Saturday, July 11, 2009

Iceland on the Rocks

I have wanted to visit Iceland for as long as I can remember. I don't know what it is about cold places that attracts me, but while the rest of Sweden heads South in both summer and winter, my son Johan and I head North. Lena my wife takes it in stride; she and our daughter Kristina have traveled to Spain for shopping and sun while Johan and I have packed our winter parkas in the middle of June and headed for places like Svalbard, Varangar, Norway and now Iceland.

The puffins at Latrabjarg are quite cooperative; taken with a macro lens.
Iceland has historically been one of the more expensive tourist countries, so until recently it was just a place I dreamed about. But that all changed in September of 2008 when the banking system in Iceland collapsed and shortly thereafter the entire Icelandic economy was on the rocks. In March of 2009 the value of the Icelandic krona had been cut in half and all of a sudden Iceland was looking like a pretty reasonably priced destination and Johan and I began creating our plans. We decided to take two weeks and explore the1,339 km Ring Road which basically travels along the entire coast of Iceland and add a trip to the West Fjords to explore the bird cliffs of Latrabjarg.

Rental cars are notoriously expensive on Iceland and the best time to book is 3-6 months ahead of time. The closer you get to summer the more expensive they become, and although we paid 1100 Euros for tiny Opel, by the time of our travel the price on the internet had more than doubled.

We landed in Keflavik at 10AM local and picked up our rental car across from the airport and immediately headed South, for the promised lands of bird and landscape photography. The Blue Lagoon was not on our itinerary, and would be saved for the day we managed to convince Lena and Kristina to join us.

After several hundred kilometers and many thousands of birds we reached the hostel near Skogafoss around 9PM. There were no restaurants open so we fired up our Primus stove and prepared a couple of freeze-dried trekking meals before heading back to Skogafoss to do some more photography.

Skogafoss at midnight
 As we continued the next morning we made our way to the glacial lagoon at Jokulsarlon, with more birds and landscape on the way.

Red-throated Diver
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Southern Iceland
Unfortunately we did not spend the night here. We should have; ideally you should photograph here at both sunset, night and sunrise. (Who needs sleep) Instead we spent the night in Egilsstadir as we made our way towards Myvatn, the Mecca for bird watchers and photographers.
Johan is impressed...
Myvatn was beyond our expectations, with a nesting gyr falcon in a public park.  Unfortunately the falcons have not bred here since then.

A pair of cooperative grebes provided hours of photo opps.
It took this tern 10 minutes to swallow this fish, and then it sat for another 20 minutes with the tail sticking out
Lake Myvatn is not just about birds, the landscape is spectacular; there are hotsprings 

and even wild orchids

Heading West we made our way towards Latrabjarg to photograph puffins and landscape

GoĆ°afoss, West of Myvatn

Latrabjarg; that person standing way too close to the edge is Johan, don't tell my wife!
Think you're having a bad day?
After a couple of days at Latrabjarg we continued North on to the West Fjords to photograph arctic fox. This meant 100km over gravel roads through the mountains followed by a three hour boat ride in hard seas (after an inital delay of six hours) and then a three hour hike with 20 kilos of photo and camping gear but we did find our foxes.
The hike in...
Three 18 hour days at a distance from the den brought results

Unfortunately our time was running out and now the race was on to get back to Reykjavik. Luckily we were able to catch a ride on a boat that cut our travel time significantly.

We didn't even have time to stop in Reykjavik, instead we spent our last night in Keflavik to catch the 7AM flight back to Sweden. But we knew we would be back...

More images from our Iceland trips can be seen at:

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