(ICELAND) “That” Volcano

“That” Volcano

There are many day trips possible from Reykjavik and there are a number of coach trips available to transport you (along with a busload of other tourists) from photo stop to photo stop.  When planning my trip I knew my budget had to stretch far enough to avoid one of my travel nightmares – the tourist bus!  One option available to independent travellers is to rent a car and drive themselves around Iceland, popular due to the relatively quiet and well maintained roads.  Despite getting used to driving on the right-hand side of the road from recent weekend trips in the USA, I wasn’t feeling brave enough to drive on my own, especially in May where some of the roads were only just re-opening for the summer.

Instead I booked a day trip with one of the Super Jeep companies, a fast-growing part of the Icelandic tourist industry that offers a comfortable ride with small groups and the opportunity to detour from the well-trodden ‘coach’ path.

I mentioned the ‘interesting facts about Iceland’ that I was reading on the flight and I learned many more during my time in Iceland.  One such fact is that drivers originally drove on the left-hand side of the road (which, as an Australian living in England, I would refer to as the ‘right’ side of the road).  It wasn’t long before they decided to conform to the customs of their Scandinavian neighbours, and the ‘overnight’ change occurred without incident or accident which may have been due to the careful driving skills of the locals or more likely due to the fact that you usually have the whole road to yourself in the isolated countryside!

Back to 2012, and I was joined by two couples from the UK and a local driver/guide called who proved to be great company for the day.  We drove out of Reykjavik on a relatively empty highway, being early on a Sunday morning, and it wasn’t long before we were out in the countryside.  It is quite a surreal sight as you drive through lava fields with steam rising from a natural geothermal pool in the distance, in front of the snow-capped volcano and glacier backdrops.

As someone who combines a demanding career with taking every opportunity I have to travel, I sometimes find short breaks a challenge.  The stress of working in an office, sitting in front of a computer all day and communicating with a head office on the other side of the world often manifests itself in the inability to switch off and relax at the start of a holiday.  It takes a special place to have me immediately leave the reality of daily life back in London and start living in the moment with a feeling of relaxation and peace that usually only comes in the middle or end of an extended journey – Iceland is such a place.

 

Iceland is unique in many ways and one it’s most recognised features is its large number of active volcanos.  The most recent eruption was in 2011 when the country’s most active volcano, Grimsvotn, unleashed its wrath on Iceland.  Whilst the ash from this volcano disrupted European air travel, the bigger disruption had occurred a year earlier with the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.  And this was the location of my first trip outside of Reykjavik.

As we drove through the Icelandic countryside I realised I may have shown more interest in geography at school if this was the location of a school trip.  When I started Spanish lessons whilst living in Bolivia few years back, I found myself regressing  back to school English lessons to remind myself of the meaning of words such as ‘noun, verb, adjective and pronoun’.  I found myself doing the same thing in Iceland as I had a sudden thirst for geography theory about volcanos, glaciers and geothermal pools.

Another decision I’d had to make when planning my trip to Iceland was the timing.  The main tourist season is from June to August, when foreigners come seeking the midnight sun and enjoy nearly 24 hours of daylight.  Whilst long days and warmer weather seemed attractive, sharing Iceland with lots of tourists was not.   Even though I’ve heard the number of tourists is nothing compared to other parts of Europe during summer, May felt like the perfect compromise.  The sun set after 10pm and rose by 5pm, already giving me longer days than I’ve ever experienced, and the country was just coming out of the severe winter months, creating a beautiful snow-capped spring landscape.  Perfect.

Having 103,000 square kilometres available to share amongst 300,000 people means there are many unpopulated parts of Iceland and it’s more common to see sheep outside of Reykjavik than human beings.  Another interesting fact – if you are driving on the main highway in Iceland and you hit a sheep, you are not liable.  If you are driving anywhere else in Iceland and you hit a sheep, you are going to be handing out compensation to the farmer!

We experienced the isolated countryside in many of our stops during the day.  In addition to what used to be a sea bed at the foot of the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier, where I wandered around exploring the area, being careful to keep looking at the ground to avoid falling into a number of the volcanic craters and to look ahead of me to avoid walking into a large boulder brought down the glacier with the lava from the erupting volcano, we also headed to the beautiful Thorsmork Nature Reserve.  This is a popular hiking base for locals and is a valley of rock formations and icy streams surrounded by the imposing backdrop of three glaciers (Eyjafjallajokull, Tindfjallajokul and Myrdalsjokull).

Iceland is so full of diverse and amazing natural landscapes that I didn’t even realise I hadn’t seen many trees until it was pointed out to me.  I was then told a common joke amongst locals which starts with the question “what do you do if you get lost in a forest in Iceland?”  The answer – “stand up”.  It wasn’t the only time I heard that joke in Iceland, they seem quite proud of it!

One of the more enjoyable stops of the day was at a canyon, where we hiked through a stream to reach a small but picturesque waterfall.  It wasn’t the first waterfall I would see in Iceland and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.  When I dropped my lens cap into the stream, it was the first piece of my photography equipment that fell into water and unfortunately it wouldn’t be the last.  It was the first time I returned to the jeep with wet shoes and socks and it definitely wasn’t the last!

As if the day hadn’t already been fantastic, our local guide added to it when we returned to the jeep, opening a bottle of champagne for no reason other than ‘why not’!  As I sipped my champagne in the sunshine, looking around at the vast and beautiful countryside, I had one of those ‘life is good’ moments.

If we had returned home at this point, I would have looked back on a great first day in Iceland which had energised me into excited anticipation of the days ahead.  But the day wasn’t over yet!

The Pot of Gold At The End of the Rainbow

Seljalandsfoss wasn’t the first waterfall I’d seen that day, but it was by far the most impressive.  The tall, powerful waterfall is easily seen from the highway and by late afternoon when we stopped to take a closer look it was accompanied by a beautiful rainbow.  A path runs behind the waterfall so as long as you are happy to get soaking wet, it is quite an experience to witness the power of the falling water on the slippery rocky path.  For not the first time that week I appreciated being in Iceland in May and out of the main tourist season, as for a few moments I found myself standing behind the powerful waterfall completely on my own, soaking in the magical surroundings and being soaked from the spray of the fall.

The water theme continued as we headed to our last stop for the day, where we took advantage of the sunny but chilly weather, by driving down into the black sand beach.  Once again, we were the only ones there to enjoy the long stretch of black sand joining the light ocean waves.  Another local saying that I heard through the week is “if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait fifteen minutes” which I didn’t yet understand as we had been lucky to experience a day of constant sunshine and relatively warm temperatures for this time of year (around 8 degrees Celsius).

There is nothing like the combination of good company with the isolation of the countryside, the fresh Arctic air with the warm sunshine and the unique natural landscape of sea and mountains.  I returned to Reykjavik energised and excited about the week ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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