Sunday, 23 June 2013

Awesome Iceland!


This year's Catchlight trip went to Iceland and having received warnings about bleakness, weather phenomena, isolation risks etc, we went into heavy research  mode beforehand.  All I can say is that I recommend you don't go on one of those pre organised coach tours.  Yes, you'll see a few of Iceland's most accessible natural attractions, but only with around 30 other people for a limited time at each place.  We  realised that if we wanted to take a million photos, we needed to be at our own pace and timing and then hopefully we could also find some slightly different places to squeeze into our very short trip.  The main intention was to see the Northern Lights, but we already knew that one has to be lucky and the Aurora Forecast was not hopeful.

Arrival in Iceland in early February was the 100% bleak outlook we had expected....................
the view from the plane......not optimistic...........
Little did we know but it was the start of a winter storm.  By the time we picked up our hired 4x4 with spiked tyres, we had to dig it out of the car park.  Check it for dents/scratches?.....not a chance, it was blowing a horizontal blizzard and the car was invisible.

Well, we thought, we've been out in some pretty bad weather in the Alps before now, and we kind of know what we're doing...............we couldn't have been more wrong.  We had been warned that it might be tricky and had come prepared with blankets and food/water on board, never thinking that we might have a problem.
Our destination for the first night was the Hotel Ion in the middle of the national park miles from anywhere.  Already knowing that the main route was closed, we had route B planned and ready and the Sat Nav prepped.  The Sat Nav was absolutely no help at all for some reason and became very confused almost instantly.  We had a map, but once you're out in the pitch black, no other cars, horizontal heavy blizzard blinding your view any further than the front of the bonnet, it was impossible to even find a road sign, let alone read it.  It was all we could do just to stay on the road.  As the weather became seriously worse, we were at walking pace and starting to climb so the temperature was dropping further.  If either of us had thought of it, we really should  have taken a picture of our view from the car, which would have been a wall of horizontal white streaks immediately in front of the car in the headlights.  It was hard to believe it could be so bad. To be honest, although neither admitted it at the time, we were actually frightened and made the decision to turn back and find a place to stay in Reykjavik, the only problem was that we couldn't actually see if there was enough road to turn around in if we could see any part of the road at all at this point!  It occurred to us that we may be spending the night in the car and finally we said that we didin't care how much it cost, we needed to put on the gps on the iPhone and find out exactly what our situation was.  It was a while before we came across a small road coming in from the right and decided to take a chance and try to turn around.  Lucky we had waited to find a turning as we discovered two days later that the road we were on had a deep drop in the centre of the road with a tall wire fence in it, none of which we could see at the time.  We had actually been on the wrong road and, later on, having found the correct one, limped very slowly to the hotel only 5 hours late and slightly brain frazzled!


We woke to find the weather still snowing, and dressed in our ski gear ready for the Arctic, we set out on our planned itinerary.  Gulfoss and Geysir here we come.........we said bah! to the weather and were determined to see it as a challenge.  Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow as they say.


 On arrival at Gulfoss...............where's this huge icy waterfall then??
The answer was in a huge crack in the ground just over the horizon....



 
.............and just down the sheet icy road.......................and many of Iceland's roads look like this.........
 

....Geysir, and the sunshine starts to appear.......................
 
 
.....wait for the last coach load to be herded away reluctantly........they missed the best views.



The hot springs melt the snow and Geysir erupts roughly every 8 mins in varying degrees.
 
With the weather improving and also the condition of the roads, we headed back to the hotel for an early start in the dark the following day and a long drive.......
 
 
Around half-way there along the South coast at 10am dawn arrived and it promised
to be a beautiful day.
 
What we hadn't really expected although made a lot of sense was the quality of light - it was like the golden hour all day long as the sun stays low on the horizon.
 

 
As we turned off the main road and down a very small track of ice towards a lagoon, we weren't sure if we could acutally drive to this place and there was certainly no way to turn around.......there was a point where the lagoon water/ice was lapping over both sides of the track a bit like a tidal causeway, which had us worried.
 
 
Looking back from across the lagoon...........
 
 
Then we came to the end of the road, stepped out of the car and the scenery was awesome.....
 

 
I'm guessing that it's not always like this - the strong winds on the day following the storm had whipped up the sea and spray and it's hard to convey quite how deafening the sea was.
 



We left reluctantly as we had further to go, and headed back to the main road and around to the other side of the headland......and Vik.  Here we find a very small community huddled behind a volcanic beach.  The contrast of the snow against the black sand was unusual.
The dunes, the dead grasses and the black beach.................. 
 
 
 
 
.........and Gill nearly had an icy bath for the second time that day..........
 
 
.......and then heading back towards Reykjavik, the waterfalls.....these are easily accessible from the main road and therefore tend to have herds of tourists on coach tours so pick your moment.....
 
 
........and the only photograph of Team Catchlight standing precariously on the ice at the base of Skogafoss.
 
 
 
Then on down the road to Seljalandsfoss.  We didn't think that the sun would ever get onto this waterfall in February so we didn't wait around.  It's not nearly as impressive as the previous one, but still worth a look since we were passing.
 
 
On the road towards Reyjavik as the sun disappears......

With hindsight, having spent our final night in Reykjavik, we could have stayed somewhere a little more interesting and maybe crammed in another detour on the way to the airport, but not having been there before, we weren't to know this so we made the best of it and ventured out in the dark.


 The following morning and we're back to grey skies and icy winds so we headed to the Blue Lagoon, which may be touristy, but really shouldn't be missed, and it's on route to the airport.
 
 
In summary - three things:
1. We went to see the Northern Lights
2. We failed to see the Northern Lights
3. We were lucky with the weather and captured some great scenery.
 
Conclusion:  We need go again!  Iceland is huge and we only saw a very small percentage of it.
 
 
 

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