what’s to come? How can a country be so small, yet so diverse in landscapes? First thing is first though, we needed coffee. After we got ourselves ready, we realized we just parked in the most convenient place ever unintentionally. Kaffihùs was at our doorstep or I guess you could say trunk in this case.
It was time to get down to business. The mountain side across the river was breathtaking, but during the drive last night we didn’t even know what we were driving by. We chose to double back and take it all in before continuing on the ring road.
It wasn’t too long again before we were pulled over along the side of the road taking in one last view of the mountains we were leaving behind. After a few more shots, we got back in the car and headed another 10km max before we were yet again pulled over on the side of the road. It was pretty much at this point that I knew it wasn’t going to be destination to destination type of trip. Iceland is already exceeding expectations and we were barely 200km’s out of Reykjavik.
The reason we stopped this time although was not for a beautiful mountain view, but for something much more miniscule; Icelandic horses. This breed of horses is certainly my favourite. Their elegant mane, relaxed attitude and friendly nature make them extremely loveable without a doubt. Icelandic law actually prevents the importation of other breeds and the exportation of Icelandic horses, making them the sole breed in the land.
A few other tourists began to follow our lead so we hopped back in the Tucson and hit the road. We actually made some considerable ground during this drive. I say that like we didn’t see anything worth stopping for but trust me, we were pretty much wanting to close our eyes so not to acknowledge the immense beauty surrounding us.
The next stop ended up being a hidden gem neither one of us were expecting. The landscape was spectacular and I really wanted to hike up a bit of one mountain to get an overall view of the land. I convinced Mark to pull over and that I’d just quickly run up for a shot then we’d continue. That certainly was not the case. While I was shooting, I noticed a bit of a cave in the distance and thought I’d check it out. When I got closer, I began to hear the sound of rushing water and knew I was in for a treat.
Another “foss” for the books. I noticed a muddy looking path leading down behind the waterfall and thought to myself, no way. Yes, way! I scurried my way behind the falls and got one of my favourite views ever, let alone from this trip.
Mark and I were by ourselves aside from a random group of tourists that came by on a boat, walked around for 20 minutes then headed back. He thought it’d be a good time to do a polar bear dip. For those that have never heard that phrase; Polar bear dip is when you jump into freezing water and in this case, the glacial water couldn’t get much colder.
At first Mark wanted to dip into an indent at the top of the falls but quickly reconsidered as the current was way too strong and didn’t want to risk the consequences that could have happened if he was swept over the falls. We chose to head down stream a bit and find a better spot. The perfect spot was just waiting for him and before long the polar bear dip was underway. The thoughts in my head were telling me to do it as well, but seeing as I’m not a huge fan of water in general, let alone freezing cold water. I was being pretty hesitant. After some minor coercing from Mark aka peer pressure at its finest, I jumped in. Okay, so I didn’t exactly jump in but I walked in before slipping and falling in. Either way, polar bear dip was checked off the list!
It was time to get back on track after literally cooling off and this time we headed off the ring road heading more west towards the coastline. We passed through a couple of small towns and then our next destination came into view, Kirkjufell. Kirkjufell was one of the main attractions in Iceland I was anxious to see with my own eyes. It didn’t disappoint just like every other inch of land in this outstanding country.
We opted out of taking the typical photo of the mountain with the corresponding kirkjufellfoss waterfall in the foreground and proceeded a bit further west where we stumbled across an old Viking settlement. This was way cooler we thought to ourselves. How have we never saw photos of this before? This is where our shots of beloved Kirkjufell took place.
I had a pin on the Maps.Me app set along the coastline west of our location, but all I could remember was that it was cliffs. I was pretty stubborn that we needed to go even though I honestly had no idea of what it was going to look like. Sure am glad we took the chance because after a 30-minute cruise down the coast, we came across Londrangar Cliffs. I’ve seen photos of this place before and they were mesmerizing. It was just a little 5-10 minute walk to the edge of the cliff where we were met with the sound of seagulls, the crashing of bright blue waves against the dark black cliffs, and a slight sunset off in the distance. This place really grabbed a hold of us and it was sad to say goodbye.
By this time we knew we had to get back on the road and make up some serious ground after falling a bit behind the previous day but one thing I always wanted to do was climb a volcano and stare into the crater. We had passed a small extinct volcano along the way that I was interested in so we quickly stopped off there before heading back to the ring road. We didn’t realize how far off the ring road we actually were but just like the previous night, I took over the driving duties around 23:00 and gave it down the winding dirt roads as far as my eyes could stay open. We ended up making it to a small town called Búdardalur and set up camp along the beach.
Day 3 – May 2nd
(Northern Region – Godafoss)
Waking up this morning was a little different than the days before. The car was moving! Mark must have awoken with the urge to get moving and since we both happen to be lovers of coffee, he was already working towards a cup bright and early. We stopped in at a N1 gas station in order to fill up our little Hyundai, charge our electronics, refuel on coffee and hit the road.
There was some serious ground to make up today. The day previous we thought we would have made it as far as Akureyri but we ended up being short 150km. Our new final destination for the day is Godafoss; a thunderous waterfall much like a miniature Niagara Falls.
Of course, like any other day in Iceland, it just wouldn’t be proper if we didn’t stop numerous times throughout the route. We got a couple hours in this time before we were presented with an amazing backdrop behind some of the most gorgeous Icelandic horses we’ve seen yet. We had to stop.
Doing our best not to waste anytime, we pulled the cameras out instantly and got to shooting knowing deep down that there’d be even more stops ahead.
Our intentions were met as we came around a bend revealing an abandoned farm house not too far off. We found a decent spot to pull off and hustled our way over. This building was perfect! We had already visited a tiny Viking settlement from who knows how many years ago, but this was different, it looked as though someone lived in here within the past 30 years. It’s buildings like this that make me wonder why they’ve been abandoned. We spent quite a bit of time in and around the house, taking a step back in time. The foundation was surprisingly still very strong and Mark even found himself scaling the rooftop at one point.
After having a bit of lunch at our new found old house, we decided it’d be best to get back on the road. This drive didn’t last long like the others before it. We pulled over to explore a slight canyon but at this point, Mark had his sights set on getting some open canyon drone shots so we thought we’d keep driving until something popped up. It wasn’t too long after that when we came across this snowy white valley nestled in the mountains.
Should I have known how much time we were about to spend at this specific spot? It’s not like there was a tourist cut off or anywhere that looked like a parking lot, so how great could it be? Pretty darn awesome! We easily killed a couple hours of daylight jumping around on the natural obstacle course, hiking through the snow and checking out the view from the drone above. This was awesome! An unexpected stop that garnered a bunch of content, yet it was like we didn’t have to really work for any of it.
When you’re driving through the mountains, it can be very difficult to find the balance between having your camera ready and just letting you see it with your own eyes. Everywhere you look is breathtaking, but a lot of times what you physically see can’t be processed through a lens. Nonetheless, there were a few small hidden gems along the side of the #1 ring road that we just couldn’t pass up.
This stretch of road must have been our most productive in terms of kilometers passed without physically stopping for more than 20 minutes. Sure, we had our typical pull over, take a shot, and get going again moments but at least we were still on a good timeframe. We ended up making it to Akureyri around dinner time, but we had enough food from the supermarket. Therefore, we opted to continue driving further east and make up as much time as possible.
It was getting late by this time, probably pushing close to 9:30pm (21:30) and we had just arrived at the mighty Godafoss. We weren’t too concerned about the daylight since it tends to stay well lit throughout the night, especially with a full moon in the near future. Godafoss has to be one of my favourite waterfalls from the trip. Like I mentioned before, it reminded me of Niagara Falls but on a slightly smaller scale. We skipped across the rocks as much as we could to find different angles that we may not have seen before.
By 11pm (23:00), Mark and I were getting tired but we knew this would be our last chance to take in as much as we could of this exhilarating waterfall. We crossed over the river and took in it’s mist from the other side. Using my fisheye lens, I was able to capture a unique long exposure angle of the waterfall. I quickly ran downstream to another area that presented a good photo opportunity before zipping the camera bag shut at almost 11:45 (23:45).
At this point, all we wanted was a good place to park the car and get some sleep. Mark again drove as much as he could before I took over to do the same. Our goal was to make it to Myvatn, a volcanic lake in the northeastern region of Iceland. We started to enter some pretty interesting terrain and I mentioned to Mark that maybe it’d be best if we parked around here. It was about 1am at this point, and believe it or not… Iceland was dark. We were right in that prime spot were it is actually dark for a couple hours. Unfortunately, there was no stars visible due to the overcast skies. Thinking about it now and then, we were both quite glad that there weren’t any stars because those nights could have been sleepless.
Day 4 – May 3rd
(Myvatn + Dettifoss)
That little bit of darkness we got to go to sleep with was surely gone by now. The heat coming through the windows of the car was blazing. Coincidently, while we gathered our bearings this morning we happened to notice a sign right behind us that said no overnight parking/camping. Whoops! Must have missed it during the night when the only thought on our minds was catching some Z’s.
Mark took over driving duties this morning as I got on the GPS to figure out where we were and where we were heading. Whoa! We just slept next to Myvatn. We had unintentionally slept in a no camping spot along the lake we had set as our goal. A couple high fives later and before long we had reached our first destination at 7am, Dimmuborgir.
Dimmuborgir is also known in Christian folk lore as the catacombs of hell because many believe this is the place where Satan fell from the heavens. The solidified lava that remains from an old lava lake pooling into myvatn more than 2500 years ago leaves you feeling as though you’re in another world entirely.
There were a few different routes we could have followed while navigating through Dimmuborgir and we decided to take the hardest route possible because why not? We found ourselves ducking through tunnels, and climbing over igneous rock for over a kilometer. From some of the highest points in Dimmuborgir, you could see multiple volcanoes throughout the area and one in particular was extremely close, Hverfjall.
Since this morning we jumped straight into adventuring instead of our usual routine of getting coffee in the morning, my legs weren’t quite awake. Once we were finished with Dimmuborgir we headed into the nearby town of Reykjahlíð. Our routine was back in session as we refueled, and recharged at Gamli Rærinn.
During our morning recharge, I noticed a photo of a volcano that had a small lake inside of it. I didn’t have to do much explaining to Mark about it before he agreed to hike up to the top with me. We headed straight over to the volcano Hverfjall, which we just saw earlier and began the ascent. The one problem with the photo and the volcano we were currently climbing was that they weren’t the same ones. I’ll take full blame on that one… Sorry Mark!
When we reached the crest and realized that it wasn’t the same volcano, I was personally a bit disappointed. Mainly by the fact that I’m usually pretty good at directions and planning but I knowingly failed on this one. Either way, the view was outstanding and we played around on top jumping off rocks before Mark shut it down tossing a backflip in hurricane worthy winds.
Today had some serious expectations, including two enormous waterfalls; Selfoss and Dettifoss. We’ve already scaled through a mind-blowing maze of igneous rock, scrambled our way to the top of a volcano and had way too many cups of coffee. It was time to head further north to the waterfalls.
Selfoss and Dettifoss are located pretty close to one another, so you only need to park at one parking lot and walk for about 3km’s to see them both. Supposedly, there is a well laid out trail to reach either waterfall but due to the high level of meltwater, that clear path became a mission of rock jumping.
We came up on Selfoss first and from quite a distance you could see it. I wanted to get a clear long shot of it first while no one was close to intrude on the photo but then I saw Mark making his way closer and closer to the edge of the waterfall. He posed gently giving me just enough time to get a long exposure shot while he peaked over the edge giving a whole new perspective to how giant these waterfalls really are. It seemed as though throughout our Icelandic adventure that we would be the first to go somewhere, and within moments more inspired tourists would be coming to our location.
Eventually, it didn’t take long for Selfoss to have the same effect. Herds of tourists began to approach and it was time to head upstream to Dettifoss. We came upon Dettifoss within 30 minutes and again, we were basically by ourselves. The vantage point of Dettifoss wasn’t quite as unique because of the surrounding terrain and man-made lookouts but still spectacular. Dettifoss is also said to be Europe’s most powerful waterfall and you can see why as it tosses over unexplainable amounts of freezing cold glacier water from the nearby vatnajökull glacier.
This day was certainly shaping up to be one of the best we’ve had and the weather has been beautiful so far. By this point of the trip, the fatigue was starting to take its course. When I’m out shooting photos or travelling to new locations, my adrenaline just keeps pumping and keeps me going however. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us before the next destination so Mark tried to get some shuteye as I pushed on.
We had to back track a bit in order to get back onto the ring road. Within 20 minutes of being back on the ring road however we were stopping yet again. We were close to Myvatn again which put us back into volcanic territory. This stop held a landscape that one would expect to see on the planet Mars. Mud pits and steam vents were scattered across the land with mountain ridges close by.
With another long and successful day in the books, it was time to find another place to get a few hours of rest. We found a small cut off just off the ring road that looked like a perfect place to stay so without further ado, we prepared our sleeping bags and called it a night.
Day 5 – May 4th
Northeastern Region (Folaladafoss + Lambafoss)
What we thought was a perfect place to sleep, turns out it wasn’t so much. As we went to get back on the ring road, we then noticed that there was fence that had been pushed down and that we were in fact on someone’s property. It didn’t take long for a local to recognize two tourists coming off the property and we were politely told that we can’t just camp anywhere we want. Sincere apologies to the farmer that owns the property we slept on, but thank you also. Since we were only a few minutes from the nearby town of Egilsstadir, we chose to get on our normal routine of coffee first, adventure later.
I should mention that as much as Mark and I love drinking coffee while planning our day’s activities, there was a very good reason for the morning rituals. Our power converter that we got with our rental blew on the second day so we only had access to one USB charger while driving. This may not sound like a big issue, but we had a ton of gear that needed charging along this trip. It didn’t really set us back at all since we made great use of the time by working on some photos, updating social media, and having a bit of relaxation in a busy schedule. This day was a little different however…
As we finished up our coffee and waited for some last second electronics to get recharged, I went out to organize the car a bit since it was starting to actually look like we’ve been living in it by this point. Unfortunately, when I went to open the front door, the rear door that had the keys inside the door blew shut from the wind and auto-locked me outside of the vehicle. Unbelievable I thought to myself. Here I go back inside to explain the situation to Mark. A bit of a hiccup in the morning plans but luckily we were in town and a gentleman came by to help us out within half an hour. Mark thought it’d be a good idea to set up his GoPro camera for a timelapse while this unfortunate situation was going on but in the celebration of gaining entrance to the vehicle again he forgot about it being setup. It wasn’t until we stopped at the gas station down the street when he remembered. The full out 100m sprint was on for Mark as I continued to fill up the tank. Before I could even fill it up, Mark was back with camera in hand along with a huge smile. Phew!
We’d been living off of muesli, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and water basically for the last four days and we thought we’d indulge ourselves in a warm meal from Subway. I’ve ate Subway in a couple different countries and it’s always different. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s plain horrible. After the unforeseen circumstances we just encountered this morning, all I wanted was a foot long cold cut trio. Totally worth it!
The big plan for today was to get some follow shots of the car driving through a forested area. We headed towards Hallormsstadur where there was a small forest and some hiking trails. After getting the drone shots we were aiming for, we threw shorts on for the first time this trip and began doing some real hiking. Of course, it wouldn’t quite be Iceland if we didn’t run into any waterfalls.
Lambafoss may not have been on our radar and to be honest, by this point we were both pretty over waterfalls. It’s not the fact that we were sick of seeing them. It was more so that we were running out of time. Waterfalls tend to take up the most amount of time trying to find the best angles and getting creative. We stuck around Lambafoss however for just a short time, and enjoyed the surrounding views of the valley.
Once we got back to the trailhead, we put our heads together to come up with a final destination for the day. We figured if we could make it as far as Diamond Beach along the west coast of Iceland it would set us up pretty good for tomorrows adventures. While looking at the maps, I noticed a road titled ‘939’ shortcutting an area allowing us to get off the ring road and perhaps make up some lost ground.
Making up lost ground was completely thrown out the window as we turned onto this shortcut. Within ten minutes we were passing rapids that lead into small waterfalls nudged nicely into the valley. We stopped at one moment to replenish our water bottles and carried on.
This is when our shortcut became a “long cut” so to speak because the next couple hours we spent inside a cloud at one of the highest points along road 939. The whole atmosphere was surreal. Having a field of view just barely passing 30 meters left us with an outstanding otherworldly vision. The textures and layers that made up the area would constantly change in seconds as the clouds rolled through unleashing even more beauty the longer we stayed.
Eventually, we had to make a move or else we weren’t going to get anywhere near the destination we had planned. That whole idea of getting a move on lasted another 20 minutes top as the big reveal of the valley below us came into view. Incredible!
We spent quite a bit of time taking in the scenic view we were just granted and then looked at the time and realized that we still had quite a drive ahead of us with time running out. We connected back up with the ring road and by now we were making our way south down the eastern region of Iceland towards Diamond Beach.
The fog seemed to follow us down the mountain and completely engulf us yet again. We may have been on the ring road, but it is still in fact a road neither one of us had drove on before. Coming into one-way traffic bridges at 60km/h, one can only hold their breath and wish that no traffic is coming the other way not being able to see even the length of the bridge. There was only a few times we were able to catch a break within the clouds and they seemed to always be at the perfect moment.
Our first break in the clouds wasn’t too long after I mentioned that I’d like to get a reflection shot of some sort and the second just happened to be when a herd of reindeer was passing us by on the side of the road. Fingers were crossed now that we may have the possibility to get some star shots.
The long drive this evening continues until we were about 10 minutes away from Diamond Beach. We thought it’d be smart to pull off the road around here and get a peaceful night’s sleep. One thing that was strangely bizarre about the area we chose, was that it was a perfect circle of cloudless sky. A full 360 degrees around it was a wall of clouds. I took advantage of this weird phenomena to get some last minute reflection photos on the nearby pond.
Day 6 – May 5th
(Glacial Lagoon + Vik)
This morning we decided to wake up pretty early with the hopes of catching the glacial lagoon before hoards of tourists bombarded the area. We were also hoping that the fog that had followed us all evening before would have also subsided.
One of the two we were hoping for played true. We arrived at the glacial lagoon in some of the densest fog we’ve seen but we were in fact, alone. Judging from the map we had, the walk to the actual glacier didn’t seem too far until we began walking. We must have walked for 40 minutes or so along the edge of the water watching seals pop their heads out from time to time next to some magnificent looking glaciers that had fallen off the nearby glacier into the lake.
The fog had cleared a bit but our field of view was still very limited so we decided to head to the next nearest N1 gas station to refuel and recharge our gear. Maybe by the time we were done, the clouds would have parted ways. While heading south towards the gas station we hit a bubble in the fog, and I quickly grabbed my map to see if we had anything nearby. Within an instance, I told Mark who was driving at the moment to turn on the first dirt road that comes up and take it to the glacier.
Not even 15-minutes later we were blessed with a perfect opening between the clouds granting us an unprecedented view of the surrounding glaciers, lake, and mountains. We only had roughly 30 minutes to take in as much as possible before the clouds came back and shut our window.
We continued back down the road towards the gas station but it turned out to be closed for the season. We noticed that there was a famous waterfall not to far down the road that would surely have a restaurant or some sort of tourist center. We must have showed up at the right time. Not a single person in line to order and a ton of different seats to choose from. Being our sixth day on the road, plus not really having a warm meal during this trek, we thought we’d help ourselves to a warm bowl of soup. Totally worth it!
After we were set to go from the restaurant, we grabbed a few little groceries and a couple beers with the thought of relaxing in a hot spring the next day. We headed over to the nearby waterfall but by this time in the day, the waves of tourists had started to show up and instead of battling through a crowd for a shot, we chose to continue down to the town of Vik. A little further down the road and we saw a road leading right up to another glacier… Let’s go!
This time we were able to park almost right next to the glacier and there was even a small hiking trail leading next to it for the adventurous aka Mark and I. There was a rock outlook that just seemed to present a opportune vantage point and my goal was to reach it. It was surely a bit scary scrambling up the side of the mountain but I took my time, focusing on my breathing while taking one step at a time. Before long, I was standing in the place I had set out to stand. I got my photos and helped Mark out with some drone footage before we switched places. This initiated the climb back down which was a tad bit more difficult then it was to climb up. Anyone who climbs things knows coming down is always more difficult unless you have the proper equipment.
Vik was still quite the distance away from the glacier but just like all the multiple times before, we found ourselves stopping along the way. Not long after leaving the glacier we were overwhelmed with a ridiculous cliff face with the sunlight fighting its way through the clouds.
Once we were both happy with what we’ve gained from this short but sweet hike we set out to reach Vik before nightfall. You’d think it’d be easy to reach a place before nightfall when it doesn’t get dark till almost midnight but judging by our typical days, it’s become more difficult than previously thought.
We ended up making it to Vik at a decent time to catch the setting sun colours. We hung out around the town for a bit shooting photos of Vik’s infamous church and also the beautiful black sand beach looking out towards Reynisdrangar. The clouds were doing their thing across the top of the cliffs so we figured it wouldn’t even be worth it to go up top and instead would keep heading south.
Upon leaving Vik however, my personal favourite reveal took place. The colours laid across the mountain with fog visually sweeping off the top left a vision in my head I will never forget. As beautiful as this moment was, there was a bit of sadness to it as well. Mark had previously used his wide angle lens somewhere in the past couple days and without thinking, forgot it at the location. We had covered a ton of ground and the Icelandic weather changes so fast that it was surely gone by now. When I had locked the keys in the car, Mark did a great job of comforting me with a story of his own and this was my chance to repay the favour. Everyone I’m sure can relate to losing an expensive piece of equipment or memorabilia and it was a tough pill to swallow. Mark is a positive guy though. Together we kept the light shining and pushed forward.
As we continued south, I noticed the fog was clearing up from the cliffs of Dyrhólaey. There was no way I could pass up this opportunity. I chose to back track at 11pm (23:00) with just the hope that there’d be no fog cover and it was the ideal choice. No fog in sight and the iconic Dyrhólaey all by myself.
Before I went out to photograph Dyrhólaey, we chose to get some shots of the Atlantic Puffins that have recently made Kirkjufjara Beach there mating grounds for the season. Puffins are seriously the cutest birds! I tried aimlessly to shoot photos of them flying but that was next to impossible given the amount of daylight left and how fast these little guys flap their wings. Once we got some close ups of the little ones nesting along the cliffs edge, I made my way over to the natural water tunnel of Dyrhólaey.
It was freezing standing at the edge of cliff while shooting so I basically sprinted back to the car once I had my shots I was happy with. We made incredible time this day and were only a 30 minutes drive from where we wanted to be sleeping. We went off the ring road for a bit until we came to a nice secluded area we could get some shut eye before waking up for a final day of sightseeing.
Day 7 – May 6th
(Plane + Vestmannaeyjar)
Our goal this morning was to wake up super early and beat as many people as possible to our next destination, an abandoned DC-3 plane crash on Sólheimasandur. We awoke around 6am, barely getting much sleep this past night but our adrenaline was pumping and we were both very excited to see the contrast between the white plane and the black sand beach.
When we got to the parking lot leading out to the 4km stretch of beach we must walk to the plane, there was already a couple cars. We knew we wouldn’t be alone at this point. It took us just under an hour to complete the walk and by then we were alone (minus a few other early bird tourists) with this remarkable yet well connected airplane.
You’d think after barely getting any sleep and then having to walk 4km this early in the morning, you’d be tired right? That wasn’t the case for Mark when he asked if he should backflip off the plane. Zero hesitation on my part getting the settings set up on the camera while he did a bit of stretching. The countdown began and the shot was captured first go.
We stuck around for a bit afterwards but it didn’t take long before the crowd began pouring in. After the 45 minutes or so trek back to the car, we couldn’t believe how packed the parking lot was already. I’m certainly glad that Iceland made it so you can’t drive your vehicle up to the plane anymore, otherwise it would have just been a write off.
The next stop off for us was one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, Skogafoss. A massive 25-meter-wide waterfall tossing water down 60 meters. You could see the mist of Skogafoss from quite the distance away before you could even physically see the waterfall. By the time we arrived, we knew very well that it was going to packed. This is where creativity and a bit of a daring soul can become your best friend.
Many of the normal paths were marked forbidden with the threat of prosecution. Normally a small gesture as this wouldn’t differ our ideas but due to the unbelievable amount of people, we weren’t up for that risk. We hiked up to the top hoping for a good view but the lookout point wasn’t very forgiving and you could only really get the same view as everyone else.
Once we got back down to the base of the falls, I was prepared to get wet. If we’re going to get some unique shots, we were going to have to go where no others were thinking of going. As close as possible to this thunderous beast of a waterfall.
Mark and I took our turns for each others shots getting sprayed with a heavy mist each and every time. People thought we were a bit crazy but they can’t see what we’ve got. I’d say some of our best shots came at this moment but it was certainly difficult to keep the lenses clean. Each time it needed to be clean, we’d create a human shield to prevent any debris coming in.
We both were completely drenched by the time we were done to the point it looked as though we just went swimming with all our clothes on. Luckily, it was a bright and sunny day so it wouldn’t take too long for it all to dry. Our next destination for the day and one I’ve been looking forward to since the start of our trip was the Westman Islands, also known as Vestmannaeyjar.
Arriving at the ferry terminal, we just missed the recent ferry across and the next one wouldn’t be for a couple hours. Both Mark and I had a few things we wanted to check off our list still during this trip. We wanted to be able to go in a hot spring, and do a legit hike. By this point in our trip we knew we’d have to give up one or the other due to time constraints. We chose to stick by the ferry terminal, dry out some clothes and do a bit of post-process work before we headed over to Vestmannaeyjar.
The ferry took about 30 minutes and during the initial voyage we crossed by a couple islands with what could possibly be the most secluded property on this planet.
We knew upon reaching the island that we’d only have a few hours max to do as much exploring as possible before we had to catch the last ferry back over to the mainland. What did we decide to do? Head straight for the highest point of the island!
We are now on our way to knocking off one of two remaining bucket list points of our Iceland trip, a proper hike. Climbing up ladders and using chains to help us navigate some steeper areas of the climb, we found ourselves at the top within an hour’s time giving us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery. The weather couldn’t have been any better for us. It was only later did we realize that Vestmannaeyjar this time of year is almost always clouded over.
Looking out over the island was pretty surreal from this vantage point being able to see a full 360 degrees around. A couple volcanoes protruded the surface and one of them, Eldfell, happens to be the youngest in the world. Looking out the other direction you can see the mainland of Iceland in the distance covered by a massive glacier.
Mark and I ended up splitting apart for the time we spent on the summit of Home Rock. I chose to get shots of the puffins by the sunset along the shore while he ventured out along the cliffs a bit. Time got away from the both of us however and next thing you know; we’re racing down the mountain as fast as possible in order to catch the ferry back. We made it with just a few minutes to spare.
Once on the ferry back to the mainland, the sun was setting just over the horizon but unfortunately I am prone to seasickness quite easily and didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked to. Nonetheless, I caught a quick nap during this ride but when I awoke I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I ate a bit of the food we had left in the car and drank some water in hopes of feeling better. It helped but I still had that uneasy feeling in my stomach.
Our goal was to get back to Rekjavik this night in order to set us up with a quick and easy drive to the airport the following morning. We left the ferry terminal just as the sun began to set and headed west towards the capital.
There were a few miniature stops along the way but nothing longer than twenty minutes surprisingly. We ended up reaching Reykjavik by 11pm (23:00) and the search for real food was on. Iceland is a pretty laidback country in the sense that many shops and stores close extremely early some days. We passed a bunch of places that looked promising but in the end was closed until finally stumbling upon a pizza joint. Mark and I each grabbed a slice and stuffed our faces before trying to find more of a sit down restaurant. We walked for a bit but there wasn’t anything really grabbing our attention so we jolted back to the pizza place and ordered up a large multi-topping pizza to go. We drove out of the city to one of the Bonus discount stores and set up for our final night of living in the car. With a hot pizza warming us up and a few beers to celebrate an amazing adventure throughout the land of fire and ice, we were in bliss.
Day 8 – May 7th
Our alarms started going off bright and early at 6am because Mark needed to be at the airport for 7am. I was still half asleep as he drove to the airport to catch his flight back to China. During the short drive I awoken and we discussed some of our favourite moments from the trip. Then it was time to say goodbye. Another short but sweet trip is all but wrapped up with memories that’ll last a lifetime. Thanks for everything Mark!
My flight wasn’t until 3pm (15:00) in the afternoon so I took the car out to Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon for some last minute shots. I wasn’t interested in paying the entrance fee so I stuck to the free paths within the area before heading towards the Reykjanestá peninsula.
This area was nothing what I was expecting. After the 1,500km’s around Iceland and seeing a bunch of unreal landscapes, I wondered how a presumably flat area of the country could be impressive. Sure enough, Iceland amazed me yet again. The peninsula jets off into the ocean showing the crushing waves crash against the cliff side.
Not far away from the previous spot is Gunnuhver, the largest mud pot in Iceland. The geothermic activity underneath the ground constantly changes, but the surface stays continuous with gases emanating, the clay ground boiling, and the water basically turning to acid.
By the time I finished up shooting these areas I needed to get the car back to Cheap Jeep Rentals but first thing first, I needed to give it a bit of a clean. I stopped off at the nearest gas station, filled it up and gave it a good clean while organizing my luggage for the plane.
I brought the car back and within just a few minutes, I was being shuttled back to the airport in time to catch my flight back to Canada. Iceland, it was an absolute treat and can’t wait to return again one day!
This trip was nothing short of amazing. From getting completely destroyed by the weather on the first day to having nothing but beautiful weather to follow after. I surely got a taste of what Icelandic weather could be like. There were a few hiccups in the trip such as locking the keys in the vehicle or forgetting a lens at a location but all in all, these were learning incidents that will prevent such things from happening in the future. This was perhaps my first solid week of pure photography/videography and the amount of knowledge I obtained throughout would be off the charts. On to the next adventure!