Iceland, the land of fire and ice. It's a pretty good tagline when you think of it. A remote island dotted with volcanoes and covered in snow and ice. Quite the extremes! The 'land of fire and ice' would be more like something you would expect to read about in a JRR Tolkien novel. But that it is; a stunning landscape grown out of volcanic rock which begs to be explored and revered.
After spending 4 nights there with 4 friends at the beginning of April, I pieced together a few words and photos to show off some of the scenes and experiences while on that trip. It wasn't a photo trip per se, but when travelling to a new part of the world, I couldn't resist bringing a camera to document it. Bad weather the first few days presented little in the way of photo opportunities, but by day 3, the skies began to clear and on day 4 the sun finally shone through. Hopefully, this blog might inspire you to visit Iceland if you haven't already done so, and if you are planning a trip there, some of the info I've included might be of use to you. This blog isn't intended to be a 'definite' guide, moreso a few general thoughts, travel tips and observations.
First up, Iceland isn't for everyone; if you're the kind of person who enjoys holidays that involve shopping trips, drinking sessions or fine dinning, then you better look elsewhere - this definitely isn't the destination for you. Shops, pubs and restaurants are few and far between. As a general guide, everything is about twice the price as at home which could potentially make this an expensive holiday or trip away. Massive inflation due to the economic crash in 2008 and also Iceland's high dependence on imported goods makes shopping, eating and drinking a costly affair. A trip to the Blue Lagoon, Iceland's main attraction will set you back a hefty 46 euro for the most basic entry, but it's well worth it for the experience. Expect to pay 10 euro for a sandwich, a minimum of 20 euro for a basic dinner or 10 euro for a pint of beer or glass of wine. Petrol and diesel are about 20 cent more expensive per litre.
But it's not all bad news. Money can be saved by sharing costs of car rental, fuel and accommodation by going with a gang. Hotels aren't that common and rented houses and apartments seem to be the most popular form of traveler accommodation. Buying food supplies in one of the bigger supermarkets and cooking it yourself will also save you a few euro. There's absolutely no need to buy bottled water since their tap water is so clean and pure. As a matter of fact, a lot of shops don't sell bottled water at all! But that's a reflection on how clean Iceland is. Outside of the capital Reykjavik, you will struggle to find rubbish or litter. A lot of cafes offer free coffee refills. If you're willing to do a bit of searching and hiking, there are many outdoor thermal springs that can be enjoyed completely free of charge. Many of Iceland's top tourist attractions such as Seljalandsfoss, Gullfoss and Geysir are also absolutely free of charge; in other words, they're the complete opposite of the Cliffs of Moher ;-p
There's an endless network of roads to drive around in Iceland and at no stage will you be stuck for captivating views. For the few days that we were there, we drove approximately 2000km, but we only really covered a small area of both the west and southern regions of the country. There's a 2100km ring road that goes all the way around the island, but outside of this, a lot of the roads are quite rough. The further you venture from towns and the main ring road, the worse the roads become. Certain roads are only passable with rugged off-road 4 wheel drive jeeps and trucks. Some roads are so bad that during the winter months, they are closed off altogether.
If you're gonna head off the main roads, you'll need a decent set of wheels!
Imagine going to school on a bus like this! If there's a road-block up saying 'Impassable' it means impassable. Trust me...
Icelanders appear to live much simpler lives. No fancy cars or houses. No luxury restaurants or shopping boutiques. They get by with the basics. Houses are simple yet colourful and cosy. I guess when most goods and materials are imported, they have no choice but to be as self-sufficient and as modest as possible.
Churches and graves are also rather simple and humble. Quite often, graves consist of nothing more than a mound of earth marked with a cross made from 2 pieces of wood - a far cry from some of the elaborate and decorative marble headstones and memorials which are so common all across Ireland.
Much of the Icelandic landscape isn't too dissimilar from wild Connemara. Vast stretches of unspoilt land with little in terms of growth and diversity in trees and vegetation. As a matter of fact, that's one of the main things that struck me while there - there are so few trees that it nearly becomes a suprise when you do see one.
The word 'geyser' is derived from the Icelandic placename 'Geysir' which is home to the famous hot springs which shoot out fountains of hot water and steam. The geysers have names on them and 'Strokkur' erupts approximately every 5 minutes while 'Geysir' less frequently so.
Hot springs can be encountered all across the country, but bare in mind that some of them reach 100 degrees celsius and might not make for the most relaxing of baths. Actually, Icelanders harness this natural geothermal power and use it to produced electricity and heat greenhouses.
Waterfalls. Apparently there's over 30,000 of them!! I wouldn't argue with the figure either, because as you're driving along, it seems that every 5 minutes you pass one.
The impressive black sand beach near the village of Vik on the south coast of Iceland features impressive basalt column rock formations, much like the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim. Unlike regular beaches that feature light brown/golden coloured sand, the beaches in Iceland are black - a result of black basalt rock having broken down into small pebbles and sand over thousands of years.
All good things must come to an end, and after 4 days and nights spent touring one of the most beautiful and peaceful countries I've ever been to, it was time to head for the airport. The question everybody has asked me since returning home has been 'did you see the northern lights?'. Seeing the northern lights mostly depends on 4 factors; location, time of year, cloud cover and the strength of the solar winds. Unfortunately, mother nature wasn't playing ball and after 3 cloudy/overcast nights it all boiled down to the last night. Daytime was beautiful with only a light covering of cloud and as the day progressed, the sky cleared up nicely. With 3 out of 4 boxes ticked, it was all down to the strength of the solar winds. There are apps and websites that give regular forecasts so you can guess ahead as to whether a good viewing is likely or not. We should have showed more trust in these apps, since after a number of hours sat freezing cold in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere, it was obvious we weren't going to see anything.
Still, at least it's a good excuse to go back. Would I recommend it? Definitely! But, as I said at the start, it's not for everyone...
Nikon D610, Tamron 24-70 f2.8 and Nikon 16-35 f4.