When you hear the name Iceland, a thought of being there in winter sends shivers down the spine. Snow dominant sceneries comes to our mind. That being true to some extent, Iceland is more than just ice. In fact, the expression “Ice and Fire” is well suites to Iceland than any other place. Greens of highlands, blues of glaciers, dark shades of black sand beaches and beautiful orange shades of sunrises/sunsets over warmer coast lines together define Iceland as crown jewel of natural beauty. Warmth and simplicity of Icelanders is the sparkle of that jewel.
My primary motivation of this visit is to photograph northern lights (Aurora Borealis) and ice caves. Aurora Borealis is green light (there can be other colors a well) that dances in the night skies of polar regions. Electrically charged particles from solar winds interact with oxygen and nitrogen atoms of Earth’s upper atmosphere cause these lights. I have seen photographs and movies, but never witnessed in person. Ice caves are formed in the glaciers, when water flows under glacial ice through cracks or crevasses and eventually widen the gap by eroding/melting ice. Those caves are amazing inside. Unfortunately, I could not see northern lights due to bad weather conditions. Also due to weeks of rain days, all ice caves are either flooded or roofs are collapsed. Ice caves form and collapse every year. You need to wear good micro-spikes (as below image) or crampons to walk on glaciers. If you have to walk on steep areas, carrying an ice axe is advised.
This cave is formed at foot of the glacier with eroded soil. So the ice is mixed with mud and look black.
The cave under construction (or may be towards destruction !)
In contrast to my typical solo trips, I joined a photograph tour group in this trip. The eleven complete strangers that I met before the trip are now I can call friends for life. That itself is a great experience in this trip. Formula for such phenomena is that everyone in the group like same beer 😉 . Alban and Kasper (Tour leads) planned our locations dynamically based on weather conditions and Eidur drove us in Big Red to get locations on time.
We stayed in south and south-east coastal areas only.
Seljalandsfoss (Foss means water in Icelandic)
Both these waterfalls are close to Eyjafjallajökull volcano (5466 ft.) that erupted in 2010. Vík is the closet town to this area. Here is sunset image from black sand beach near Vík.
Jökull means glacier in Icelandic. But this is just one of many tongues of Vatnajökull glacier.
We stayed near Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon for two days and spent three sunrises photographing ice bergs in beach. Melting glacial waters form lagoons at the foot of glacier tongues (Haa, tongues with feet !). Jökulsárlón is one of such lagoons. Glacial ice that is separated from the mass, floats way into ocean. Proximity of the lagoon to the ocean makes it possible that ice bergs are pushed into ocean when wind blow in the right direction. Waves bring those ice bergs back on the beach and deposit them. It was wonderful experience to photograph at this location. Infinitely beautiful and unique elements to work with. Photographers need to exercise high caution and alert all the time at this beach. Some of the ice bergs are half size of SUV. If you are not alert, just one big wave is enough to knock you down. As you go close to ocean, ensure that your path to retreat is free of ice bergs. I had several close calls (not me, but for my camera) to shoot below images. at Diamond beach. Images from Jökulsárlón and Diamonds beach
Even though, we spent three days, I’m still longing to go back to this area.
Vestrahorn Mountains at Stokksnes.
Interiors of Iceland will be more accessible in summer. I want to explore highlands of Iceland someday and return in winters to photograph northern lights and ice caves. I noticed that coastal Iceland is almost like arctic tundra. Only two kinds of tree that I noticed, which are also very sparse. Birch trees, which are not more than 7 to 8 feet. May be groups of 10 or 15 tress together. They look more shrub than tree at times. Also one kind of conifer. I did not get chance to investigate closely, but locals said, it’s Juniper. Again, these trees are also not very tall, may be 9 to 10 feet only. I hope, I’ll get chance to explore more of highlands and get to learn more of Iceland.