„Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!“
„Huh!“ – the now famous Viking war chant heard during the European Soccer Championship was still ringing in our ears when we started our trip to Iceland. Although our preparations started months before. And raised some questions from people, curiously inquiring for the reason to go back to Iceland again, especially because the place is not exactly renowned for offering vast beaches where the sun is hot and the drinks are cold. Well, for one part this place still offers so many fantastic sights we have not witnessed (much less taken pictures of), but actually the Zebra asked for it. Being fully prepared to handle harsh off-road driving, having all the equipment to run wild on the highland again – it just felt like the obvious choice. Although we made the decision not the break the record for sleeping in a tent.
So after we booked all necessary means of transportation, it meant launching the packing list again. Actually now App based. Packing for Iceland is difficult, weather conditions can change dramatically on short notice and weather forecasts are never good for more than a day. So clothing needed to cover cold, warm, dry, wet and some other conditions. We even made sure that we could cover wet and very wet. Usually you pack what you think might be of use and then take most of it home untouched. Some minor extensions to our equipment included a small, but very usable Weber charcoal grill. Experience told us that we will eat a lot of lamb, so my inner cook opted for this.
Camera equipment needed to be checked as well. Luckily, Iceland’s nature is much easier to photograph than northern lights. So less DSLR bodies and tripods. No dolly for timelapse photography. But that felt wrong. Remembering the previous sights, I thought about what would be desirable and came to the conclusion that many sights are fantastic, but positioning the camera is sometimes tricky (or outright hazardous). Plus many subjects are fairly large and not very accessible without elevated positions. A vast lava field or a glacier stretches for miles but usually photos just capture the edge of them. So another dimension needed to be accounted for, leading to aerial photography. Since some years, several pretty capable multicopters are being offered. Although I was eying a professional model which could carry a DSLR, I decided to go for a more manageable one (both in price and size). Without compromising quality on still photography, the choice was rather easy in the end and I bought a DJI Inspire 1 RAW. Interchangeable lenses, sufficient air time and pretty easy to use. I was not disappointed with it, quite the contrary.
Due to the ferry departing fairly early in the morning, we could not use this day for travel and stopped over in Hamburg and Hirtshals. As the second part just was a moderate distance, we used this opportunity to visit the Nordsøen Oceanarium, the main tank is the largest one in Northern Europe and quite a sight.
Apart from this one, there are several others including a petting zoo. Touching a skate was a fascinating experience, the upper part is very rough, the bottom is extremely slick. Although the main attraction are the two sunfish (funny fact, in German they are actually called moonfish).
And this fellow photobombed my picture of the shark.
It was time for departure, the ferry was about to arrive. The Zebra happily waited inside of all the vehicles waiting to be boarded. Still clean.
Arriving in Iceland, we first went shopping in Egilsstaðir. There are some new shops already in Seyðisfjörður where the ferry arrives, but knowing all the right places was a bit of an advantage for us. Especially as we bought two local SIM cards for Internet access, so that we could check weather forecasts, download map tiles and book hotels – that shop is a bit hidden behind the Netto supermarket. After that, we headed straight for the highland and were welcomed with this beautiful scenery.
The roads stretching to the horizon, no other car in sight, the Zebra felt at home immediately.
Weather was not always perfect (still pretty good when taking the Icelandic scale, so no snowstorms). These sheep found some nice cover, so the reason for those cars to have this much clearance is not just beneficial for off road driving. Apparently it offers shelter to animals as well, so a very good reason why a large offroader should absolutely be considered a very environmental friendly vehicle.
But end to the first day, we had to set up our tent as well. The central part of the Icelandic highlands does not offer other accommodation. Still this camping ground has improved a lot after our last visit – the showers now offer warm water! The next morning still meant rearranging all bones so that they start to resemble a proper human skeleton again. Probably this is the only disadvantage of the Zebra, it will get you everywhere, but you cannot sleep in it.
Around Askja, weather went crazy. We walked to the most famous lake and it was quite sunny and warm. Returning to the car and getting inside, it started to pour. Driving around the mountain we got into a desert like environment which felt extremely dry.
Always remember, this is what Icelandic people call summer.
Getting closer to the Bárðarbunga which erupted 2 years before, we sighted the new lava field Holuhraun which is still emitting quite a lot of steam.
Here we unpacked the multicopter. Actual, due to time restrictions, this was the maiden flight for the machine (nicknamed ‚Drohni‘). The lava field was quite unimpressive from ground level, plus I was very eager to give the copter a try. It took some time, but we thought that we managed quite well. At least until we lost sight of Drohni and had no idea where it was. The picture transmitted did not really help as well, I was following some stream, but the whole area is either a confusing network of streams or lava without any landmarks. Pretty sure the app used to operate the remote control has some fantastic way of helping you in this case, likely with a map. But the manual just describes the helicopter, there is no sufficient documentation available for the app. Leaving you with a bit of trial and error. Finally, we pushed the home button and very soon after, Drohni was coming back to us, totally unimpressed by our raised pulse and pretty high level of adrenaline rushing through our veins.
But the pictures we got from that trip were truly impressive. I never imagined such a display of colors. There will be a second iteration of this report including movies as well, but I still have to learn how to edit them and how to put them onto this webpage. Might take some time, but they are truly incredible.
In another part of the lava field, there is actually a path so that you can get on top. The volcanic material is extremely sharp, picking up a piece immediately cut into my fingertips. It healed nicely, so hopefully the next time I travel to the US and get my fingerprints checked will not end up in a rather embarrassing situation. Not sure if border officers will buy the reason for the fingerprints not matching any more.
As well, we encountered many small and large cracks showing an impressive amount of colors.
Off from the lava, the material was changing into a more sand like quality. And first plants picked up the fight to conquer this new part of Iceland.
The cameras had a hard time getting the colors right, the black ground is pretty difficult, especially in combination with the sometimes very bright sky. So most of those pictures include some heavy post-processing, although the dynamic range of the Nikons is superb.
Now this is quite a nice representation of roads encountered on the highlands. Those pictures show the famous F910 and yes, all of the pictures show official ‚road‘. But please do not try to go there without having your vehicle checked by one of the rangers in the area before. These wardens will know whether you can get through and the Zebra was really challenged. Our underbody armor is now covered with huge dents, which is impressive considering it is plated with 5mm of high-grade steel (slightly less than a quarter of an inch).
But the lava is quite a sight.
Also, there are areas with numerous boulders, the one below is the size of a pickup truck. It was cleanly cracked.
After all this excitement, we headed for Laugafell. Although past midnight, we still took a bath in the pool. And another one in the morning. A very remote place (and quite expensive to sleep in one of the huts), but with a lot of charm.
And with a lot of birds as well.
No series of pictures from such an adventure without showing how to cross a river. Bridges are for beginners.
Getting closer to civilization again, we were encountering some terrific people. The road was blocked for a race! And as it was the only possible one we could use, we stopped for taking pictures. Well, we would have probably stopped even without the roadblock. Several racers took a look at the Zebra, but even though I asked, they would not let us participate in the race. I’m sure they were just afraid of the Zebra winning.
Well… probably not.
Second to last car was a rescue vehicle. And just to be clear, I will immediately testify that this car was not at all driving faster than the regular speed limit, those people are highly responsible citizens and would never break the law. Actually, if somebody from this race will stumble over this blog, get in contact with me and I will gladly share all the pictures I took from the race. And just because it is very fitting in this context, I donated some money to the emergency service which works with numerous volunteers and advise every traveler visiting Iceland to do the same.
Now with Droni having had some more flights, we used it to take pictures of several waterfalls. It changes your way of thinking about how to take a picture. Now you just select the spot from where you want the picture taken and fly over to it.
We traveled to the Westfjords next. Not only for the beautiful scenery, but for the puffins. They live right on the edge of the cliffs and do not shy away from people. Actually, they might be more afraid of me if they would have known that I actually ate some of them as an appetizer for dinner the day before. The taste? Fish…
But technically, they rely on their great skills of camouflage. You have to look really hard to find the bird in this field of flowers.
Also, they communicate with each other a lot. The conversation of those two fellows: „I will jump from the cliff“ … „No, you won’t“ … „Oh, shit“.
Truly relaxed birds. They don’t bother the Paparazzi. Or the Paparazzi taking pictures of the Paparazzi.
One of the greatest waterfalls is the Dynjandi. Again, we had a lot of fun flying around with Drohni. The multicopter got a lot of interest, but there were distinct categories of people. Some complained, most were highly interested and many asked to have a look at the display shown on the remote control.
This place was a very nice example on how Icelandic people do traffic control. We had one road with a sign signaling a dead end. Still we decided to take it, as we were interested in the scenery. If necessary, we would have turned around and get back to the start again, no problem. Interestingly, we never found the dead end of this road, on the other side we just found the same sign again. Very clever. And by the way, I remove all GPS data from all of my pictures, so not to reveal this secret passage.
Most animals you encounter on Iceland are sheep (if you don’t include the totally annoying flies). There are three categories of sheep: Ignorant sheep which will not even lift their head, interested sheep which will take great interest in the Zebra (well, it is quite a sight) and panic-sheep which will run away or at least run to the mother sheep. As an exercise, please categorize the sheep shown below.
After some time driving around Iceland, you might notice that the car is not quite as clean as before. Neither are any of your belongings.
This might be related to the dusty roads, but you can never know for sure. In Iceland, it might have been a troll or a dirt-fairy as well.
An extremely rare sight in Iceland during summer is what appears to be a sunset. Sun will stay there for quite some time, depending on your location it might just go up again or just take a small dip beyond the horizon. Still the light is amazing.
Probably the most known place in all of Iceland. No, this is not Stóri Geysir after which all Geysirs are being named, it is called Strokkur. Geysir is right next to it but rarely has an outbreak.
Strokkur blows every couple of minutes in various heights up to around 30 meters (100 feet). As I restricted pictures on this site to ones in landscape orientation, I’m showing a smaller one.
Probably one of the most beautiful areas showing thermic activity is Kerlingarfjöll. The weather wasn’t good the day we have been there, but a small time slot gave sunshine through the cloud cover. Which we immediately used for Drohni.
Probably the most disappointing sight on our trip was Jökulsárlón, the glacial river lagoon. Sure it still is quite a sight if you are visiting Iceland only once. But as returning visitors, we remember it from our past trips. Even though just a few years passed, the saddening sight is a quiet reminder of the changing global climate.
Fairly close to the lake, we know of a very small road leading right up to the glacier. This road is definitely a difficult one, so really do not try to go there with a Toyota Yaris (being the nickname for all rentals which might appear worthy to travel offroad but in reality should be taken no further than a patch of very flat grass). No GPS coordinates on those pictures either, sorry. The day was cold and wet, somehow very much fitting the sight we encountered. The glacier retreated a lot since our last visit, it was covered in volcanic dust and we were very much aware that all structures we photographed would vanish soon as well.
Back to the eastern coast of Iceland, our mood was raised again. We encountered more waterfalls, more animals even including reindeer, had great food and met a lot of nice people. But I’m trying to restrict the blog to a reasonable amount of pictures (depending on my own definition of reasonable), we came home with well over 7000 pictures plus many movies which still wait to be processed.
So again we went on board the Norrøna, which brought us first to a 2 day stopover on the Faroe Islands and then back to Denmark. Although the last leg included an uncomfortable storm. Then just two days driving for a total distance of 5800 km we traveled in the Zebra (roughly 3600 miles). Getting home to enjoy our own apartment again and to tell another great story.