Iceland - Day 2
September 1, 2016
Day 2 started rough, and the reason I say that is because I was completely exhausted. Staying up late and watching the northern lights meant not much sleep for me!
The first stop of the day was at Iceland's iconic (at least I would call it that) Skógafoss. It's big, it's beautiful, it's so busy it's hard to photograph; there are always people there, despite the weather and the time of day. Now, I had been to Skógafoss last year and took the "traditional" approach photos; this year I wanted to get different perspectives.
As you hike up the stairs to the top of the waterfall, there's a trail that veers off to the left overlooking the midpoint of the falls as it pools into the river below. I dislike heights; I would say that's my biggest fear. Last year I didn't even toy with the idea of walking out to this viewpoint - it looked steep and dangerous and I wanted no part of it. This year I made the decision to go and give it a shot and boy, was it worth it. The ledge above the pool is a bit bigger than I expected, but still not very large - there was just enough room for me and my tripod and room for people to pass behind me. Still, a place to use caution as if you slip and fall, well...it won't be good.
We left Skógafoss and started to head towards the town of Vík. This is the town nearest the famous beach with basalt columns and also a great viewing location for puffins. When I was there last year, we did see a lot of puffins, but man were they difficult to photograph! They were smaller than I expected, in addition to that, they fly very quickly and they would only show themselves just before they took off from the cliffs above to go fishing. Unfortunately, this meant I didn't get many photos of puffins last year.
This year, on the other hand, there were way more puffins and they were actually hanging out. They would fly out to the water, come back and then just sit on the cliffs above meaning you could actually see (and photograph) them. Not to mention, there were so many more puffins this year! I looked up in the sky at one point and there had to be well over 50 of them flying overhead. It was incredible and definitely a sight to see. (Side note: click the images above to enlarge)
After some extensive puffin watching, we made our way down the beach. The rock formations range from beautiful basalt columns to twisted rocks curving and shaping a very unique scene. There are also a few caves in the rocks. The beach itself is dark rock and when the waves retreat back to the sea, the sound it makes is mesmerizing.
As you walk towards the northern end of the beach, you approach these beautiful rock formations jetting out of the ocean. One of them reminds me of Wizard's Hat in Bandon, Oregon, but on a much larger scale. These rock formations are very dark in color, but they are covered in green that just glows creating a beautiful contrast.
I just need to point this out, but if you ever visit Reynisfjara, BE CAREFUL. This beach is notorious for being dangerous with sneaker waves and a very dangerous current that can quickly pull you out to sea. So again, be very careful if you visit.
We made our way from Reynisfjara toward the glacial region of Iceland, with Jökulsárlón being the main goal for the day. Once we were passed the town of Vík, it was all uncharted territory for us - Vík was the furthest we had made it the year before.
Just passed Vík we were exposed to a very beautiful and, also very unique, landscape. The road was basically elevated and raised above rocks; literally rocks everywhere. It became obvious that we were driving through a major washout zone for the glacier - in the distance were bright green peaks, very rugged in appearance. These peaks are what remain after the glacier has retreated over centuries of time exposing this striking landscape. Not only was the landscape incredible, but every which way you looked there were rainbows - at any one time you could see at least 4 rainbows on our drive through this region; simply stunning!
We continued on the road toward Jökulsárlón. As we drove along, we could start seeing more of the glacier pouring down valleys and encroaching on the landscape below. I noticed a road that appeared to head towards one of these glacial outlets, so I decided to explore and see just where the road went. Well, thankfully it lead to a parking lot that allowed access to a small lagoon with stunning views of the glacier and mountains; this area was called Skaftafell. The ice was this piercing blue color; the same color we saw at Brúarfoss. You could see the sediment in the ice, traces of the mountains that had been carved before the ice came to rest in it's current position - being this close, you could truly see the raw power these glaciers have; they literally move mountains.
After a relatively short (by my standards) stop, we left and continued toward Jökulsárlón. We came upon a lagoon, and not having paid much attention to the signs, I thought this was Jökulsárlón. We pulled in, parked and sure enough, this was a much larger lagoon than the one at Skaftafell...but something still didn't seem right. I couldn't find an opening inlet that fed this lagoon into the sea, which is very definitive of Jökulsárlón. I walked around the shores of the lagoon for awhile and randomly ran into the same photographer I had seen the day prior at Seljalandsfoss. We chatted for a bit, he showed me a few of his shots and when we were talking he made mention of a "larger" lagoon down the road; yep, I wasn't at Jökulsárlón, but rather a smaller, neighboring lagoon called Fjallsárlón. Not quite the place I wanted to be, but definitely amazing! There were tour boats launching from this lagoon, and watching them come back you could get a scale of just how large these floating chunks of ice were.
Jökulsárlón, FINALLY! As we pulled up towards the bridge that crossed the inlet that allows Jökulsárlón to flow into the ocean, we looked over and we could see these massive chunks of ice floating around in the lagoon, some of which were larger than a house! The view that greeted us what a parking area with a mound and huge chunks of ice floating in the background. We parked the car, walked up the mound and what lay ahead was a sea of ice. Deep blue waters with chunks of ice floating in it, and, to our pleasant surprise, there were even seals swimming in the lagoon! I was overwhelmed with a surreal feeling.
We watched as the ice floated around the lagoon, trying to escape the incoming tide waters to make their way out to the open sea. At one point, we heard a loud cracking sound, looked over and a large chunk of ice had rolled over in the water and was breaking apart. The blue color on the bottom of the ice was the deepest blue I have ever laid eyes on; it was incredible. After awhile, I decided I wanted to check out the "ice" beach I have seen so many times. We just had to drive across the bridge and we could literally drive the car out on the beach.
It was incredible seeing all of this ice washed up on the beach. The unique shapes and how clear some of it was, was mind blowing. Unfortunately for me, I didn't get too many good photos. The tide was high, the waves were coming up further than I would have liked and mostly, I just wasn't dressed for getting wet by the water of the North Atlantic. I did, however, manage to get a few photos that I do enjoy.
As I turned around to head back to the car, I saw by far the most amazing sun rays ever. The sky literally looked like it was on fire over the mountains in the distance creating a very breathtaking view. Admittedly, I wish I were closer to the lagoon at the time, but fortunately I did manage to get this shot that I think captures the majestic beauty.
We left Jökulsárlón to head to our overnight stop, Höfn. As we drove, we were treated to a wonderful sunset over. A beautiful display of color both in the air and on the ground.
Day 2 was another for the books.