Road Trip: Iceland - The Complete Ring Road: 08/26-09/03/2017
On my first foray to Iceland, I happen to drag my sister, Angela, and Debra. As Debra's second time to Iceland, we all decided that a self-drive tour of the Ring Road would be most thorough way to experience Iceland. As we engaged full tourist mode, we signed on from Reykjavik's downtown shopping and tourist cultural area, to the many dramatic waterfalls, to experiencing the Aurora Borealis. These are some of our photographic highlights.
Our first big attraction was the famed Blue Lagoon in Keflavik. I think we would have preferred to do this at the end of the trip rather than the beginning, but due to scheduling complications, it worked better first. We also had a follow-up reservation at the Blue Lagoon restaurant, named Lava.
As primarily a photographic/sight-seeing road trip, we took full advantage of pull outs along Rt. 1 to take vista selfies. All of the driving was easy with our mid-sized 4WD vehicle where at its worst there were mild dirt roads. Notably, we planned this just at the end of peak tourist season for Iceland, which is end of July and August. Some of the park rangers indicated some of the dirt roads just after the winter tend to get much bumpier, but we didn't experience anything dangerous during this season.
Our second major stop after poking around downtown Reykjavik was Silfra, Þingvellir. We booked ahead of time to snorkel here, which is known for its clean and clear glacial melt located between the Eurasian and American Tectonic Plates.
Our next leg of the trip northbound took us near the Western Fjords and Snæfellsnes, but we'll have to revisit Iceland to get a more thorough feel since it's much more isolated compared to the rest of the island.
Kirkjufell and its falls are among the most photographed scenes in Iceland, known for being in numerous Hollywood films and series like Game of Thrones. The low clouds we experienced throughout ~85% of the trip really made the landscape that more dramatic.
Akureryi, Laufas, and Horses
Akureyri is Iceland's second biggest city. We didn't linger around the city proper too long, but we managed to snag a few city pictures as well as a quick tour through a Laufas Museum, the preserved Icelandic turfed housing.
Before heading eastwards, we managed to book an impromptu horseback tour with Polar Hestar nearby Akuryeri.
Waterfalls; Iceland has many, but this one is the Waterfall of the Gods.
North and Eastern Iceland
Northern Iceland was truly exciting not just because we managed to squeeze in a variety of views and activities, but also we got our first glimpses of the Aurora Borealis. Generally, the Northern Lights are best viewed in the latter or early months of the calendar year due to the long periods of darkness, so getting this view during this season is rare!
Another unplanned but exciting addition to our trip was partaking in some unusual caving. Here, the cave is not only made from lava flows, but also partially formed and filled by ice! Some of the "stalactite" and "stalagmite" icicle features that were only ~12" tall are estimated to be about 35-50 years old and are extremely susceptible to climate change since inside temperatures hover right around the freezing point.
Turning even further north still after a quick stop in Husavik to pick up a tripod for Debra (in preparation for more possible Northern Lights later), we visited Ásbyrgi Canyon and Jokulsargljufur National Park. Ásbyrgi is a walkable horeshoe canyon with a mythical lake at the curve and Jokulsargljufur is the home of the largest waterfall, Dettifoss, in all of Europe.
No clouds and a strong Aurora forecast (Category 7) had us turn our attention away from the menagerie of waterfalls towards getting prepared for a chance to really see the Northern Lights. The Eastern Fjords are majestic. As my first encounter with fjord-like landscapes, I was truly in awe here, but nothing could have prepared any of us for the night ahead. We were able to capture some of these moments digitally, but nothing compares to seeing these magnetic storms with the naked eye. Enjoy!
Thankfully our trip wasn't over from just seeing the Northern Lights, so our next few stops as we approached along the Golden Circle included the curvy road from the Ben Stiller film, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, to Búlandstindur/Höfn, a glacial boat tour at one of the Vatnajökull glacial lakes, and of course, more waterfalls!
Our rainy day glacial boat tour of Jökulsárlón. These bergs are huge, so thankfully we didn't witness any calving up close.
We spent our last night before heading to Reykjavik in Vik, known for its long black sand beaches and seasonal puffins. During some social hot tubbing at the hotel, we learned that the puffins were still nearby, but known to vanish suddenly in early September. Nearing the end of our trip and from our limited exposure to Icelandic wildlife (sheep, ram, horses, and 1 seal), the search for puffins was on!
After a few dramatic scenic views and no puffins, we came upon another photographer whom we asked if he managed to spot them. Thankfully he pointed us in the right direction and alas, we found them. Of course to finish our tour, we saw a few more waterfalls!
I think we were extraordinarily fortunate to experience all the things we got to see and do during this season, but that does shadow the wealth of experience we brought along the trip to enable us to accomplish everything in merely 8 days. As my first photography-centric post, I'd be happy to get feedback on how this looks and felt. This certainly won't be our last post, and we'll have more photos as we get better and do more things. Dramatic landscapes, waterfalls, towns, and even wildlife, left us with awe-inspiring memories, not to mention spending 8 days in close quarters with each other. We reached the end of this Iceland trip reluctantly, but we all agreed that for now, we were satiated.
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