Iceland - the trip of a lifetime: Part one

My first 48 hours in Iceland began in a rocky way. I flew in early ahead of a friend who was meeting me in Keflavik later, around midnight, and waited around in Reykjavik having a look at the local culture. My friend's plane landed later than scheduled, around 12:30am to be precise, and I had already seen the weather forecast which was advising not to drive beyond 12am due to a big snow storm heading in to the island. The plane doors had frozen shut, so I waited a further hour until they could get the doors open, it must've been some blizzard. Finally, at 1:30am my friend was off the plane and we pootled along the snow covered roads of Iceland. And suddenly it hit me. I was driving in a foreign country for the first time. On the 'wrong' side of the road. The 'wrong' side of the car. All the signs were in a language I couldn't understand, and yet I was excited. Until, that is, I saw the wreckage's of cars strewn along the sides of the roads. It was a sober reminder to focus and stay slow. I had a 2-wheel-drive car so it wasn't going to be the smoothest journey ever. So, after a 5hr30min journey which should've taken 2hr30mins we finally got there, although only after getting stuck 3 times in the snow drifts.

I had 3 hours sleep and then got up to meet a local photographer, Einar Gudmann for our photoshoot. I was running a shoot for the magazine I work for, NPhoto, and Einar was our pro for the day giving us lots of tips and location tips. I was sleep deprived, but it was worth getting up early. The morning light was gorgeous as we made our way to the Kirkjufell mountain for the first classic shot.

Kirkjufell morning light

I trekked around the frozen waterfall, and suddenly found myself standing beside the biggest icicles I'd ever seen. 20ft tall solid icicles whose size only matched by huge stalagmites I'd seen in caves in England towered over me. I had to photograph them. So I crouched down inside the cave formed by the overhanging rock at the fall. I got this feeling that it was only accessible now, in February because the river passing through the  landscape had frozen over. 

Kirkjufell waterfall icicles

I travelled around the area, driving up to the Snaefesfell peninsula that had dramatic scenes all within a short stretch of the car park. Obviously photographers lined the cliffs there, but that's all part and parcel of shooting such a photogenic country. After travelling around all day I finally had my second meal in 48 hours. I finished about 8pm and headed out, scouring the skies for aurora. All I could see was some thin cloud. Disappointed, I turned to Einar and shrugged. "Any aurora?" he said. "Nope. Ah well. Maybe not this trip." I replied. He looked up at the sky, and in the most understated way reported back to me, "Ah yes, there it is. I suppose we better make a move if we're to catch it." My eyes darted back and forth in the sky and my heart began to beat. This was my first time seeing the northern lights, and possibly the only time ever in my lifetime, but I didn't have a damn clue where they were. "What? Where?!" I shouted as he walked back to the car and I began a slow jog. "The cloud..." he said. I hurried to the car at increasing speed and jumped in. We drove round to Kirkjufell once more and I ran across the black sand beach. Luckily the tide had just gone out so there was a watery sheen on the sand which gave way under my feet with a satisfying, granular softness and provided me with the most incredible reflection. The light grew brighter and longer, like a green torch shining across the mountain peak and into the distance above the road. It only took 15 minutes for it to disappear, so I was elated I got as many photos as I did. I even managed a quick selfie. What an incredible introduction to Iceland. 48 hours in and I'd eaten 2 meals, had 3 hours sleep and saw my first sighting of the aurora borealis. What could possibly be better than that?

Kirkjufell aurora borealis, Iceland
Selfie, self portrait under the aurora borealis at Kirkjufell, Iceland