A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Iceland. I travelled with Andy Keen, founder and Director of Aurorahunters, a company who has made it their business to chase the “Tricky Lady” in northern Scandinavia, as well as the company of his son, Alex and three fellow travellers. I first travelled with them to Finland around 18 months ago, then I visted the Lofoten Islands and Finnmark with them in March this year.
This trip was more of a scouting trip, a way of putting out feelers for the potential of Iceland. Also, the primary target wasn’t the Northern Lights this time, but the Perseid meteor shower. Of course, who could pass up the chance of Aurora also, even if the hours of darkness were limited?
After an early morning flight, we arrived at Keflavik and just had enough time to travel to our apartment in the suburban area of Reyjavkik and a quick cuppa, before we headed out on our first trip. Unusually, we were going to be doing some tours with a local agency, instead of making our own way, mainly because we were a little clueless about Iceland. To be honest, we weren’t even sure it would live up to the hype. It’s one of those destinations that everyone talks about and there is always a slight niggling concern that it isn’t going to live up to expectations.
We hadn’t realised, quite how large the company that was helping us was. They were called Reykjavik Excursions and it seems they are pretty much the largest tourist company in Iceland. Despite that though, they went out of their way to collect us from our apartment (which we later found out was very unusual).
I’m not normally one for cities, but Reykjavik was quite interesting and the quick tour helped us to orientate ourselves to some degree, visiting a number of attractions, such as Perlan (The Pearl), the Sun Voyager sculpture, Hallgrimskirkja and a number of other places.
That evening, we visited the Blue Lagoon and yes, it is very blue. It is also in a geothermally active area (just like much of Iceland), with many smaller pools outside the main complex and many volcanic features. The rocks, intermingled with the pools, some of which are quite large, make for a very dramatic landscape.
Probably one of the more dramatic areas we visited, was the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón, in the southeast of Iceland. Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in the country and also in Europe and the lagoon has a large number of icebergs, which have calved from the glacier. Also, many seabirds, such as skua and terns were flying around, with common seals swimming amongst the icebergs, while observing all the visitors.
We spent several nights looking and trying to photograph the Perseid meteors, but they were more than a little shy, we did however strike lucky with a faint (but visible) aurora, which is almost certainly the first sighting of the season, a full week before the locals would have expected. Then again, they probably weren’t mad enough to be out at some ridiculous hour, when there was barely two hours of darkness.
The final day, we decided to forego the coach (partly due to camera issues – they don’t like volcanic lakes) and strike out on our own to pick and choose what we wanted to see on the Golden Circle. Our first stop was Thingvellir, the site of the old parliament and visible rift gorge. This is a site where the theory of plate tectonics, becomes reality and the forces of nature are clearly visible. The perfect site for a seat of power. Next stop was the awesome power of the Gulfoss falls (Golden Falls), before finally finishing off the daylight hours at the site of Geysir, in the company of geothermally active, bioluminescent pools and the might of the geyser of Strokkur (churn). Not quite the same power of Geysir, when it is active, but then Geysir isn’t currently active.
Iceland certainly lived up to expectations and we will almost certainly visit again, that is if a certain volcano by the name of Bárðarbunga allows. Two days after we left the island, Bárðarbunga started showing signs of unrest and at the time of writing, has opened up a dyke more than 40 km long and has possibly had some small eruptions under Vatnajokull. If events progress how they could, then it could put on a spectacular display, that could have the potential for much disruption, not just in Iceland, but also in Europe. I can thoroughly recommend Iceland as a travel destination and if you want to chase the Northern Lights, then there is no-one better than Aurorahunters. Also, look out for more nature-based excursions in the coming months and not just the hunt for the “Tricky Lady”.