It’s dark, real dark and I’m trying to find my iPhone. The sounds of Marimba echo throughout the room reminding me it’s 6:00am and it’s time to get moving.
Any other day, I’d lie there, squeezing out just a few more minutes. But this 6:00am is different. And I’m excited to get started.
I silence the alarm and turn to the window. I move the curtains aside and peek into the darkness, as if to think that it’s going to give me a sign as to what the day holds. There’s a saying here that kinda’ sums it up, “if you don’t like the weather right now, just give it five minutes.”
I can see flakes of snow blowing across the illuminated streetlights in front of our hotel, that’s about all I can tell you. It’s probably cold, so dressing in layers is the drill we’re practicing this morning. It’s going to be a long day, and you don’t want the cold to creep in and disrupt the awesomeness of what this day is all about. That is to photograph and experience the beauty of this marooned, volcanic island, perched near the top of the globe.
This is Iceland, and we’re off to capture whatever it delivers.
I found Arnar on Instagram. Arnar is an accomplished landscape photographer based in Reykjavik (you can follow him on Instagram here). What drew me to Arnar was his stunning collection of photos of Iceland. His images are inspiring and I wanted my share of his experience. Arnar was to be our guide for the day and night and (with our Aurora chasing) even the next morning. And it would be spectacular.
Visuals trump text any day, so here’s our Iceland odyssey captured in all its glory in what turned out to be a short 17-hour day.
And we loved every minute of it.
No wonder Iceland has seen an increase of 20% growth in visitor numbers each year since 2010, where can you find hidden gems like this, just a stone’s throw off the highway. Now you may need a guide like Arnar to help you find it but I just want you to know that they exist.
Finding your way around Iceland is fairly easy, with two main tourist traveled roads that do most of the heavy lifting; The Golden Circle and Ring Road pictured above. If you don’t have Arnar behind the wheel then our trusted nav system is WAZE on all our self-driving road trips – it can be very useful. Winter weather can trick you – one minute it’s beautiful, calm and clear, but the next minute could bring you a ‘grip the steering wheel with sweaty palms’ kind of driving. My advice, slow down and take your time.
Snow capped mountains offer way too many photo opp’s. It’s hard not to want to shoot them all. But keep your eye out for the moment sunlight hits the peak at just the right time. The golden hour?
The solitude of a church perched on high ground dominates the town below. If you miss one, don’t worry, there are many of these lovely churches sprinkled around the island.
Traveling in the south on Ring Road from Reykjavik will bring you to Seljalandsfoss and one of the most amazing waterfalls you’ll see (I said ONE of the most amazing). If you look closely, the group of people in the bottom right corner helps to illustrate its enormity.
See, I told you that there would be more. Red roofs are like a beacon sending signals to photographers like me.
You can pull your car off to the side of the road and hop on over and acquaint yourself with these lovely creatures. No one’s going to stop you, the horses are friendly and love to pose. Icelandic horses are a big part of Icelandic life, you’ll see them all over the country. Icelanders are serious about their horses restricting all other breeds from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
Arnar and Mary capturing the moment.
As you travel east on Ring Road (No.1) toward Vic, Iceland will reward you with images like this (rainbows are not guaranteed). Skogarfoss waterfall is one of those awe-inspiring Kodak moments. You’ll park your car amongst the rows of cramped tour buses (which you hate) but you just have to get close and feel the mist hit your face and your camera lens. If you’ve had breakfast then you’ll have the energy to climb the nearly 200 feet of stairs to the top for another impressive view and to bang off a few more shots.
Icelanders take their hot dogs seriously. Hot dogs are so ubiquitous and beloved in Iceland, they’re practically the national dish. They’re much like American hot dogs, but with a twist. Icelandic dogs are mostly made from lamb, along with a bit of pork and beef. And according to my sources, sheep outnumber humans in Iceland nearly two to one, so they’re a plentiful food source. And they’re available everywhere, even gas stations, if you can find one. (Just a side-note, make sure you have lots of gas in your rental).
Glacier water in Iceland (above, bottom right) is of course the best water you’ll ever taste and touted to be the best on the planet. Of course you’ll just have to try it, ’cause like hot dogs that cute bottle is everywhere and you’ll just have to buy one and bring it home just like we did.
Always have your camera ready ’cause you just never know. Like this photo taken while on our way to shoot the beach at Vic. The sky is unretouched. No really, the sun was shutting down for the day creating a natural backdrop for our rider.
Quick, get this before it disappears. Above image, Mary with here iPhone, Murray with his Nikon, capturing the sunset illuminating this landmark at Vic. Thanks to Arnar for this perfectly timed shot.
As the sun went down, our hopes went up. After all there was one item left to tick off our Iceland ‘bucket list.’ Witnessing natures light show was yet to be experienced and Arnar knows just where peak aurora sightings occur.
We head west back toward Reykjavik, and a few hours later we are resting in a darkened parking lot, waiting for the show to begin. It’s very dark, all you can see is the illumination of the night sky across the pond that sits adjacent to our car. Iceland doesn’t guarantee their light shows. Aurora Borealis is simply ‘cross your fingers’ and hope for the best. And she’ll keep you waiting, sometimes all night. And so we wait.
And just as quickly as it appears, it will leave you in an instant. It’s as though it’s teasing you with a glimpse of what could be. Although this night was not to be its greatest performance, I was able to capture a piece of it none the less and I was glad for that.
It’s 12:30am and it’s time to call it a day. Mary’s been in the car with the heat on for that last 30-minutes. We’re all cold and tired. Even though it’s been a long, long day, we couldn’t be happier. Iceland winters are spectacular with or without a light show. We look forward now to July where we’ll see another side to this beautiful country. We can’t wait.