We had such an amazing trip to the southern coast of Iceland in 2016 that we decided to return for another week-long experience. This time we headed to the Northern coast. Here the scenery is more spread out but weather is generally more stable for Northern Lights viewing. Ray and Tesa joined us for this return trip as well.
Lake Myvatn Area
We took the direct overnight flight from Denver to Reykjavik – then connected to the domestic airport in order to fly to Akureyri. Akureryi, known as the “Capital of the North” (cue Game of Thrones references and dialect), is a quaint coastal village close to some amazing scenery. After our prolonged travels we ate fish and chips then promptly passed out for an afternoon nap. That night we stayed in Akureryi, but drove out of town to Godafoss as the Aurora forecast was favorable. Thank goodness we did! We witnessed Northern Lights dancing across the ski for several hours – quite an incredible show. Unfortunately, as we hadn’t been able to explore the area during the light of day we were unable to capture the Aurora above Godafoss. Nevertheless, Chris got some amazing shots and we enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Fully satisfied with our night of exploration, we slept soundly and skipped watching the Patriots win yet another Super Bowl. After going to bed at half-time, we were shocked to read about the comeback/chokefest that happened!
Our next two nights were spent in Laugar, a small town located between Godafoss and Lake Myvatn. We spent our first day in the area exploring the sites – including a daytime trip to Godafoss, an impressive 270⁰ waterfall that sits on the Skjálfandafljót River and juts out of basalt columns. Chris took his 10am sunrise pictures and I enjoyed being a “supportive photographer’s wife” but getting to sleep in :-). Afterwards, we headed towards Lake Myvtan, a massive lake that was formed 2300 years ago by a large basaltic lava eruption. The surrounding area is eclectic but beautiful, including a caldera, wetlands, hot springs and sulphur springs. Just east of Lake Myvatn sits an odiferous “mini-Yellowstone” full of mud baths and sulphur springs.
But unlike Yellowstone this area lacked crowds and had no structured boardwalks. Rather we stomped through mud and muck to see these strange sites. We scraped 4 inches of mud full of “I don’t even want to know minerals” off our shoes then had a late lunch at the Vogar “cow-shed” restaurant. This restaurant brings farm-to-table to a new level, with the cows in a shed just adjacent to and visible from the restaurant (they are out in the pastures during the summer). Needless to say, none of us ordered hamburgers. That afternoon we checked into our adorable B&B and spent a cloudy, yet relaxing, night indoors.
The following day we did a private Super Jeep tour to several waterfalls along the Skjálfandafljót River. The tour started by taking our massive, lifted jeep over snowbanks to the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall for sunrise. We then saw three additional waterfalls, including Hrafnabjargafoss, at which Tesa almost had a heart attack when Chris photographed the rushing water below from a very stable, yet still anxiety-provoking, ice bridge. We finished the day with a drive to Husavik to photograph sunset over the Gatanöf rock arch. We returned to Laugar worn out and caught a glimpse of the Aurora on our way to dinner before it disappeared for the next 2 nights.
Given that our final destination of this trip was over 6 hours away, we chose to break up the drive with an overnight near Hvitserkur. Hvitserkur is a 15m tall basalt stack in the sea, which with its two holes on the bottom have drawn comparisons to an elephant, rhinoceros, even a dragon drinking. Legend has it that this rock formation is actually a “petrified troll” that got caught in the sunlight and turned to stone. We stopped here in the afternoon while the tide was out and were able to walk almost to the base. Our plan was to return for sunset and/or Northern Lights, but the weather turned to near Hurricane conditions and we chose to hunker down inside the hotel. We played a raucous game of Cards against Humanity and somehow Ray won both rounds!
We ended our 2017 trip in the same place that our 2016 trip began – in Grundarfjordur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We arrived much better rested this time and were eager to explore the beautiful surroundings. Our driving tour commenced at Kirkjufell, an impressive pointy mountain that juts out of the ocean. From there we headed to Snæfellsjökull National Park and stopped wherever we saw fit, including walking along lava formations on the beach and looking out over waves crashing onto basalt columns. Words cannot explain how unique and beautiful this park is. Our final stop was at the Budir Church – this little black church was constructed initially in 1703 but had to be reconstructed and consecrated in 1987. Chris then forced me to drive “Mario Andretti style” back to the National Park in a race to capture a stormy sunset. That evening we enjoyed a scrumptious seafood dinner and packed our things to head home. Chris and I caught one final glimpse of the Aurora near Kirkjufell before saying goodbye until our next voyage.
With such an easy direct flight from Denver, it is hard to pass up a Northern Lights chasing expedition. Our next visit to the Land of Fire and Ice will likely be in the summer to experience nearly all-day sunshine and explore the country’s interior highlands.
Pros: although slightly less scenic then the south, there are very minimal crowds in the North during the winter
Cons: winter can be less ‘tourist friendly’ in the North – as many places close seasonally. One hotel we stayed in looked nearly deserted.