Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Europe 2017: South Iceland highlights (breathtaking!)

Day 2 of our four-day stopover in Iceland started out sunny. I woked up early—in late July it starts to get light at 3 a.m. after just three hours of dusk-level darkness—and I was excited because we were going to drive southeast from Reykjavík to Vík, the southernmost town in Iceland. This relatively short stretch of less than 150 miles is home to many of Iceland's most beautiful scenic attractions.

When we started to make plans for our visit to Iceland, I was trying to accommodate a drive around the entire island. I quickly realized, though, that even though Iceland looks small on a world map, it's actually quite large. With a land area of more than 100,000 km² (40,000 sq mi), it's bigger than Korea, Portugal, Austria, Ireland and 150 other countries in the world. In U.S. terms, it's about the size of Virgina, Kentucky or Ohio. In light of that, we decided to focus on the southwestern corner of Iceland.

After leaving Reykjavík at 9 a.m., the sun stayed with us for less than 30 minutes until we hit this impressive fog bank:


After that, the fog was with us all day until we got back to Reykjavík at 8:30 pm.

Not that I'm complaining. We may not have seen the mountains and glaciers that are visible from the Ring Road (Route 1), but the fog created a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere that underscored the almost surreal natural beauty all around us.



The first waterfall we saw, Urriðafoss, may not have much of a drop, but it's the most voluminous in Iceland. (The Iceland letter ð, or eth, is a voiced "th" sound as in "this.")




In contrast, the next waterfall we stopped at, Seljalandsfoss, has a drop of 60 m (200 ft). What makes it even more special is that you can walk behind it. Even though I came prepared with a rain jacket, I didn't anticipate getting drenched even before making it to the actual waterfall! As you can see from the number of visitors in my photos, this doesn't seem to keep people away.









Because of the neverending spray from the waterfall that hits you even when you stand behind it, I wasn't able to compose my photos as carefully as I usually do. But hopefully you still get an idea of how special this place is.

July and August is the main tourist season in Iceland, and all major attractions were overrun with people. And yet, on many occasions, the Ring Road—the only road that goes around the island—was deserted, allowing me to take photos like this one:


More timeless photos of mist-shrouded hills:




  
By noon everybody was getting hungry so we decided to head straight to our turnaround point, the village of Vík (full name: Vík í Mýrdal), and stop at the other attractions on our way back to Reyjavík. Vík may be tiny, population less than 300, but it's the biggest settlement in a 70-mile radius. It bears repeating that the population of the entire country is only 330,000. In the U.S. there are over 50 cities with more residents than all of Iceland! 


The Nootka lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis) was brought into Iceland from North America in 1945 to prevent erosion and has since become a major threat to the native flora. A large of expanse of lupines may be a beautiful sight for tourists, but it's a bane to ecologists. Eradication efforts are now underway.


Silverweed (Potentilla anserina)




Vík turned out to be a fairly unassuming place but I will always remember it for two things: for serving me the best fish I've had in my entire life (a fresh, locally caught Arctic char grilled to perfection), and for having the most beautiful black sand beach terminating in an equally magnificent series of sea stacks called Reynisdrangar. (If you're a Game of Thrones fan, many scenes beyond the Wall were filmed in Iceland, including the Vík area.)



Just to the west of Vík, on the other side of the headland you saw above, is the beach of Reynisfjara



Reynisfjara may be Iceland's most scenic beach, but it's also the country's most dangerous:


Reynisfjara's most outstanding feature...


...are the basalt columns that extend all the way onto the sand:


As you can see, they prove to be irresistible to tourists:


A giant playground for young and old!

  
  
  





Continuing a few miles westward, we got to the Dyrhólaey peninsula. Looking east you can see the Reynisdrangar sea stacks in Vík, with Reynisfjara Beach in between. There is so much scenic beauty in this small area that my eyes began to ache.





Dyrhólaey is also where we finally saw a colony of Atlantic puffins. I'm not much of a bird watcher (or animal photographer) but even I got excited to see so many of these funny-looking seabirds.




While we're on the subject of animals, when it comes to the domesticated kind, sheep probably outrank all others in sheer quantity. But Icelandic horses (they hate being called ponies) are definitely the most majestic. We saw them everywhere we went, both roaming free on seemingly endless pastures and hauling tourists about.

Icelandic horses playing in endless pastures...

...and at work showing tourists the sights, in this case Skógafoss

The final major stop of our day was Skógafoss. Like Seljalandsfoss, it has a drop of 60 m (197 ft). 


If Skógafoss looks familiar, it was a filming location for Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.




A series of stairs lead to the top of the waterfall:


On our way home we managed to catch a teensy glimpse of a glacier in the distance:


It turned out to be Eyjafjallajökull, arguably the most famous glacier in recent Icelandic history after the volcano beneath the ice cap erupted in 2010, causing major disruptions to air travel in northern and western Europe. 

Your eyes may start to cross when reading Eyjafjallajökull. It becomes easier when you separate the word by its compounds: Eyja-fjalla-jökull. The approximate pronunciation is EY-YUH-fyuhtla-yoh-kutl. Literally translated, the name means "ice cap of the mountains of the islands."

Just a few miles past Eyjafjallajökull, the world was again engulfed by fog, and we didn't see the sun until we reached the outskirts of Reyjavík.


LOCATION:




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23 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful photos, gives me a glimpse of a lovely country.

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  2. What a beautiful landscape! But it has a stark and forbidding aspect to it even in summer. Thanks for sharing your photos, love all the shots of the waterfalls.

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    1. Day 3 was sunny, and the world looked completely different. But the stark aspect is always there since there are virtually no trees other that in population centers.

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  3. Abolutely amazing! In my next life I want to be from there!

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  4. Utterly beautiful! Those basalt columns have a surreal appearance - a perfect backdrop for "Game of Thrones." I love the shots of the puffins and the shot of the horses playing was a great catch.

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    1. The four days we spent in Iceland were filled with so much natural wonder that words fail me. The puffins and ponies (I admit, that's what we called them) were special favorites.

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  5. Gorgeous! Thanks for taking us along. I can see that wall of basalt columns in your garden topped with potted agave and cacti.

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    1. Oh man, how awesome it would be to have a succulent crevice garden with basalt columns. They wouldn't even have to be big...

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  6. Wow such awesome photos. The first one of the fog back, the waterfalls, the basalt getting photographed, all of them. And it was obviously not 90F.

    The whole world was once that beautiful, before we overran it. We're the most invasive species of them all.

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    1. After we arrived in Iceland, we felt like we could BREATHE again. Germany was so crowded, especially the freeways.

      Yes, Iceland is in danger of being overloved and overrun by tourists as well, but only the main attractions are swarmed, and it's easy to get away, as many of my photos show.

      And no, it wasn't 90°F. The highest temperature *ever recorded in Iceland* wasn't even 90, it was 86.9°F (30.5°C) in 1939 (thanks, Wikipedia). When we were there, temps were in the very low 60s. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to be able to wear a light hoodie!

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  7. Beautiful photos ! Iceland seems to be one of those destinations like Yosemite and Death Valley that attract photographers and photo workshops.I can see why !

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    1. Very true! Lots of photography workshops go to Iceland now. Pricey, though. Heck, the country is pricey enough as it is.

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  8. This post finally landed in my Inbox. It was worth the wait. Iceland is a photographer's dream. Soil erosion control - that seems to be the reason behind the import of so many plants that end up being an invasive nightmare. Thanks for this journey.

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    1. Agreed! Often the easiest problem is chosen to tackle soil erosion.

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  9. So much green, so much beauty! Someplace I doubt I'll ever see, thanks for the tour!

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    1. I never thought I'd go there either but Icelandair lets you stop over for free--and they're usually cheaper than major American and European airlines. Maybe the next time you fly to the UK?

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  10. Thank you for the free vacation. Due to your expansive photographs, and sitting under a fan with an icy jell pack around my neck after working outside in 100 degree temps, I felt like I was there! Whoo hoo!

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    1. I should start a GoFundMe page for my next vacation, LOL.

      It's close to 100°F here in Davis. The cool temps of Iceland are becoming a distant memory...

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  11. I always enjoy your photo tours! What a stunning place...so completely unique!

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