Iceland - Day 1

August 31, 2016

Iceland - what can I say; Iceland is never-ending beauty. No matter where you go, you'll be blown away with the aesthetics of this country.

Having arrived late in the day, we stayed in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city. We stayed the night at the main campground within the city, Reykjavík Campsite. It's conveniently located, affordable and a major stopping point for people passing through the country; a fantastic place to meet other travelers. We spent the night discussing our plan of attack as I really wanted to get around the entire country this trip. Last year I had the same ambitious plan, but not enough time and I didn't plan the trip extensively enough to know where we would stay outside of Reykjavik. This year we had more time and I planned the trip much more meticulously to ensure we could make it around the island.

The official sightseeing of Iceland began with Öxarárfoss; a stunning waterfall located in the Þingvellir National Park. The park consists of a large lake, beautiful rock features, this stunning waterfall and a very unique geological feature... Þingvellir is where the North American and Eurasian plates are pulling apart creating a rift zone. This is what creates the stunning landscape in which Öxarárfoss is a part of. 

From Öxarárfoss we headed off to find Brúarfoss. I'd previously seen photos of this waterfall and the piercing blue color of the water is what drew my curiousity to see it for myself. Though it comes up on your map apps, it isn't that easy to find. There are two roads that run parallel to one another, separated by a fence and the navigation doesn't know which side to put you on. Needless to say, we went down the wrong side and had to turn around and head back. In addition, there isn't a marked parking area for this falls, so guessing is what we resorted to. 

We finally parked, found a river crossing and followed a trail. It's not long before you can hear rapids and then you see a bridge. As you approach, you can start to see the top of the falls. I won't lie, the very first glimpse had me a little disappointed; you can't see the color of the water from above, nor are these falls very big in height, but once you walk a little further and you can see the split in which the water pours into, you'll very quickly lose your breath with the simple beauty of this waterfall. 

The rocks open up, the river cascades down from both sides as the clear water pours over mossy rocks in a series of falls before it all pools together in an incredible pool of icy blue glacial waters. It is simply stunning! 

We left Brúarfoss and headed towards the Highlands. I had seen photos from an area called "The Valley of Tears". Having thought I found it on a map, we headed off in that direction in hopes of finding it. This was one of the places I was most looking forward to seeing on this trip. The drive was very unique; the landscape is mostly wash area from glacial melt (meaning mostly elevated roads surrounded by rocks), but we came across an area that was very heavily forested, which is rather bizarre for Iceland. Continuing on the road, we came upon the area in which I thought the valley of tears was located. We parked, hiked up and above a damn just to discover that the lake behind it was clearly not the right spot.

Feeling determined, I figured we should drive to the other side of the dam and give it a shot. We followed a road, a road I was likely not supposed to drive the rental car on, until we came to a parking area. We got out and hiked until we came to a canyon; the water level was low and nothing seemed to give any indication that this was the right area either. Still feeling determined, or maybe just delusional at this stage, I opted to go for one more hike in hopes of finding the elusive Valley of Tears. We walked for what seemed like forever, but was likely only 20 minutes, until I finally said I give up. I was disappointed, but this side trip did allow us the opportunity to see another part of Iceland that we had not previously seen before.

With the day getting shorter, we hurried up and made our way towards Seljalandsfoss. This was our final destination for the day and I wanted to get there for sunset. On our drive we passed Hekla, one of Iceland's volcanoes. The landscape in the area was amazing; more glacial washout and tons of glowing green moss. One of the really unique things about Iceland is that the country really doesn't have much vegetation in terms of trees and shrubs, so what you mostly see is grass, moss and uplift in the land. 

We arrived at Seljalandsfoss with plenty of time to watch the sun go down. Last year when we were there it appeared they were filming a Bollywood film meaning it was impossible to get behind the falls. This year, fortunately, no one was there filming something, meaning I was able to walk around and behind the falls. While I was back there, I ran into another photographer (well, there were many, but this one and I had exchanged conversation for a brief period); this is information you'll want to know for later in the trip to Iceland. Anyhow, I got some shots of Seljalandsfoss and proceeded to make my down the trail towards Gljúfrafoss.  Now, I was at this one last year, but never made it inside the waterfall because it was spraying a ton of water. This year I decided to go inside - I managed to be in there for about 5 minutes before becoming rather soaked, but it was worth it.

We got settled into the campground for the night, put the tent up and then headed inside the community building to eat and warm up. I was editing photos and had to run outside to the car to grab something. When I was walking back from the car, I happened to notice people standing in the road; curiously I asked myself, "What the hell are they doing?" Then I looked up and sure enough, the northern lights! The sky was dancing a neon green glow - I just stood there for awhile, watching in awe. I finally grabbed my camera and setup to shoot; I stood out there for nearly 3 hours watching the sky dance - it wasn't until my body finally told me I need to get some sleep that I called it quits, otherwise I would have stayed out there all night watching the sky.

Day 1 in Iceland was definitely one for the books!