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Iceland (Travelling around)

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Contributor: Hugeknot
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Iceland is special. Why? Because it is different, because it consists of an old community that has blended in with the landscape, it is a geologists dream and if you work hard it can be a photographer's dream also. I have lived here for three years and during that time there have been some jaw-dropping moments in terms of scenery.

It is difficult for me to describe Iceland without describing the people. It is a small population of around quarter of a million. Two thirds now live in the Reykjavik area and many Icelanders are able to trace their ancestry back to the Norse settlers 12-13 hundred years ago. They are a proud race, proud of their heritage and purity and most of all, they are proud of their land. Some describe the typical Icelander as being a little cold and hard (for example, there is no word for 'Please' in Icelandic). This is just one of the few ways the people reflect the landscape.

Iceland is a mixture of old and new. Down the center of the country from the north east to the south west is the newest land. This follows a continental fault line that divides Europe and North America. This is most evident in the Reykjannes peninsular and at Ůingvellir where the Almennagjß gives you a direct glance of what continental drift is. Along this line is where you will find some of the strangest geographical wonders. Within a 50 mile radius of Ůingvellir (known as the 'golden Circle'), you will find Gullfoss (the largest waterfall in Europe), Geysir (the largest geysur in
Europe) and Hekla (the most active volcano in Ice land). The central parts of Iceland are difficult to get to without a jeep, although I have managed most of the central routes in my Ford Ka!

The fjorded areas in the east and west are the older parts of the country with evidence of glacial and interglacial periods. The number one road will take you
around most of these fjords with the exception of the west fjords and Vopnafjordur in the north east.

Vatnj÷kull is the largest glacier in Europe. The tallest mountain is Hvannadalshn˙kur (2119m) which sits on the southern most edge of the Vatnj÷kull Glacier. Around this area are a few camp sites, a few road side cafes and farms offering services. Be sure to have plenty of supplies and don't venture into the unknown without at least a half tank of fuel. There can be a two hour drive between towns in these areas. Spots to
look out for are Skaftafell National park and J÷kulsarlon. The Skaftafell National Park is one of four National Parks in Iceland. The area is huge but the centre of it
is a camp-site with visitor shop and guided tours on the glacier. It is about a half hour walk to the foot of one of the glacial fingers from this visitors spot.

Alternatively, you can take one of many hiking routes up the Skaftafell (Hill about 600m) past many beautiful waterfalls and eventually to a stunning panoramic view over the glacier and out across the glacial rivers to the coast. J÷kulsßrlˇn is a wonder of nature. The name means 'Glacial Lagoon'. Here huge chunks of ice fall from the glacier and have formed a large lagoon before they make their final voyage out to the sea. Because of the huge chunks of ice on this water block both wind and other disturbances, it is very easy to find the lagoon with perfect reflections. There is a large white suspension bridge (larger than most Icelandic bridges) that allows the road to traverse the lagoon. There is a visitor centre offering boat trips out into the lagoon. I would recommend venturing down to the sea where you will find strange iceforms on the black sand.

The east coast is dotted with a few communities and selection of beautiful mountains and a road which is 50/50 tarmac and dirt. Many of the small towns are fishing based and house a community of fishermen and their families. They often offer a free campsite because they are keen for you to stay and shop at the local amenities. This part of Iceland is perfect for a quiet retreat. The road follows the coastlines around the fjords which can be a little tiresome, but you are never far from getting that perfect sunset/sunrise position. A few new tunnels breaks up the monotony a
little.

The north is considered the highlands of Iceland and indeed it is packed with mountains. Two waterfalls stand out here: Dettifoss and Godafoss. Dettifoss the
falling falls (rough translation) is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. There is no messing about with this one, it is straight down and it leaves your mouth wide open and your legs trembling. There is 24km of rough road from the number one route to get to Dettifoss, but don't miss it out. If you are travelling from the east, it is just a half a hour before Mřvatn. Myvatn used to be the largest lake in Icelad until a local volcanic eruption a few hundred years ago filled a lot of it in. Mřvatn means 'Midge Lake' and indeed there are plenty of the harmless,little flies to accompany you for a least the next day of your journey. The lake is dotted with strange volcanic rock formations. On a good day you are guaranteed some prize pics.

If you continue on the number one road, you will soon come across Godafoss (God falls). In my opinion, godafoss is the second most beautiful waterfall in Iceland. A horseshoe complex of falls resembling a small Niagra falls will keep you worrying about your memory card or film supply.

The west fjords is considered Iceland's best kept secret, so I will keep it that way. Suffice it to say that the most beautiful waterfall 'Dynjandi' is there, it would be impossible to count the number of waterfalls and the west fjords really is a trip on its own (unless you are in Iceland for over a month).

The SnŠfellsness peninsular is a magical place to conclude your trip before heading back to Reyjkavik. The mountains are not very big, but they make up for it in beauty.

There are many magical places on the northern coast, look out for Grundafjordur with it's magical waterfalls and Kirkjufell (Church Mountain). At the head of the
peninsular is the mighty SnŠfellsj÷kull Glacier. It is possible to drive quite close to the top, although I tried this in the middle of summer and was stopped by a huge icesheet which blocked the road at the top. There are fantastic views over the whole of the SnŠfells area if you can be bothered to climb to the top.

If you like walking, I would recommend the four day hike from Landmannalauga to Ůorsmork. The mountain views are some of the best in the country. It is renouned for its hardness as you have to cross ice cold rivers and the ground is very unforgiving. Most people wouldn't attempt this unless they have trained a little or are mad.

Other places I would recommend are the Borgannes to Baula area. Most people drive through here in a hurry to get to Reykjavik, but I have seen some stunning shots from here. If you take an interest in the history of the Icelandic people and their sagas,

it can make some of the areas come to life. Most of the penguin range of saga translations have map references. Most of the saga sites are in the west of Iceland.

When to go? There are northern lights in the winter half of the year and these can be frequent and strong if the skies are clear. I have seen cloudless skies with no aurora at all, but not many. Travelling is much harder in the winter and camping is out of the question unless you are experienced or mad. However you can get better deals at hostels and guest houses because they don't get much business. During midwinter, the sun will rise just four hours before it sets, which can give you sunrise and sunset opportunities in one outing. In the summer there is the benefit of 24hr light. On the very northern parts you might see a bit of the midnight sun during midsummer, but generally the sun sets and then rises a few hours later with 1 a.m. being the darkest. On a good night I have seen pink clouds for a full four hours ( a bit of an extension on the golden hour). Camping in the summer is very possible but I would say that camping in May or August is like camping in your fridge. June and July is pretty much like England. Before May and after August gets closer to being like in your freezer.

Useful websites:
Iceland's weather in English
Sunset/ sunrise, high and low tides in Reykjavik
The conditions of the roads around the country
My website shows all photo locations

Iceland (Travelling around) Images

The golden circle. Plenty of tours around this magical collection of memorable landmarks.
This strange mountain is in the north SnŠfellsness Area.
Plenty of bubbling hotsprings.
The magical glacial lagoon.
Will it be your first time?
Photo opportunities everywhere.

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