small two person tent with clothes drying camping at skogafoss waterfall iceland

Not another waterfall photo…


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One of the groups in the kitchen tonight was a bunch of Swedish students who had been on an exchange visit in the US and stopped off in Iceland on the way back. It just happened to be one of their birthdays and they were making a cake for her. It would be rude to refuse!
I had the room to myself again tonight which was just as well as it was an early start for the first part of the long road trip, almost 250km ahead.
It was another beautiful blue sky morning so I went round parts of Reykavik that I didn’t get to on foot to get some more of the shotlist. You never ever get it all as some places are closed, some don’t exist or as one agency had emailed me with ‘supermarket, Iceland’ I asked them to confirm if they wanted a range of the supermarkets in Iceland, interiors of supermarkets in Iceland, supermarket produce that type of thing or if indeed what they had actually sent me was a request for the Iceland Supermarket in the UK. They didn’t answer the question specifically but sent me a new shotlist with that particular line missing. Read into that what you will. Of course sometimes its just a brain fade on my part as I sat on Day 1 in Buenos Aires and asked the guys to take me to the Maracana. You do know that’s in Brazil, right? Ooops

driving the ring road over Skalafell mountain in summer iceland
driving the ring road over Skalafell mountain in summer iceland

Saturday mornings seem to be lazy ones here in Iceland so it was a case of just getting on the road and heading East and joining up with the ringroad. My first stop was an impromptu one at the main Geothermal power station. I arrived a couple of minutes after it opened to the public for the day and found myself the only English speaker wanting a tour so was given a personal one (the other people there were French). The visit really brought out the engineer in me. It was fascinating to see how it all worked and that they pumped hot water over 90km to Reykavik for home heating systems and only lost 2 degrees in that distance. It also generated most of Reykavik’s electrical power. The hot water went to heat homes and hot water tanks and when it was done it had dropped from over 80 degrees to around 40C. Then it is pumped into underground pipes in the old town of Reykavik to keep the streets clear of snow in the winter. Its all renewable and self sustainable, the water used is for the heating and the extraction is mostly recycled as well. Pity it cant be done back home. 85% of home heating here is geothermal and 100% of electricity is from geothermal plants or hydro electric. They are also looking at wind energy and there’s a lot of that about too. Only 15% of the total energy production is from fossil fuels and that is mainly transport costs. If they can sort out hydrogen and electric powered vehicles for the climate here then they wont need fossil fuels at all! The plans to make the road and fishing fleets hydrogen powered are well under way.

 sun shining over Hellisheidi geothermal combined heat and power station hengill iceland
sun shining over Hellisheidi geothermal combined heat and power station hengill iceland

On the approach road to the station it does warn you that hydrogen sulphide (stink bomb gas – rotten eggs – bad farts) may be present in the air. There’s no may be about it! The upside is that you could drop a really smelly one on the group tour and no-one would be any the wiser!
It was about lunchtime that I dropped past the greenhouse village of Hveragerdi. Id noticed this last night on the way back from the golden circle, loads of greenhouses all lit up, powered and heated by the natural underground thermal energy in the area. Its a geothermal hotspot if you excuse the pun and situated right on the fault line in the earthquake zone.
I stopped at the local supermarket and bakery to fill up the car and fill myself up with a salmon sandwich and some of the local donuts. There was a small museum there in the shopping centre but it looked closed and anyway Id not heard anything about it so finished my coffee and set off for the first main stop which was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. I had a map with all the spots I wanted to visit pinpointed but as I noticed on the Golden Circle you see the large amount of cars parked and tour buses in the distance then odds on its somewhere you want to go. Now Seljalandsfoss is a real waterfall, its not like Niagara or Gullfoss or Iguazu where water from a river falls into a hole in the ground its an actual huge waterfall falling off a cliff. You see the waterfall from miles away and from a few miles away can even make out the flow!

tourists on walking path behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall iceland
tourists on walking path behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall iceland

Its one you can actually walk behind. I did but only realised that it probably wasn’t such a great idea to leave my waterproof coat in the car. Id had to park away out on the side road and this as yet wasn’t peak tourist season and it was still just afternoon on a Saturday. Id hate to see what its like when its full tourist season when all the tour buses from Reykavik arrive.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall iceland
Seljalandsfoss waterfall iceland

Again free in with a little stall selling the usual tourist tat and another food/coffee stall. Prices above Reykavik but not extortionate compared to other places.
Not far from there was the turnoff for the new Westmann islands ferry terminal. Id heard about the island of Surtsey when I was a kid in primary school, how it had been formed from a volcano and got the whole fisherman noticing a sulphur smell in the air and then watching the island being born. Surtsey is quite remote but the Westmann islands tour from the island themselves will give you a glimpse of it. I drove down to check ferry times for a possible trip over on Tuesday on the way back if I had the time and the weather was good. Unfortunately Tuesday is the limited service day and the weather forecast had limited visibility down to 200 metres anyway so unless we ran aground on it I wasn’t going to see it Tuesday. Its a protected island and like Antarctica only scientists are allowed to visit and everything must be vacuumed out to ensure no seeds are carried that nature cant answer for. I read one story about how a couple of lads had went out there in a boat and buried potatoes and scientists had to go out and dig them up again!
The view today was stunning and you could see all the islands in the distance and with a shimmering heat haze. Away out in the distance you could make out smaller islands. I know Surtsey was the furthest away and unlikely to be seen from ground level at this distance but Ive refused to look up the islands I did see on the map and will content myself with thinking Ive actually seen it

The thorvaldseyri family farm beneath eyjafjallajokull iceland
The thorvaldseyri family farm beneath eyjafjallajokull iceland

The next stop was to get a view of the family farm beneath the unpronouncable volcano (Eyjafjallaj√∂kull) that caused all the air traffic disruption back in 2010. It caused me a bit of grief as well. I wasn’t flying anywhere but was taking the long Liverpool ferry to England. It was the weekend of my nephews communion and I was doing the photos on the way to doing other stuff in England. My mothers flight got cancelled and along with hundreds of other people it was standing room only on the ferry. 8 hours in the company of my mother was more in one go than probably since I was in primary school!
That’s my story related to the eruption, that and no contrails in the sky meant it was a landscape photographers dream on any flight route. Then you come here and see the photos and see what happened to the locals and you wonder how on earth no-one was killed or injured. Looking at it today 5 years on its as if nothing had happened.
There is a small visitors centre there run by the family with the farm directly beneath the volcano.

double rainbow in the mist at skogafoss waterfall iceland
double rainbow in the mist at skogafoss waterfall iceland

The next waterfall is Skogafoss waterfall, this is probably one of the most famous from film and TV ads. Again its a big feck off waterfall visible from the road way before you see the tour buses and car park. I had to fight my way through from a long way back through the hoards of selfie sticks and numpties with tripods and long exposure filters and other such nonsense. All the long exposure merchants are going to get is the occasional flash of selfie stick in the sun, with ghostly groups of chinese tourists standing in dayglo waterproofs for far too long right in front of the waterfall. I tried being patient waiting for each person to get their photo taken on the rock or ‘the rock’ that everyone gets their photo on but in the end I decided to be as ignorant as the rest of them and just go and stand behind someone whose other/better half was spending ages fucking about with their camera settings. Seriously don’t go to a busy tourist site, stick a tripod up, neutral density and big stopper filter and just expect the 10 coachloads of tourists to wait until you get the same milky water shot every fucker on the planet has tried to do in the past. Just get your selfie stick out and get on with it.

crowds of tourists at skogafoss waterfall in iceland
crowds of tourists at skogafoss waterfall in iceland

As you can see my patience with ‘fauxtographers’ was wearing thin at this point. I remember racing to the Grand Canyon at sunset and just got parked in time (I think the wheels were still moving) got out of the car, slipped on the ice, went on my hole and then proceeded to try and not repeat the situation at the top of the Canyon. I got down on my knees and crawled to the edge and lay the camera down pointing towards the setting sun. I got a ‘hey buddy, you are in my shot’ from a guy who was telling his wife they had been standing there for an hour and I was in his shot. I turned to him and said, if you’ve been here an hour why haven’t you taken it yet? I’m sure he was going to give me some diatribe on the perfect moment or the decisive instant but mate its not called the golden HOUR for nothing. Sigh.
Id love to come back and do some more milky water shots myself but to be honest these are some of the best known places on the planet, its all be done before, ok not by me but really. Circumstances at midday are not ideal anyway, never mind the thousands and thousands of tourists. Come back early in the morning when there’s more water flow and see what you get. In fact come back when there actually is a sunrise and sunset.
Failing that take the photos with the cameras in your eyes, you wont be disappointed. Do like I did and put the camera away and walk up to it until you get soaked then just get slightly more soaked. I don’t recommend that in mid winter mind you but it was a lovely warm summers day, probably a balmy 16C and Id dried off before I made it out of the car park.

small two person tent with clothes drying camping at skogafoss waterfall iceland
small two person tent with clothes drying camping at skogafoss waterfall iceland

As I mentioned earlier Id booked this all last minute and this was the night I was in danger of sleeping in the car as I couldn’t find any accommodation at all near where I had wanted to stop for the night so had to travel a bit further and took the first guesthouse who replied with availability (the last they had until September). The reason for bringing this up is that walking back to the car I noticed a small 2 man tent pitched next to a picnic table in the car park. From the right angle (ie me lying flat on my belly and aiming slightly up) you could miss out the queue of tourists on the right walking to and from the falls and the hoards in the distance unless someone held up a white selfie stick. From the angle it looked like the only people there and they would have access to a free cold shower in the morning. I dare say give it to 7pm when all the tour buses have gone and most of the passing traffic have settled into their lodgings for the night and you will have pretty much the place to yourself and the other half dozen wild campers in perhaps one of the most beautiful camping locations I have ever seen.
My brother tells me I shouldn’t have told the story of that photo and just left as is but that’s the job. I’m waiting on the lawsuit from everyone who visits Ireland who sees my photos on the web, in publications, in ads and thinks that’s what it is actually like. Its not mentioned that that particular view may have been on the shotlist for 3 to 5 years! The difficulty is you turn up somewhere like Vancouver and it rains constantly for 4 days limiting the scope of what you can do and you end up spending hours redrafting lists and looking out new ideas or making phone calls and shifting emphasis. Lots of food photography on those days and arranging hurried meetings with local photographers who I can deal with or send future photo requests (yes including any chocolate box wispy trail images!).

tourist hired 4x4 vehicle driving the ring road along the southern coast of iceland
tourist hired 4×4 vehicle driving the ring road along the southern coast of iceland

A quick calculation meant id have to get something to eat here and then push on quickly through Vik and on to my guesthouse before it didn’t get dark. I wasn’t sure where the guesthouse was, the sat nav thought it did but it was wrong and the roadsigns here tended to have the names of the people who lived in the houses that they pointed to. Occasionally you would come across the likes of Skogar 1,2,3, meaning three different Skogar families lived at the end of the road, that type of thing. I wasn’t sure what happened when people sold up and moved on, did the address stay the same or did they take it with them and the new people have a new address. More confusing when the people who email you don’t have the surname on the address. Iceland used the patronymic and matronymic versions so the man and woman of the house (or man and man, woman and woman, you get the point) wont have the same what we call surnames. Brothers and sisters wont have the same ‘surname’ instead have Joesson and Joesdottir (son and daughter – not far off pronounced the same either).
At the waterfall cafes there wasn’t a seat to be found for tour bus people drinking coffees. There was a wee van selling fish and chips at pretty much Belfast restaurant prices. It seemed to be a mother and daughter set up with fresh local fish and chips painted on the outside. Alarm bells should have rang when they argued a bit over what type of fish it was. I asked how local was local and they said they bought it off a local fishmonger 40km away. The sign had looked like it had been changed from Fresh local fish and chips to “fresh local fish” and chips. Probably someone had a word when they saw the chips coming out of a plastic mass produced freezer bag. One thing is for sure it was freshly battered and fried before my eyes and the other thing was they definitely knew how to charge. Still you are hungry with about 60km either side of you to drive, what are you going to do?

vik church vik i myrdal iceland
vik church vik i myrdal iceland

It was nice enough and then I was on my way to Vik. Vik passed quickly enough and seemed to be the turning point for a lot of coach trips from Reykavik. Driving through it other than the campsite it seemed to have only about 2 or 3 hotels and they were all quite small, any wonder Id had difficulty. That’s what you get for not looking on google earth and just picking the midpoint in the journey.
I had considered the campsite here but looking at the bend in the tents who were facing straight into the sea with a full blown gale it wouldn’t have been a great option. Particularly when I was told later that that was just a bit breezy, not a gale.
Vik and its surrounds are famous as good puffin spotting grounds, morning and evening were the best times and although this was now approaching evening, I still had a fair bit of driving and finding to do and I would be coming back past here early evening in 2 days time so would be better off looking for them then.
The sat nav got me close to my destination, close as in the last house before the one I was looking for, which just happened to be 7km along a dirt road over a mountain, through a stream, through a one track road etc. I drove for about 14km and decided to turn back and try and drive to somewhere with a mobile signal and call them. It was easier to push on as the road looped back to the main ring road in about another 10k. 5k into that I came across the guesthouse.
I arrived in and was shown my room by the host. I dumped my bags and she took me into the common room for some coffee. Now when someone calls a B+B sea view back home that could mean anything from perched on a clifftop to like my living room where if you stand on your tiptoes you can see Bangor lighthouse over 20 miles away. The Guesthouse was called glacier view and out one side you could see one Glacier covered mountain and out the other you could see another glacier covered mountain. Surrounded in lush green farmland. What a spot. It reminded me of the guesthouse in Punta Arenas with my room with large picture windows overlooking the sound. I told them that and said, who needs a TV when you have a view like that.
The guesthouse owner also provides a dinner service which people raved about on tripadvisor, hearty home cooked meal for everyone. I was going to go for this option but as its done en masse for all the guests staying and I didn’t know what time I would be arriving at (turns out I was the first out of all of them), I declined the offer. The smell coming from the kitchen made me regret it.
My first fellow travellers arrived, a former IT teacher, his wife and grown daughter from Germany. His wife had a good interest in photography so we sat and had a yarn for a while. The guesthouse owner came in and said ‘ah you are the photographer who emailed me, I forgot to tell you when you arrived that the rest of the guests are a guided photography tour from Germany.’
Fuck.

more Iceland photographs here
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