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Iceland: Reykjavik, Southern Iceland
(This article summarises the locations of: Budir; Hellnar; Snaefellsjokull; Arnarstapi; Londrangar; Seljalandsfoss; Skogafoss; Eyjafjallajokull; Vatnajokull; Halsanefshellir; Reynisfjalls; Vik; Gerdi; Jokulsarlon; Svinafellsjokull; Fjallsjokull; Vatnajokull; Ingolfshofdi; Hrauneyjar; Syora Fjallabak; Fjallsarlon; Halfoss and Landmannalaugar)
Southern Iceland: Long names; longer lasting impressions
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not only ice in Iceland. Come summer and this island country changes into a pristine, beautiful land that is home to countless waterfalls, glaciers, lava fields, rolling hills and millions of migratory birds. The impression tourists would carry with them will far surpass the length of the alphabets that describe various locations!
I was in Iceland for 10 days. I was companion to Daniel Bergmann, Iceland’s famous nature and landscape photographer and Peter Cox, Ireland’s renowned landscape photographer. We were on a mission – to capture the spirit of Iceland landscape. Though in the 10 days on hand we could have covered most part of Iceland, we restricted our movement mainly to the southern part. Since shooting (with cameras of course) was the agenda, we would have to wait for the right light and weather conditions. It’s very easy to encounter 4 seasons in one day. There’s a saying in Iceland: If you don’t like the weather, wait for 5 minutes.
At our disposal was a rugged 4-wheel SUV. The roads are excellent with hardly any traffic. But to negotiate the off-road wilderness of Iceland calls for tougher vehicles. For tourists, cars can be rented. The rates are bit steep as compared to other European destinations but that is understandable because the tourist season lasts only for the summer. There are also tour companies that offer excursions and trips throughout Iceland. Reykjavik Excursions are quite popular. Icelandic Kroner is the official currency. At the time of writing USD1 fetched around ISK125. Post the economic crisis that Iceland faced, things look a bit cheaper to international travellers.
Iceland is well connected with many European countries as also the US. I opted for Iceland Air from Amsterdam. It’s a 3 hour flight from Amsterdam to Keflavik – the international airport of Iceland which is about 50 minutes drive from Reykjavik – Iceland’s Capital City. Shuttle buses are available for about USD16, one way.
I arrived in the afternoon. That gave me few hours to explore the pretty city of Reykjavik. Being summer the days were really long. Sunset was at 11:30PM and sunrise was at 3:30AM. The light between sunset and sunrise is what we were after! Breakfast and dinner during the trip would be at our hotel while lunch was at roadside restaurants that came by our way when the hunger bells rang.
Of the country’s total population of just about 320,000 nearly 250,000 live in greater Reykjavik area. Small population and vast land mass gives everyone more than necessary of breathing space!
90% or Iceland’s energy is green. Power is generated with the use of waterfalls and geo thermal activities. Drinking straight from the tap is a way of life in Iceland. Bottled water is available, but very few buy them. Almost entire population speaks English... so despite the difficult Icelandic language, tourist won’t get lost unless they want to in the Icelandic wilderness. Fish is the preferred meal. Icelanders also take pride in serving their lambs.
On day 1, driving through the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, in 2 hours from Reykjavik got us to our first stop which would be for 2 nights. Our lunch stop on the way was at Borgarnes near the bay. We made our base at Hotel Hellnar right on the coast. From here we would explore Snaefellsjokull glacier and the coastal scenery from Arnarstapi to Svortuloft. Arches at Arnarstapi and stacks, lighthouse & sunset at Londrangar were the highlights.
The Snaefellsnes is a peninsula situated in western Iceland. It has been named Iceland in Miniature, because many national sights can be found in the area, including the Snaefellsjokull volcano, regarded as one of the symbols of Iceland. With its height of 1446 meters, it is the highest mountain on the peninsula and has a glacier at its peak. The volcano can be seen on clear days from Reykjavík, a distance of about 120 kms. The mountain is also known as the setting of the novel “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” by the French author Jules Verne.
Arnarstapi is a fishing hamlet at the foot of the low Mount Stapafell on the southern side of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. According to the Bardar-Saga, this mythological person, half a man and half an ogre, lived in a cave in the northern slopes of this mountain. Arnarstapi was an important trading post in the past. The cliffs along the coastline are occupied by myriads of birds, kittiwakes, fulmars and razorbills.
On day 3, we moved towards the south coast. On the agenda was shooting the amazing waterfalls of the Eyjafjoil region, namely Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Whilst reaching our destination, we drove past lava fields where the glacial burst came through during the first day of the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption. Our base for the next 2 nights would be Hotel Hvolsvollur.
On day 5, we changed directions, moving from the South to the East all the way up to Vatnajokull glacier. We drove past Halsanefshellir sea cave at Reynisfjalls with a stop for lunch at Vik. We would spend 3 nights at Gerdi Guesthouse, just minutes away from the amazing Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. The extended stay in the southeast was to maximise picture taking opportunities at the lagoon and the nearby iceberg beach as also Svinafellsjokull and Fjallsjokull glaciers.
Vatnajokull is the largest glacier in Iceland and indeed is the largest glacier mass in Europe. It covers an area of roughly 8100 square kms., and is about 1000-meter thick where it is the thickest. Its average thickness is between 400 and 500 meters, and the total ice volume of Vatnajokull is probably in the vicinity of 3300 cubic km. 7 volcanoes are situated underneath the Vatnajokull ice-cap and most of them are active volcanoes. Grimsvotn and Hekla volcanoes are Iceland's most active since the Middle Ages. Hekla volcano becomes active every 10 years. We were hoping to see the eruption as it was due. But that was not to be. Underneath the glacier is an ice cavern system several kms. long.
On one of the mornings, we made a trip to Ingolfshofdi. Cape Ingolfshofdi is an isolated headland between black sands and the Atlantic Ocean, with thousands of nesting seabirds, especially puffins and the great skua. This historical cape is named after the first settler of Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson, who spent his first winter in Iceland there in the year 874 AD. In 1991 Sigurdur Bjarnason, the retired farmer on the farm Hofsnes, started to use his tractor and hay cart to get people out to the nature reserve. Till date the trip in the hay cart is conducted by one of the Bjarnason family members.
On day 8, we drove through the mountains and rugged terrain of Nyrdra Fjallabak, one of the most precious gems of Iceland’s highland. The mountain route took us through the spectacular area of golden rhyolite mountains and geothermal features. We would make our base at Hotel Highland for 2 nights. From here we would explore Hrauneyjar and the Veidivotn region an area blessed with countless lakes, which really are water-filled craters.
On day 10, we left for Reykjavik. I extended my stay for a day to explore the town further.
Southern Iceland Image Gallery Photo viewer
Arnarstapi Image Gallery Photo viewer
Budir Image Gallery Photo viewer
Seljalandsfoss Image Gallery Photo viewer
Syora Fjallabak Image Gallery Photo viewer
Skogarfoss & Jokulsarlon Image Gallery Photo viewer
Fjallsarlon Image Gallery Photo viewer
Ingolfshofdi Image Gallery Photo viewer
Svinafellsjokull Image Gallery Photo viewer
Halfoss & Landmannalaugar Image Gallery Photo viewer
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