This sparsely-populated, geologically-diverse, culturally-rich north Atlantic island is by far the coolest place I’ve traveled so far!
My wife Mallorie, daughter Annie, and I decided to plan a vacation to Iceland in September 2017. After doing some research, mostly online, we discovered there are some pros and cons to visiting Iceland in September, and the pros seemed to outway the cons so we booked our trip. We booked airfare through icelandicair.com. Here’s a short list of what we found:
Pros: Fewer people/tourists, slightly cheaper low-season pricing, autumn colors, and dark nighttime sky for northern light viewing.
Cons: The birds have mostly migrated south, not everything is open in the offseason, and likely colder weather with the possibility of snow.
Instead of the standard car rental and hotel stay, we opted to rent a 4×4 VW bus and tour the island via van and campground. Upon arrival it was obvious we were in a unique environment, a moon-like landscape, geologically diverse with vast lava fields, high tundra, volcanoes, glaciers, silty rivers, and wild oceans. All these features creating an incredible landscape to explore as a photographer. This adventure, traveling through the Hvalfjord tunnel under the ocean, over the western fjords on causeways and bridges, and through the southern highland on rugged washed out 4×4 roads was quite the experience!
Here are the highlights of our 7 nights/8 days in Iceland:
Night One – Keflavik
Arrived late evening Keflavik airport and stayed at the Jazz Hotel (hoteljazz.is). Picked up VW Van from campervan Iceland (www.campervaniceland.com).
Day One – Western Iceland
A few stops in Reykjavik on the way north to Snæfellsness Peninsula, Costco for snacks and breakfast supplies, ELKO Electronics for a power converter (elko.is) and Beco Camera Store for an extra memory card (beco.is).
We stopped at Gerðuberg Cliffs to check out the giant columns of basalt rock cliffs. The individual columns almost feel like chess pieces lined up shoulder to shoulder.
We explored a little further past the cliffs up the dirt road to an unnamed cinder cone, lined with bright green moss.
We worked out way out to the Snæfellsness Peninsula passing beautifully located churches with glacier backgrounds and what seemed like hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the mountainside.
We arrived at the small town of Arnarstapi to visit the Bárðar Saga Statue, take pictures of the Gatklettur sea arch, walk the seacliffs and cross the stone bridge. There is a hiking trail that connects Arnarstapi to Hellnar, which was our next stop. We stopped for coffee and hot chocolate at the Fjöruhúsið café, a quaint little cafe in the quiet harbor with great views of the ocean.
Night Two – Snæfellsness Peninsula
We set up camp our first night on the road at Dagverðará, between an abandoned concrete home and remote tundra airstrip.
Day Two – Snæfellsness Peninsula
A morning stop at Djúpalónssandur beach for a short walk down the path along the lava sculptures and pond to the black sand beach.
The lighting along the road was phenomenal! We kept stopping, pulling over anytime we could find a spot, to admire the beautiful vibrant colors along the way. Our next stop was down a long tight and windy road through the lava fields out to Svörtuloft Lighthouse. It’s a beautiful orange lighthouse on the cliff edge overlooking a giant sea arch/cave. Apparently, you can spot artic fox out in this area. We didn’t see any, but we meet some guys from Costa Rica how did! Continuing down the road, passing a few small coastal towns, we stopped next at Kirkjufellsfoss. This beautiful series of waterfalls is one of the more iconic falls of the northwest region, with the pyramid-shaped Kirkjufell Mountain in the background often framing up photographers images. We had a delicious up-scale dinner at Bjargarsteinn in Grundarfjörður, the town next to the waterfalls. Bjargarsteinn is a classy restaurant with some character. The menus are hand drawn, and the food homemade, including the ice cream! It’s situated right on the water’s edge along a short stretch of beach and faces Kirkjufell Mountain across the bay. This was such a lovely spot to stop and have a delicious meal, we highly recommend it!
Night Three – Western Region
Possibly my favorite night! For good reason, we saw the northern lights! We found a random place to stop for the night, but it was pretty cool. It was next to an old decommissioned bridge crossing a river. It was flat and easy to park on level ground for a good nights sleep. Mallorie and Annie got situated for bed and I grabbed my camera and tripod. I had no idea if we would see the northern lights or not, the forecast was low, the lowest of the trip actually. But in the forecast disclaimer, it said…keep your eyes peeled because you never know, maybe it will be stronger than we thought. And sure enough, it was, way stronger. We got to see the northern lights three of the nights we were in Iceland and this night was by far the coolest. The light show was directly overhead and I was ready with my camera. At first, it just looked like clouds that were being lit from behind by the moon, but I looked around and there was no moon. Maybe they were being lit by a nearby city, but we were out in the middle. I snapped my first picture, not knowing what setting to use, but guessing based on night pictures I had taken before. And sure enough the clouds weren’t clouds, it was the northern lights, glowing bright green on the camera display! I continued to adjust my settings and take pictures and the lights continued to get stronger, brighter, and more vivid. Within a few minutes I was able to see the colors with my naked eye, and the next moment the lights were waving and started to dance! It was a surreal moment, one I’ll never forget. I was blown away by what was happening and called for Mallorie to hurry and come see the lights. We were so stoked, silly really because it’s not like nobody had ever witnessed this before, but to see it for the first time in full display was quite a treat!
Day Three – The Northwest Fjords
The northwest fjords are a special place in Iceland. It’s much quieter up here. Most of the roads are rough dirt roads. The towns are very small and there aren’t many of them. The roads wonder along the water’s edge weaving in and out along each side of each fjord like tracing your left hand with your right index finger. Ironically one of the most costly construction and engineering feats took place in this region, a five kimometer tunnel dug through the mountain leaving Islafjordur headed toward Flateyri. And it splits in the middle, forking to the right if you choose to go to the small port town of Suðureyri.
*Remaining details coming next week. Taking a short break writing while I’m in Hawaii. 🙂
black sand beaches, icebergs floating in a lagoon, crystal-clear ice, sea arches, viking history, hiking, camping, exploring, lighthouses, fjords, turf houses, waterfalls, northern lights, geysers, hot springs, rainbows, horses, sunsets.
Reykjevik, SnÃ¦fellsnes Peninsula, West Fjords, Golden Circle, Southern Highlands, Southern Coast.
Family vacation and photography trip
Icelandair from Seattle to Keflavik, VW Van via dirt and paved roads, camping