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It’s 10pm and I have been driving for over twelve hours, but glancing out across the lava fields in Southwest Iceland I could easily believe it was the middle of the afternoon.
It is early May and the midnight sun is ablaze, and with around 20 daylight hours who wouldn’t be out exploring Iceland’s vast wilderness at this hour?
I have spent the day (and most of the night, as it turns out) exploring a collection of geysers, waterfalls and lava fields that comprise a popular route northeast of Reykjavík known as the Golden Circle. This journey is often experienced as part of a whirlwind bus tour but is much more enjoyable by car at your leisure.
In a geothermal area at the heart of the Golden Circle, The Strokkur geyser explodes and bursts dramatically every 10 minutes or so, much to the delight of the crowd of bystanders who wait in earnest for the next ‘show’. The real highlight of the Golden Circle however is the Gulfoss Falls. Alongside cliffs laden with icicles, thundering water cascades over layers of rocks into a mist far below. Gulfoss is magnificent and if your timing is right and the sun is shining you may be lucky enough so see a rainbow amongst the spray.
It doesn’t take long to understand why Iceland is one of Europe’s hottest destinations: and I’m not talking about the weather. As I drove through the lunar landscape of lava fields from Keflavík airport to the country’s capital city Reykjavík, I was already thinking about when I would return.
Iceland is unique. I am yet to find anywhere else in the world that compares. This tiny island just south of the Arctic Circle more than makes up for its size in natural wonders and geological phenomena. It’s explosive (quite literally) scenery will have you simultaneously grinding to a halt, shaking your head in awe and reaching for your camera more times than you can count. Anyone with even a remote interest in nature and the great outdoors will be constantly transfixed.
Off-season travel (outside the months of June-August) in Iceland inevitably means less buses and organised tours from Reykjavík, but for those with an adventurous nature and a driver’s license, exploring Iceland is as easy as renting a car and planting your foot.
There are more waterfalls in Iceland than there are names for them so it is no surprise that the next day of my road trip is interrupted barely before it begins with a last minute swerve off the highway to get up close to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The big attraction with Seljalandsfoss is the opportunity to walk behind it. I bundle myself up in rain gear and do exactly that, getting drenched by spray in the process but emerging on the other side exhilarated. The next three days follow a similar pattern of planned destinations interrupted by infinite distractions worthy of dragging me off course.
The Hótel Rangá acts as the perfect base for your exploration of all that South Iceland has to offer. Located between the towns of Hella and Hvolsvöllur, just 90kms from Reykjavík, Hótel Rangá provides exclusive accommodations amidst a wild Icelandic landscape. This 4 star resort boasts both exquisite accommodation options and an award-winning restaurant, packaged into a location that will take your breath away.
The resort has 52 rooms including a deluxe suit, and 7 world-themed rooms. These ‘World Pavillion’ suites are designed and themed after each of the seven continents and offer both an iconic and luxurious experience. Picturesque views overlooking the Rangá River and across to the Mount Hekla volcano are at your doorstep and during the months of September through April, Hótel Rangá is renowned as one of the best locations to view the Aurora Borealis.
After each exhausting but exhilarating day of driving through the surrounding area exploring waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes and glaciers, a return to this retreat provided me with the ultimate in relaxation and respite. The hotel’s outdoor hot tubs are an excellent way to unwind after a day of adventure, in preparation for the next.
At Skaftafell National Park I hike up to yet another waterfall but this time I also have a view out over the Skaftafellsjökull glacier, a comparatively tiny part of what is the largest ice field outside of the north and south poles. After miles and miles of driving through desolate lava fields the hulking 8300 square kilometer Vatnajökull appears, its glaciers snaking their way down towards the earth. It seems to have no end.
I continue to follow the road that runs alongside the Vatnajökull ice field to Jökulsarlón, an iceberg-choked glacial lagoon that spills out towards the Atlantic Ocean. This magical place is filled with icy remnants of the impressive Breidamerkurjökull glacier which is receding at a rate of approximately two hundred meters each year. Hence, the lagoon of ice keeps growing and is now the deepest lake in Iceland. There is the possibility of boat trip that takes a ‘cruise’ along the lagoon, getting you up close and personal with the icebergs.
My last day arrives far too quickly and as my car slides its way through a snowstorm outside the village of Vík, I wonder if it is was worth making the journey to walk along the black sand beaches the town is famous for. Iceland’s weather changes as dramatically as its landscapes and true to form, by the time I arrive ten minutes later the snow has gone and the clouds are clearing. Peculiar sea stacks rise from the ocean at the end of the black sand and pebble beach and I stay here as long as I can until my hands start to go numb from the cold.
It is close to 10pm again by the time I am driving those final few kilometers back to Reykjavík and after five full days of exploring I can barely keep my eyes open. All I can think about is how soon it will be before I can return to this extraordinary country and do this all over again.
Many thanks to Hótel Rangá and Great Hotels of the World for accommodating me during this incredible journey through Southern Iceland. Any opinions expressed about this new-found love for Iceland are entirely my own.