"Captivated by the pristine beauty of all that lay before me, I stood motionless. Time slowed in what were a few brief moments of magic; I was spellbound and oblivious to the day's fast fading light."
An Icelandic saga captured through the lens
When Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions asked me if I would be interested in going out to explore Iceland's wild and rugged landscapes with my camera, I didn't have to think twice about it.
Iceland is a photographer's dream destination and somewhere I had always wanted to visit with my camera. I was given the simple brief to "go and capture the essence of this remarkable and mythical land, a country of natural extremes and ethereal beauty".
My favourite shot from the trip, which seems to encapsulate the Sandgrouse Travel brief, is of this remote Icelandic church, framed looking through a nearby derelict cottage's window.
(The remote church, Iceland. Click to enlarge).
"For me it's both comforting and exciting to know that such pure and wild places, like Iceland, still remain. These special parts of our world are becoming more and more sacred and to visit them is truly a privilege." - Sandgrouse founder, Jonny Stage.
Here is the full written and photographic account of my journey, and all photos have been taken using a Canon 5D Mk III. Click on any photograph to go full screen and enjoy a slideshow.
Icelandair Flight 455 from London to Reykjavik landed at midnight and after picking up the hire car, I headed straight to my first destination, a little-known waterfall with cobalt blue water called Bruarfoss. After a few hours' sleep in the car, I awoke to a grey and misty morning, but a breathtaking scene nonetheless.
(Bruarfoss from above. Click to enlarge).
After Bruarfoss I headed further inland. My second stop was at Kerlingarfjöll - a fascinating area in the heart of the country. The Icelandic weather was living up to its unpredictable reputation, with bursts of warm sunshine quickly changing to freezing cold conditions and a brief snow shower. All alone in this uninhabited heart of the country, I was comforted by the presence of an Icelandic petrol station, though it wasn't exactly well-stocked with supplies.
(Kerlingarfjöll hikers and a petrol station. Click to enlarge).
There were mile upon mile of lava fields throughout Iceland - and almost all were covered in a dense mat of slow-growing mosses. My final stop on the first day was along the south central coast near Dyrhólaey.
(Dyrhólaey. Click to enlarge).
This United States Navy Dakota C-47 crashed in 1973 just a few hundred metres from the sea and amazingly all passengers on board survived. Unfortunately, however, two people were killed in the subsequent helicopter rescue operation.
(Twisted metal of the wrecked Dakota's fuselage. Click to enlarge).
The start of my second day was spent near a town called Vik, one of the largest settlements outside Reykjavik, though in reality it comprised a small cluster of two petrol stations, a dozen lodges, a church and a few houses. Despite being late in the season, puffins were still present along the cliff line and even came down to the beach. Unfortunately my camera had sustained water damage from sea spray and light rain the previous day, and I had to wait until it had dried sufficiently to work, by which time the puffins had gone.
(The beautiful Skógafossâ€‹ near the town of Vik. Click to enlarge).
After an evening and following morning spent on the coast, I decided to head to the highlands and a place called Landmannalaugar, stopping off at a few scenic spots along the way. Many of the roads in Iceland are only open for the short summer season, including this one, which was only occasionally marked by large boulders. A dense fog descended while driving this stretch of black grit and the rare sight of a passing vehicle was invaluable in reassuring me I was still on one of Iceland's main roads.
(Landmannalaugar, summit photo, sheep grazing and isolated interior road. Click to enlarge).
After four hours of rough off-road driving, and fording dozens of rivers in the process, I arrived at Landmannalaugar. The area is famous for its natural hot springs that people bathe in (usually naked!) year-round despite being surrounded by snow and ice, and also its multi-coloured rhyolite rock landscape. It is a popular place for hikers, and sheep apparently.
(An imposing gorge dusted in a fresh covering of snow. Click to enlarge).
My final destination on day two was back at the coast, and probably the most visited location in Iceland outside the capital city Reykjavik. It is a glacial lagoon called Jökulsárlón, which opens through a small channel into the sea. Large icebergs frequently carve off the edge of the glacier and get carried out to sea before washing back ashore on the adjacent black sand beach. The sound of several tonnes of ice collapsing into the otherwise tranquil lagoon was incredible.
(Glacier lagoon and what look like gemstones but are infact blocks of ice on the beach. Click to enlarge).
After spending an evening and subsequent morning at Jökulsárlón, I joined a tour to a small pinnacle called Ingolfshofdi, which is believed to be the landing point of Ingólfr Arnarson, Iceland's first permanent Nordic settler. The pinnacle is now a nature reserve, home to a variety of nesting sea-birds including puffins, gannets, fulmars and kittiwakes. These birds are terrorized by large brutish birds called great skuas that specialise in eating adult puffins, harassing adult sea-birds into regurgitating meals and defending their territories with vigour, as demonstrated by this individual.
(Great skua on the turn. Click to enlarge).
After spending several hours getting dive-bombed by aggressive skuas, I drove to my final destination of day two: a small town at the south east tip of Iceland called Höfn. Despite being the end of summer, the sun was above the horizon for over 15 hours and I therefore had plenty of time to spare while I waited for sunset. I passed the time by exploring the small village of Höfn and treated myself to my first proper meal of the trip - enjoying a fish offered throughout Iceland called redfish, which was delicious. Sunset was spent at the nearby headland of Vestrahorn - a dramatic line of peaks surrounded by black sand dunes and hardy grass tuffets. The combination of the stunning landscape, plentiful birdlife, a nearby farm with Icelandic horses and the remains of a whale on the beach made this location my favourite of the trip. At the same time this picture was taken of a massive volcano called Bardarbunga, which was at its most active in years and threatening to devastate Iceland's east central region, I was out of internet reception and was due to drive relatively close to the volcano, so texted my wife who was back home in the UK to ask her to look up the latest info on the Iceland met website. She texted back to say '50 million cubic metres of molten rock has moved in 24 hour period'.
(Bardarbunga and kittiwake. Click to enlarge)
Well before sunrise on day three, I started a massive journey of 13 hours driving from the far south east of Iceland to the far west. Three hours into the journey I arrived at a geothermal site called Hverir in time for sunrise. The area is characterised by spewing steam vents, boiling mud pools and rivers of sulphuric acid.
(Hverir geothermal activity. Click to enlarge).
Next stop was Lake Mývatn , which is a famous location for birders looking for waterfowl. Unfortunately by late August, most birds have migrated to warmer regions of Europe and North America where they spend the winter months, though I was lucky enough to see a few stragglers.
(A pochard duck on Lake Mývatn. Click to enlarge).
Two further stops enroute to the far west of Iceland included Hraunfossar and a fisherman's hut. Hraunfossar is a series of falls and cascades where the water springs strangely from the ground. Depending on the time of year, the water here can be a vivid blue.
(Hraunfossar. Click to enlarge).
After a gruelling drive, the majestic outline of Kirkjufell Mountain was a very welcome sight. I spent my final night in Iceland in the shadow of this iconic location, which is also known as Church Mountain due to its shape. One of the most amazing things about Iceland is the ability to walk right up to any spectacle without ticket booths, crowds or barriers. However, all this is changing as tourism continues to rise exponentially in Iceland, forcing the government to restrict and direct foot traffic. Even as I was taking this picture, a bulldozer was dredging a footpath up to this vantage point; a small but significant alteration to this incredible place.
(The iconic Kirkjufell also known as Church Mountain. Click to enlarge).
My final day was spent exploring the eastern parts of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, an area characterised by beautiful coastal views and typical Icelandic farms. Thet animal species I wanted to see above all others while in Iceland was an Arctic fox. As it turned out, I got my wish, but not quite in the way I hoped, as I came across an unfortunate road-killed individual.
(Snæfellsnes coastline and lake house. Click to enlarge).
(Black Icelandic church, frozen coastline, wild Icelandic horses and the northern lights image. Click to enlarge).
Our soon-to-be launched, exciting new website will be showcasing some of the best experiences and acommodation to be found in Iceland. If you would like to arrange a trip to Iceland with Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions, please either email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Sandgrouse office on: +44 1392 661050 .
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