Iceland is one of the most amazing places in the world and off the normal travel routes, so it remains a hidden treasure – one of the few places in the world that hasn’t been photographed to death.
It is unique because the land is still being changed by intense volcanic activity and the effects of glaciers and water erosion. And those changes are spectacular, offering a photographic playground with something new to see time and time again!
Traveling in Iceland is fairly simple because only one main road circles the entire country. The Ring Road travels along the edge of the coast and breathtaking views of glaciers, snow-capped mountains and waterfalls make it unlike any other highway in the world. There is truly so much natural beauty that it will thrill your photographic eye without ever leaving the pavement!
A Roadside Waterfall
Get off the main road and you truly step onto another planet. Iceland has some awesome side roads and mountain roads where you can experience the interior of the island where landscape image opportunities are in abundance. But do be aware that you can drive for miles and miles and miles to only come to an abrupt end to the road. You may want to consider utilizing a good guide in order to make the most of your time.
Iceland’s Diverse Landscape
As with many locations so far north, the sun in the summer almost never sets. I drove along day after day at one in the morning with bright sunlight and didn’t feel the fatigue you might expect. Perhaps it’s the excitement of something remarkable around every bend of the road, but I barely remember sleeping when I was there.
I laughed when I saw the road signs marked “Danger! Trolls!” I know the signs are for tourists, but I still kept looking and hoping to catch a glimpse of one!
The Great Geysir in the Haukadalur Valley
Iceland is a land of many active volcanoes (a number of them under the large ice fields), so the contrast between black lava, steaming vents and blue-white ice is spectacular. The word “geyser” originated in Iceland. There are many geysers and signs of volcanic activity.
The Great Geysir was first described in the 14th Century and then due to a number of earthquakes, it stopped erupting in 1916. Again, due to another earthquake in 2000, the eruptions resumed. The eruptions initially reached 122 meters in height, thus becoming one of the highest known geysers in history. In 2003 the eruptions again began to decrease.
Because I wanted something different on my most recent trip, I decided to rent a vehicle and drive all around the entire country. Wow, it was an amazing adventure! I inquired at the rental company what the laws were about sleeping on the side of the road.
I was told that the laws permit you to pull over and sleep anywhere and it’s completely legal. They want you to be rested when you are behind the wheel and as long as you park safely then they are happy.
To get the most from your visit to Iceland, consider a four-wheel drive experience. If you want to do really good nature photography and see places that tourists don’t see, plan ahead to make sure you know what you are doing and have some experience.
Join your local 4×4 club and learn how to drive on trails, balance over logs and boulders and do it safely. Without this experience I am sure I would not be writing this article now, since I was balanced on the end of a volcanic crater!
So come with me on my Iceland adventure and prepare to have a wonderful time.
My plane landed about an hour late and even though I was late, the rental company was still waiting to take me directly to my car. This was my first experience with the people of Iceland and I was very pleasantly surprised by their kindness and courtesy.
Throughout my travels in their country, the Icelanders were especially friendly and helpful. Many speak English and they are pleased to greet foreign visitors. They are proud of their country and it really shows. It’s rare to meet another vehicle along some of the side roads, but when it did happen, there was a friendly greeting and time to talk and share stories.
New friendships were made frequently over a shared beer. If you don’t drink or don’t want to consume any alcohol at all while driving, just tell them you’ll remember them as you enjoy your beer later in the hotel.
It’s the little things that make small but significant memories when you are in a foreign country. When you buy water in the store, it is usually carbonated. I don’t care to drink carbonated water, but I couldn’t read the labels. So there was my first adventure mistake.
Fortunately, Iceland is blessed with many mountain streams and most of the water is glacial runoff filtered through volcanic sand and moss, so I merely dumped the carbonated water and filled the containers with glacial water.
While drinking water from streams isn’t always the best idea, it worked out just fine as the water was clear, fresh and tasty. Probably the best thing in the world you can drink!
Pumping gas in Iceland is a lesson to learn as well. I’m not giving out the secret here, but it’s just one of the funny little quirks that make traveling to foreign countries interesting. Just one very important rule; if you are down to 3/4 of a tank, start looking for a gas station because sometimes they are few and far between.
There are road signs that tell you where the gas stations are and the distance. Plan wisely.
Only in Iceland will you see a goose just sitting in the middle of the road. Then as you approach, it gets up, waddles off and then waits on the side of the road for you to pass so it can return to plunking itself right back in the center of the road.
When you are driving, make sure you watch for the sheep. There are lots of them and they roam free, eating moss from the lava fields. As with any animal they can be unpredictable. All the sheep I saw were pretty lazy, so it’s not so much that you have to worry about them jumping, you have to worry more about them sleeping in the roads.
Because of the cold weather, they have thick, thick shaggy coats and uniquely come in a number of shades of black, brown and white and in some unique patterns as well.
If you’re looking to photograph more wildlife, you won’t want to miss creating images of the Icelandic horses. And keep a look out for the Arctic Fox, mink, mice, rats, rabbits and reindeer. And of course those Atlantic Puffins are just too the cute and colorful to pass up. You may want to visit Látrabjarg and other locations in order to see many at one time.
Photographically, a very important lesson I learned in my travels is when you see a picture opportunity make sure you stop. Don’t say “The next one will be better or I’ll get it on the way back.” It will never be exactly the same, so take the time to stop and capture that particular moment. I can’t stress that enough and I follow it religiously.
If you’re looking for a true photo adventure that will be surrounding in incredible beauty, then pack your bags for Iceland.
by Michael Leggero
All text & photos: © 2013 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved.