2018 – Iceland

Day 1

The day started very early with a 04:15 alarm. It felt like any other early shift, except for the fact that it was finally time to fly to Iceland! I was all set and had done my research like a true #avgeek. Seat 10F, good for photos and on the side that would likely bank towards the city of Copenhagen while on approach. However, the flight was only half full and that resulted in being asked if I could take 12A and be the (if need be) emergency exit operator. I accepted with no hesitation. Which was fine in the end, as the cabin floodlights were on for the entire flight, making photography just about impossible. The flight was uneventful and after about an hour I found myself in Copenhagen.

Time for breakfast and perhaps a quick nap. I ended up at the B-pier, where there were no flights and plenty of empty seats. As it turned out, my flight departed from the same pier, so it was only a short walk. TF-FIV had the honors of flying me to Iceland. Finally a ride on a 757 again, one of my favorite aircraft types. Battling through some decent winds after departure, we were on our way!

Since the flight was mostly over water, I killed time by watching a movie. By the time it ended, we only had 45 minutes to go and sure enough the Icelandic coastline came into view. Snow covered mountain slopes bathing in sunset light, I was already hooked. Needless to say, most of the time was now spent looking outside the window. We touched down on runway 28 and taxied to a remote stand, from where we were bussed to the terminal. The luggage was offloaded quite fast and before I knew it I was outside, trying to catch the shuttle bus to the car rental agency.

Everything went smooth and soon I was on my way in my Dacia Duster. Initially I thought the airport was a bit closer to the city, but clearly I underestimated that since it was a good 50km drive. On the other side, a good opportunity to get to know this car and the Icelandic road system and its users. When I got to the hostel, the check-in was smooth as could be and the receptionist turned out to be Dutch (who already figured I was Dutch as she prepared the keycards in the afternoon). To both our amusement, she had a bit of a hard time trying to explain everything in Dutch to me, as she was so used to saying it in English.

After getting to the room (it was a 4-person room), my roommate entered and we got acquainted. He arrived earlier in the day and we both went downstairs to have a look around the place. Then we went our separate ways. I took the car into the city to explore the city centre. The Sun Voyager (art in the shape of a Viking ship) and the Hallgrímskirkja were on my list.

First stop was the church. Once getting my settings down, it was time for to take the real shots. Unfortunately for me, a busload of textbook tourists just arrived, armed with selfie sticks and phones. It was a cold 20-minute wait until I could finally take my photo. While waiting I got pretty hungry, so after the taking my photos I went for a walk around town, with the idea to end up at the waterfront to see the Sun Voyager. Since there was no Aurora visible and just a big black hole behind it, I opted to go back to the hostel and try that photo another time (preferably at sunset).

Once back at the hostel, it was time to relax and prepare for tomorrow. Likely an on-time departure and a drive to one of many waterfalls I plan to see this trip.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Day 2

So, next time, please remind me to bring my ear plugs after all. Last night, our room filled up with 2 other travelers. But the guy above me was snoring horribly and I had a hard time sleeping. In the end, I just got so tired that I did manage, but it was far from ideal. The alarm went off around 8 and I took my time to thoroughly check the weather. That and checking the road status is something that comes highly recommended. The forecast showed some snow along the route, but after that it would just be cloudy. I set off at 09:25 for a 1h40 drive. This resulted in a roughly 2-hour drive, encountering snow and unfamiliar roads (combined with darkness). Luckily after clearing the snowy areas the roads got much better with little to no contamination.

My first stop was Geysir. As the name says, it’s a geysir and basically a hot spring that spews water in the air. This doesn’t happen at a set time though and if you visit, be prepared to wait for a bit to see a good one. I think I spent 20 minutes there before seeing a decent one that went up pretty high. Since it was windy and cold, I was satisfied with having seen and capturing this outburst.

After getting some photos and video, I set off to Gullfoss. This is one of the waterfalls that is part of The Golden Circle and a pretty nice one too. You have several viewing areas, but some were closed off due to the dangerous conditions (snow/ice). The lower platform offered a nice view with not too much wind. But as I made my way up again and while walking along the top of the ridge, the wind was very strong. Making photography a little difficult, but with a bit higher ISO I managed to get some decent enough shutter speeds to get sharp photos.

Heading back to Reykjavik, I noticed the time and calculated that I would get back around sunset. This would mean spending the evening in Reykjavik again, which I didn’t really want to do. I then remembered the Seljalandsfoss is lit up by lights in the evening and checked how long it would take me to get there. Just about an hour as well, which would put me there around sunset too. After a quick check of the weather, I set off towards the East.

While driving, I figured I would also drive by Bakki airport. It was along the route anyway and that way I could tick that one off my list. The airport seemed closed, no-one around. Not too weird, as the windsock was literally horizontal due to the very strong wind. But when walking along the buildings, I did find an airplane still outside, tied down to the ground. Because of said wind, I had a lot of trouble getting a sharp photo. In the end it took ISO3200 AND my tripod to get a decent shutter speed and sharp photo. Mission accomplished.

Seljalandsfoss was only a short drive from there and already slightly visible in the distance. Got there, parked the car and explored the surroundings and my options. Earlier in the day, I read that it pays off to walk a bit further on the walkways, to a second waterfall close by. The website called it a ‘hidden gem’ and it really kind of is! This one is called Gljúfrabúi and is enclosed by rock formations. I recognized it from photos and with nicer weather you can make your way through the running stream of water to actually stand underneath the waterfall. I took some photos, but since the light was fading fast and this one isn’t lit up, I walked back to the Seljalandsfoss.

I took my photos, but there are only so many angles to shoot from. So once that was done, I basically covered this goal of the trip as well. Although I plan to go back during the day in the next few days. When checking my phone, the car rental agency had sent me an E-mail, advising of a code yellow for tomorrow. This kind of ruined my plans a little bit, as I wanted to drive back South tomorrow. But no big deal, just some shuffling around with plans. So tomorrow I will stay in the Reykjavik area and see the airports, which were on my to-do list anyway. So it looks like I’ll get a decent amount of things done in the first few days here. Good stuff!

The only thing remaining was the 2-ish hour drive back to the hostel. It went fine and roads were overall much better than that morning. Once back at the hostel, I just chilled, charged batteries, had some food and went to bed around 22:45.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Day 3

Today is a more or less lazy day. Since I’m pretty much confined to the Reykjavik area, waking up early didn’t make much sense and it was really nice to sleep in after last night. Checking the weather and roads this morning, it showed that the main road to Vík is actually closed due to the weather. The rest of the morning was spent in the common areas of the hostel, writing last night’s trip report while waiting for it to get lighter outside.

I went out just before noon and headed to the Perlan, a museum with a nice observation deck. From the deck, you have a great view of Reykjavik and the domestic airport. It quickly became apparent that the code yellow wasn’t uncalled for. It was super windy, especially when at such an open and elevated place. Unfortunately there was not much traffic happening at the airport, probably due to the wind being out of limits for most flights. I did a quick scan on Google Maps of what the perimeter looks like and started to explore the fence. Found some parked aircraft which were no problem to photograph and even saw N50AG, a Cirrus Vision Jet that I know very well due to work. I recognized that bird from a mile away! It was probably there on a stopover on the way back to the States.

The other side of the airport got me some parked aircraft, some of which seemed to have been there for a long time. In one case the wing paint/panels were peeling off and another had no more tail. All rocking in the strong wind. By the time I was done, it was around sunset again and I realized I hadn’t eaten anything yet. Super hungry! With Reykjavik being pretty straight forward in terms of the road system, I explored a bit more of the city as I tried to get to the hostel. Suddenly I saw a supermarket I read about during researching, which was a very welcome sight. Got my lunch and some other food for the upcoming days. Afterwards I made my way back to the hostel.

After chilling for a bit, it still felt early, so I headed out to the city again. I wanted to tick the Sun Voyager off my list and get some more/better photos of the Hallgrimskirkja. Despite the wind, I think I managed pretty well! Once satisfied with my results, I went on a stroll through the main street of the city. Lots of nice bars, pubs, restaurants and combinations. And due to the buildings, no wind either!

Back at the hostel, I found that the room is now full again, as 2 other travelers have arrived. Settling in, I started to get a bit hungry again after my late lunch. I went to the common kitchen with my cup noodles and found one of my new roommates there and another guest who was cooking. We ended up sitting for a while as we chatted about our time in Iceland and the Northern Lights especially (discussing whether they would be visible in the next few days).

Tomorrow I’m heading to Vík, where I’ll be spending the night. My plan is to stop at Sólheimasandur (the DC-3 wreck on the beach) and the Skógafoss waterfall. The roads look fine, although just outside Reykjavik there are still snow showers. And those roads are the most mountainous too, with a couple of km of steep-ish downhill roads. Not really used to that, so I’ll have to be careful when driving there. Hopefully the conditions will improve overnight though. After that area it seems to be smooth sailing. The forecast is single digit wind speeds and sun, so I’m really looking forward to this!

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Day 4

What a day! Best one so far and possibly of the whole trip. So, today’s plan was to first visit the DC-3 wreck at the black beach of Sólheimasandur. The DC-3 is a former US Navy bird that crashed there on November 24 1973, after running out of fuel. Rumor has it the pilots switched to the wrong fuel tank. It’s been completely stripped of all useful parts, but they left the hull on the beach and it is now a relatively popular tourist attraction. Afterwards, I visited the other main waterfall in the area, Skógafoss.

I checked out of the hostel in Reykjavik a little over 08:00 and set off for the drive towards the South coast. Conditions were as expected or better. Again some light snow over the mountain ridge East of Reykjavik, but definitely a less stressful drive than the first time.

First I happened to drive past the viewpoint for the Eyjafjallajökull. Some of you might remember that name as being the cause for the grounding of air traffic in Europe back in 2010. The viewpoint wasn’t that impressive though and after a few quick photos I hit the road again.

I knew that I likely wouldn’t be alone at the wreck site, but I did wonder how busy it would be. I can fully imagine one might not be interested in this. Or, as the receptionist at my hostel in Vík said when I told her I visited the wreck: “that’s boring”. However, then one would also be wrong. By the time I got to the Sólheimasandur parking area, there were already a fair number of cars present. In the past you used to be able to drive all the up to the wreck, but that’s been restricted now and visitors have to walk there. There is a good and easy path to the wreck though. When researching this back home, I read something about 4 miles/45 minutes. It didn’t really feel like 4 miles, but I did it roughly 40 minutes (and I’m a fast walker).

When I got to the wreck, I put my bag down, had a drink and walked around to explore the wreck and photo angles. My tripod was of course with me (seriously; if you go to Iceland, bring a tripod, it comes in handy every time and gives you a lot more options!) and I made my round around the aircraft. Then it was time for some ‘interior’ shots (what’s left of it anyway…) before getting to some ‘fun’ shots. As many others have done, I climbed up on the aircraft, using the holes that were made in the fuselage. The roof is a bit busted and wonky, so do be very careful if you plan to climb up!

The cockpit is almost totally gone, but one can still climb up, which is what I did last and took place at where once the captain’s seat would’ve been. All photos turned out great and I loved this excursion. In total, I spent about 1,5h at the wreck, taking my sweet time. On the way back, I decided to time myself and see how far the walk really is. I turned on my Strava app and went back to the car. The return leg took me 38:15, with a distance of 3,6km.

After a short break in the car, I drove back a little to the Skógafoss waterfall. I saw it from the road earlier as I passed by it on the way to the DC-3 and it looked much more impressive than the Seljalandsfoss. And from up close, it really is the nicest waterfall I’ve seen here so far. Since doing my research back home, I had a particular photo in mind. I set up, but people were in it every time. Ideally I’d like a ‘clean’ photo, but I realize it’s not always possible due to the amount of tourist. At one point, people were finally going and I could almost take my shot, but of course 3 busses filled with tourists showed up. *sigh*

Once most of the horde was gone, I packed up and went closer to the waterfall as well to take some photos. When I was finished with that, I headed back to my original spot, hoping that less people would visit as it got darker (this waterfall isn’t lit up at night). Killing time (and because my toes were cold), I kept my football skills up by kicking a rock all over the area. In the end, I was finally able to take the photo I wanted. Clean, no people, a 2-minute exposure. Really looking forward to editing that one. (It’s the last photo from today’s batch)

It was now dark and I drove the remaining part to Vík, where I would be spending the night. The hostel is pretty small, but I found it to be cozy. Checking-in, it turned out the receptionist was originally from Belgium, so Dutch was spoken once again. Check-in was a breeze and she gave me loads of good tips of what to see/do around Vík, but also elsewhere in the country

Armed with that knowledge, I wandered into Vík (it’s a really small town) for a burger and beer. Quite expensive (27 Euro), but it was tasty. Walked back to the hotel to get my camera gear to again set off to photograph a small church on a hill, which was nicely lit at night. Once done, it was now really time to relax and I did so in the common area of the hotel, where a comfy old couch was the seating of choice. Reading up on the world news, sending photos to family & friends and actually watching a live stream of football on my laptop. After an hour or so, it was bedtime. Tomorrow’s plans are still a bit open, but decisions can be made over breakfast.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Day 5

Another reasonably early start again, with an alarm at 07:30. I slept OK, but not great due to some physical inconveniences (carrying around my camera bag all day took its toll). Since I spent only one night in Vík, I packed my stuff before breakfast. Taking only some essential planning tools with me, I headed to the breakfast room. I pretty much stuck to my original plan and that left me with a full day after all.

The first stop was the Black Sand Beach in Vík, a very short drive. Although a nice beach, I didn’t find it super impressive. I also went back to last night’s church to take photos for a panorama overview of Vík that I can hopefully stitch together when I get home (I could, see below!) . The main targets for today were relatively close, so I could take my time on location.

Next stop, Reynisfjara beach! Of course full of tourists as well, but I got some shots. Super windy out there, up to the point where I had to really be careful about how I positioned my tripod on the beach. Shooting some long exposures again, I tried to block the wind from rocking the camera too much. And with success! After some 20 minutes, I called it quits for this location and headed towards Dyrhólaey. There are 2 spots to visit; one is an area from which you can see/reach Reynisfjara beach and Kirkjufjara beach, the other being the lighthouse and vantage point to take photo of Dyrhólaey from.

I first went to the former, which offers a really nice angle (with single rock formation) of the Reynisfjara beach. Moving to the other side of the viewing area, I could see the lighthouse in the distance. On that side there were also some nice rock formations to be found. And, as expected due to the elevation, it was again very windy.

Getting to the lighthouse/ Dyrhólaey requires a nice steep uphill drive on a gravel road, but no big deal for the Duster. I didn’t realize this at first, but I’ve seen many nice photos of Dyrhólaey, which is the name for the rock formation. It features an arch, and supposedly at specific times of the day, the sunlight will come right through the arch. Unfortunately the sun was already way too high for that when I arrived. Still a good spot though and a great opportunity to put my filters to use.

With that done, I drove back to Skógafoss, the waterfall that I visited yesterday. Because I spent so long waiting for my perfect photo, I didn’t have time to go up to the viewing deck at the top of the waterfall. Another photographer told me yesterday that there are some other nice (but smaller) waterfalls/rapids up there. A nice hike and great views for sure!

After getting down andto the car, I drove back towards Vík. Because during the drive to Skógafoss, I saw this area with a lot of streams and mountains in the back. There was a picknick area where I could park the car, after which it was just a matter of crossing the road. With sunset already happening/over, light was quickly fading. And so was my battery life with these temperatures. Time to hit the road again for a 2 hour drive back to Reykjavik!

The drive was uneventful and I arrived back at the hostel I was in for the first days. Same room, but different people now. And the room smelled. Badly. One of the ‘new’ guys seemed to be a heavy smoker and I’m sure we all know what that smells like. I opened the window, hoping that would do the trick. Otherwise, we’ll see. Trying not to think about that, tomorrow is my last full day. I would’ve liked to stay maybe 2-3 more days, but oh well. No real plans yet, although I’m thinking of booking a tour after all (if I can find a nice one). I guess you’ll have to find out below.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Day 6

It was a bit of lazy morning, sleeping in until 9 or 10. Slowly woke up, had a nice shower and organized my suitcase so I wouldn’t have to do that in the evening/tomorrow morning. The plan was to go on a free walking tour of Reykjavik at 13:00 and then treat myself to the Blue Lagoon. But before the walking tour, I wanted to visit Sandskeið airport, even though it’s just a tiny asphalt strip up in the mountains to the East of Reykjavik. It was also nice to see this area during daylight, since so far I’ve only driven here in the dark hours.

As I arrived, a small aircraft just did a touch & go and I kept my eye on the sky and hoped there would be more. Unfortunately that plane continued its flight and it took a very cold while later for the next aircraft to show up. It was a Cessna 172, which ended up doing several approaches. Ample opportunity to get some shots at this small and rare-ish airport. Suddenly I heard the distinct sound of a helicopter, but couldn’t spot it. When I did, it became obvious why I couldn’t see it at first; it was flying fast and low, a pretty cool sight! It kind of buzzed the hangars (Top Gun anyone?!) and continued towards Reykjavik.

By this time, I was already running very late for that walking tour. I didn’t feel like rushing and was enjoying my aviation time so I skipped out on the tour. Instead, I headed towards the domestic airport. I visited it a few days ago as well, but that was the day of the very strong winds. Today, there was much more traffic and lots of things to be seen. 2 Coast Guard helicopters and Dash-8, Eagle Air aircraft, a private Cessna Citation and some small birds are amongst today’s catch.

Again, I ‘forgot’ to eat, so a quick stop on the way to the hostel was necessary. Once at the hostel, I put my gear in the room and headed downstairs again with my laptop. I still planned to treat myself to the Blue Lagoon and pre-booking is mandatory for it. To pass the time, I wrote part of today’s trip report, caught up on messages on my phone and chatted with the Dutch receptionist who was on duty again.

At 17:00, it was time to get going. The drive is roughly an hour and went by smooth. Everything was quite explanatory and not difficult to understand. The price for me was 9990 ISK, which translates to about 70 Euro. Included in the price are a free silica mud mask (now who doesn’t want that?!), a towel and the first drink. Stepping foot outside in nothing but swimming trunks was cold to say the least, but the water is close by and you can quickly get into the lagoon. The water temperature varies from place to place and inside there is actually a screen with a layout of the lagoon and the corresponding water temperatures. Shame I only found out after I was done…

Visibility was at times very poor, as the wind blew a lot of steam over the surface. Normally I wouldn’t really want to go to such a tourist trap, but I wanted some more comfort today and definitely less driving/hiking. Luckily it wasn’t that busy and it was easy to get around. I mostly camped in the areas where the water temperature was a warm 40 degrees. In a nutshell, the Blue Lagoon is basically a warm-water semi-salty outdoor pool. But in all fairness, it’s a nice place and it got me warm again after some colder days. But the showers..! Hands down the best ones of the entire trip. Compare it to standing under a warm water waterfall. I may or may not have taken my time showering before and after (the before is mandatory).

Looking on my phone, the car rental agency sent me another E-mail, advising me of another code yellow for tomorrow. Wind speeds can be as high as 90kmh for the area I’ll need to transit through. No option to stay indoors, as I have a rental car to return and a flight to catch. It was snowing in Reykjavik as well and sticking, so hopefully the conditions tomorrow aren’t too bad. It was still reasonably early and swimming made me hungry, so I opted to go out for a takeaway pizza.

Also a shout out to the X-id radio station. They play a lot of music that I like and normally would not hear on the radio. They can be found on 97.7 FM in the Reykjavik area.

Anyway, the last night and time to back up all photos and videos onto the external harddrive that I take with me in my hand luggage. Just in case my suitcase gets lost/delayed/whatever. Then to bed and a reasonably early wake up alarm.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Day 7

With the weather forecast in mind, I built in some extra time to get to the airport. As it turned out, it was just very wet outside. The ride to the airport went smooth and I didn’t encounter extreme weather. When checking the forecast when I got near the airport, it showed that the winds would pick up later in the morning.

So now I was early to arrive at the airport and for the returning of the car. So I figured I would do some ‘perimeter hunting’ again, which got me some nice photos. While driving past the fence I saw the all-white Dash-8 that arrived yesterday and I also found a US Navy F-4 Phantom now serving as a gate guard at the local flight school. The maintenance area at the airport also got me a few Icelandair aircraft that were parked outside.

I returned the car around 11:30 and made my way to the terminal. Keflavik airport works in waves, meaning there are waves of aircraft that all depart/arrive around the same time. This goes for both the flights to Europe and to the US. My flight to Copenhagen was one that fell in between waves however, so the terminal was pretty empty. This meant no long lines for security and no hordes of passengers. I killed time by having some lunch and exploring the terminal.

When it was time to board, everything seemed a bit chaotic near my seat. A family of 6 who didn’t really understand what seats they had and other passengers who were trying to be helpful and nice but actually added to the chaos by also switching seats. The flight itself was uneventful and I have to admit I chose the wrong seat. My view was nice, but the other side saw an amazing sunset. Lesson learned for next time.

Due to the strong winds, my 3-hour flight became a 2,5-hour flight. This meant a bit longer layover in Copenhagen, but more time for dinner. During my layover on the way to Iceland I already explored the terminal and so I knew where to go for the food stands/restaurants. Eventually I ended up in the Irish pub for a burger and beer. A nice way to end the holiday. The final flight home was also on time and very uneventful and after another hour or so I arrived at my home airport.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Below you will also find a couple of panoramic shots I took on this trip.

First up is a wide overview of Reykjavik. The famous Hallgrímskirkja on the left and a large portion of the city can be seen in this photo. Taken from a very windy observation deck of the Perlan museum.



A panorama of the black sand beach at Vík.



An overview of the town of Vík. there are literally only a handful of houses outside the frame to the right. The town is this small.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–