Iceland Road Trip: Fjaðrárgljúfur & the Northern Lights

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Read part one of my Iceland road trip, from Reykjavík to Vík, via Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, a crashed plane and the Reynisdrangar sea stacks, here.

Following the tent dramas of our third night, we decided to have a gentle start to the day. From the black sands of Reynisfjara beach and our little hotel in Vik we drove the seventy kilometres to Fjaðrárgljúfur, an Ice Age canyon carved from the land by the runoff from a retreating glacier. We walked across the open land to the very top of the cliffs, gazing down over three hundred feet to the river below winding its way around the canyon's walls. At the foot of the canyon where the river opened out onto the plains before the sea, we watched fish swimming in the water under the bridge. Before long, we were rolling up our jeans and wading up the freezing river with our tripods for support against the current, much to the amusement of the hikers following the cliff path. Our arrival at the little island of pebbles amidst the flow was cheered from above. We took it in turns to photograph upstream, fighting against the awkward sunlight and ignoring our soggy feet. I had to crack a rock to use as a knife to cut the hem of my jeans, which wouldn't roll back down over my knee.

Afterwards we drove further east along the coast, the road running over wide stretches of black sand and water from the river delta. As we made our way onward we saw Skeiðarárjökull, one of the huge glacial tongues of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland. At the roadside, small pools of water reflected the mountains surrounding us like mirrors. Of course, as soon as we got out of the car to photograph them, the wind picked up and we joined the rest of the photographers waiting patiently for it to die back down again. 

Back in the car once more, we decided to push on for the chance to see the famous Jökulsárlón at dusk. Unfortunately our drive took a little longer than expected after our unplanned pitstop at the roadside, and we arrived just after the light began to fade from a nearly empty lagoon! With barely any icebergs to look at and almost no light to see them in anyway, we hauled ourselves back west to our little guesthouse at Hali (the Skyrhúsid Guest House) to warm up and cook some parking lot pasta on our temperamental trangia. Standing outside, watching over the boiling water and stirring the pot with a leg of my tripod to avoid the jumping flames, I looked up and saw the tiniest flicker of green in the sky. I ran to tell the others, and all of us stood in the freezing parking lot and watched the ever-so-slight dancing lights in the sky. I was totally unprepared to photograph it - my tripod was still stirring the pasta - but I managed to capture a single photograph of the show. It wasn't the most outstanding display of the Northern Lights in existence, but it was beautiful, and unlike anything I've ever seen.

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