What to do with four days in Iceland…

Iceland is such an incredible country it is hard to know where to start. I spent four days exploring and can safely say that it is a good amount of time to fit in a lot of adventures. For the Northern Lights, January to March is a good time to go. Although be prepared for an arctic chill plus only a few hours of daylight. I visited in January, sunrise was at 11am and sunset around 4pm. It is strange adjusting to very dark mornings.  The opposite can be said for the summer in Iceland, the daylight hours go the complete opposite way with the midnight sun making an appearance. This means pretty much twenty-four hours of daylight and warmer weather.
If you are planning a trip to Iceland here is my four-day itinerary…

 

From the airport Flybus operate services to Reykjavík in conjunction with all arriving and departing flights. Bus services go via the BSI bus terminal, and onto Reykjavík. (Pay for Flybus Plus to be dropped right outside your accommodation.) The journey takes about 45 minutes, pre book before you go or pay at the airport. It was a really fluid service plus there is WIFI on the buses.
You might be interested to know that the restaurant at the bus terminal sells not only burgers but also sheep heads.  A traditional Icelandic dish which dates back to a time when people made use of every part of the animal. Not one I tried while I was out there, but very interesting to learn about Iceland’s culture.

 

Day 1
We stayed in the centre of Reykjavík at Loft Hostel, located on one of the main streets it was perfect and in walking distance of shops, restaurants, funky bars and the city’s main attractions.
A visit to Hallgrimskirkja church is a must; the impressive concrete structure was designed to look like volcanic basalt. Inside it houses an organ with 5727 pipes. For a small fee take the lift 74.5 metres to the top for beautiful panoramic views of Iceland.
If you are visiting in winter you will definitely need to warm up. Icelanders are into coffee in a big way so there are plenty of coffee shops dotted around to escape in from the cold. My favourite was Kaffi Brennslan, they had a delicious chocolate cake.  Most of the coffee shops turn into restaurants and bars at night too with a quirky little place on most corners to choose from.
After you’ve warmed up take a stroll to the harbour. The famous Sun Voyager statue is a worth a look at and the mountainous backdrop is stunning.
If you are hoping to see the northern lights book a trip early on in your stay, that way you can increase your chances of seeing them. Many tour companies offer a free trip if you don’t spot them the first time around. Use Icelandic Met Office to check the Aurora forecast. On our first full evening there we went on a Northern lights hunt with Iceland Travel. With clear skies and a dark night we were very lucky to see the Aurora Borealis dancing and gliding in the dark sky. A super jeep tour meant a smaller group and we could go where coaches couldn’t, boy did those Land Rovers plough through the snow! After an awesome evening we even got see the lights again from the roof terrace of the hostel shining brightly above Reykjavík.  For tips on capturing the Northern Lights on camera head here: Northern Lights Photography Tips.

 

 

Day 2
You can’t come to Iceland without seeing the Golden Circle. Matt and I decided to go on an organized tour, we had initially thought about hiring a car but were pleased we didn’t as due to a lot of snow the road conditions were pretty harsh and the Icelanders definitely have the skills to drive on their roads!
We chose a small group tour with Sterna Travel, the first stop was Þingvellir national park the sight of Iceland’s Viking parliament; here you can walk between shifting tectonic plates. Next up was the Geysir hot spring area; hot steam rises from bubbling geothermal water, and the famous geyser Strokkur is here. Pushing out hot plumes of water every few minutes it is very exciting and addictive to watch. The thundering falls of Gullfoss was one of my favourite stops of the day; this icy beauty was definitely worth getting cold for.  As well as stopping at the main sights the tour also included a visit to a geothermal pool, Gamla Lagoon. As I’m pregnant I didn’t get to go in but Matt thoroughly enjoyed the 40°c dip with a beer for company!
For dinner we chose Islenski Barinn, a cosy restaurant with a quirky interior. I had halibut which was delicious. They had some interesting specialties on the menu, the Icelandic people like some weird stuff! Fermented shark, puffin and minke whale. We didn’t try any of these, as we weren’t sure if they were just a tourist fad. For dessert we had Skyr, an Icelandic speciality and very similar to Greek yogurt.

 

Day 3
We were up early for an adventure to the south coastagain with Sterna Travel. I was so excited to see Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 cancelling over 100,000 flights all over the world.  Next was the mighty Skógafoss one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, it has a 200ft drop and legend has it that there is buried treasure in the cave behind, unfortunately it was too cold that day for me to find out! We stopped for lunch at Reynisfjara beach near Vik. Black sand and basalt sea stacks make this a striking place for photos. My favourite stop on this trip was at Mýrdalsjökull, the most beautiful glacier. Having time to explore the base of this gigantic beauty was awe-inspiring. Deep blues and thickly patterned ice, topped off with snow-covered mountains high above, it was an epic spot. The last stop of the day was Seljalandsfoss waterfall, you can walk behind it, but it was so cold the staircase leading to the path was completely encased in ice. I was more than happy to just admire it from the front anyway!
We rounded up the evening back in Reykjavík with a very tasty lamb stew. Iceland is well-known for its lamb so it only seemed right to warm up with this dish after a very chilly but awesome day.

 

Day 4
Our final morning was spent relaxing over a leisurely breakfast after two busy days of sightseeing followed by souvenir shopping. A Lopapeysa or Icelandic sweater made with Icelandic sheep wool is the thing to buy here. However, at £100 – £150 they were way out of my budget. I did however stumble across some very cool vintage charity shops on Laugavuger, the main shopping street.  Inside I found a few jumpers for £30, sadly they didn’t fit! This was followed by more coffee drinking and cake munching to keep warm. You can buy all sorts of weird and wonderful souvenirs; my favourite ones were glass tea light holders with volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajökull and lava rock ornaments. I did go into a Christmas shop and buy a Christmas decoration, as if you saw my blog back in December on all things Christmassy you will know that I love collecting decorations from my travels.  A little Icelandic elf, I thought it would be a great reminder of our trip.
I loved everything about Iceland, it has such a trendy, cool vibe, the locals are super friendly and I even loved the cold.  For me it added to the whole experience. My one tip would be to pack a lot of thermals and layers if you go during the winter, you will definitely need them.

 

 

9 things you need to do in Iceland….

Iceland is one of the most incredible countries I have visited.  Found on the edge of the arctic circle winters are chilly with very little daylight and summers are bright and warm as Iceland becomes the land of the midnight sun.  Whichever time of the year you choose to visit you are sure to have a blast. Breathtaking landscapes, very friendly locals and the lovely city of Reykjavík full of nordic charm, cool bars and quirky places to eat are sure to win you over.  Iceland is easy to get around, hire a car, catch a bus from the airport or book on to a small group tour with transport provided.  There is so much to see and do in Iceland so to help you plan your own trip here are my favourites…

 

1. See the Northern Lights
If you go to Iceland during the winter look out for the Northern Lights, watching them dance across the nights sky, ever-changing in shape and colour is unforgettable.  The Icelandic Met Office is a great website for checking the Aurora forecast and upcoming weather conditions.  It has a helpful scale to indicate the likeliness of seeing the lights.  Hunt for them yourself or go out with a guide.  When I was in Iceland last year I went on a Super Jeep tour with Iceland Travel, it was a fantastic night.  Not only did I see the Northern Lights I also got to experience the thrill of exploring Iceland at night in a Super Jeep.  Huge wheels meant the 4×4 could plough through the deepest of snow drifts and go where others couldn’t.  We stopped at two different locations and got to witness a lot of Aurora Borealis action, once they disappeared at the first location we moved on to the next.  Finishing off the night with a hot chocolate topped with an optional glug of vodka helped to keep us warm in the freezing weather conditions.

 

2. Swim in a hot spring
Iceland is famous for its geothermal activity and what better way to celebrate this than with a dip in a hot pool.  The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous geothermal spa, located in a lava field it is a must visit.  This is not the only hot pool though, there are plenty of others to be discovered.  The Blue Lagoon was sadly closed for refurbishment when Matt and I were in Iceland, so we visited the Secret Lagoon instead, a lovely small geothermal pool which we stopped at while exploring the Golden Circle.

 

3. Climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja
The very impressive Hallgrímskirkja church can be seen throughout Reykjavík, its magnificent structure was designed to look like the volcanic basalt stacks which can be spotted around Iceland.  Inside, the beautiful architecture continues and includes a huge organ with 5275 pipes.  Take the lift to the top of the 73 metre tower, it costs 900 ISK (around £6) and is well worth it.  The views of Reykjavík and the surrounding landscape are breathtaking.

 

4. Walk on a glacier
It’s not everyday you get to visit a glacier and Iceland is the place to do it.  Mýrdalsjökull glacier near Vik was incredible to see and get up close to.  Unfortunately as I was six months pregnant I couldn’t hike it but it was fun to watch others making the trek up and along this impressive landscape.  Hearing the cracks and seeing the incredible blues of the ice is just out of this world.  If you get the chance to walk on one, do it!

 

5. Walk along the black sand on Reynisfjara Beach
This beach near Vik is famous for its black sand, caused by volcanic activity it is a beach like no other and worthy of taking plenty of photos.  Stroll along the mysterious shoreline looking out for the huge basalt columns jutting out from the cliffs and the basalt stacks out at sea.  Icelandic folklore suggests that mischievous trolls trying to drag a ship to shore were unwittingly turned into these imposing structures.  Watch out for the waves here, there are dangerous undertows and the water can be unpredictable.  Be sure to stay out of the water and admire it at a safe distance from the shoreline.

 

6. Stroll between tectonic plates
Walking between tectonic plates is a unique experience, head to Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir) the sight of the world’s oldest parliament for a great walk full of beautiful views.  Walk through Almannagjá canyon created by the division of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  For more information take a look at Þingvellir National Park website.

 

7. Watch Strokkur geyser exploding
A highlight of the Golden Circle, this geothermal area is awesome!  Water bubbles away at 100ºC and huge plumes of steam rise from the ground.  Watch the mighty geyser Strokkur explode into action, the giant jet of water erupts every 5 – 10 minutes and is an incredible sight.

 

8. Say hi to the local wildlife
Iceland’s resident horses are very friendly, take the time to stop for a selfie with them amongst the gorgeous landscape.  Standing between 13 and 14 hands high they could be mistaken for ponies, in Iceland they are horses so be sure to get it right or risk offending a local!

 

9. Marvel at the beautiful waterfalls
One of Iceland’s most famous and beautiful landmarks are the waterfalls.  There’s nothing quite like watching water majestically fall over rugged hillsides, especially in the winter with snow underfoot and icicles hanging from the edges of the falls.  My favourites are Gullfoss, which can be seen on a tour of the Golden Circle.  It is one of Iceland’s most popular falls and it’s not hard to see why.  Standing up close to this powerful beauty and watching water thunder down below is an exhilarating experience.  Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss are both found in the south of Iceland.  Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, you can get really close to it which is fantastic for capturing photos.  Seljalandsfoss is a must see, go behind the falls for a completely different view point, it is worth noting that the path is often closed in winter months due the danger of slipping.  Whichever waterfall you choose to visit in Iceland you certainly won’t be disappointed!

 

For more on what to see and do in Iceland click on the links below…
What to do with four days in Iceland
Adventures on the Golden Circle
Exploring Iceland’s South Coast
Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland

 

Iceland, America and a baby, 2016 has been a good’un!…

This year has been an incredible one, I’ve done less travelling than usual due to being on maternity leave but having Emily has made it the loveliest year for me and being able to take her on adventures around the world even better. I thought I’d look back on the travels and adventures of 2016 and reflect on the differences with a mini adventurer in tow!

 

January: Iceland
January started off with a trip to Iceland, being 6 months pregnant this was our ‘babymoon’ and the last time I planned to fly before my due date in April. Matt and I spent four days in the Arctic Circle, what an amazing place! We stayed at Loft Hostel in the centre of Reykjavík and explored a lot on foot, the views of the city from the top of the church, Hallgrimskirkja were one of my highlights here. We were lucky enough to see the northern lights on a super jeep tour, drinking hot chocolate while watching the aurora borealis dance across the night sky was an amazing experience. A trip to the south coast included a stop at Reynisfjara, the black sand beach near Vik, seeing waterfalls such as Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s largest and Eyjafjallajökull the volcano that erupted in 2010. My favourite sight on the south coast was walking along the base of a glacier, hearing it crack as it moved and taking photos of the ice blue formations was incredible. On a tour of the Golden Circle we walked between fault lines at Þingvellir National Park, watched the mighty Strokkur geyser explode every few minutes and took photos of Gullfoss waterfall in the freezing cold! The day was rounded up perfectly with a trip to the Secret Lagoon; the Blue Lagoon was closed during our trip so this was the next best thing. Unfortunately I couldn’t go into the hot pool as I was pregnant but Matt loved floating around in the steamy water.

 

What to do with four days in Iceland
Exploring Iceland’s South Coast
Adventures on the Golden Circle in Iceland
Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland
Review: Loft Hostel Reykjavik, Iceland
Northern Lights Photography Tips

 

 

February: London
In February, Matt and I went to London for a few nights for a wedding and explored Islington, Shoreditch and the market at Spitalfields. Having lived in London for three years while I was at university it was nice to go back and visit areas I had not been to before. We tried out some really great restaurants and cafes and ate a lot of good food!
A foodie weekend in London

 

 

April: Emily
April saw the arrival of Emily Louise Dunkinson weighing 6lb 1oz and since then it’s been a whirlwind eight months! Matt and I have always said that we would carry on travelling with a baby but were a little apprehensive about how this would pan out. Once we’d got our heads around the extra packing (who knew someone so small could need so much) we were good to go!
Emily
Flying with a baby

 

August: Cornwall
We started off with a road trip to Cornwall in August; I had a surf and yoga day planned with professional surfer Corinne Evans in Newquay. It was the first time I had surfed since being pregnant, it was so nice to get back on a board and meet some like-minded ladies. Three nights in Cornwall meant there was time for lots of beach walks and relaxing too and Emily at four months old seemed to love her first trip away.
Surfing in Cornwall with Corinne Evans

 

September: Italy
In September we went to Italy for two weeks to explore the southern region of Puglia. This was Emily’s first flight and it took a while to get my head round all the palaver of what liquids we could take through airport security and how she would be on the flight. Thankfully she was such a good girl and slept a lot, leaving Mum and Dad time for a celebratory G & T! Puglia was beautiful; we stayed in a traditional trullo building and visited some gorgeous towns, swam in the turquoise Mediterranean, strolled around cobbled streets full of white washed buildings and enjoyed spending time with Emily and her grandparents. Eating and drinking was high on the agenda here too, with freshly picked figs and almonds from the trullo gardens and Aperol to be sipped by the pool it was a very indulgent two weeks!
How to spend two weeks in Puglia
Exploring the trulli town of Alberobello

 

October/November: America
During October and November we spent some time in America. Visiting family in California was so nice and Emily got to meet her cousins for the first time. Being in America for Halloween was fantastic, fancy dress and trick or treating in a neighbourhood that pulls all the stops out was an awesome experience! Matt, Emily and I also went on a road trip to Sequoia National Park. The 7 hours drive was well worth it as our rustic cabin high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 6,500 feet was very welcoming. Stargazing, taking photos of giant trees, hiking with some incredible views, driving through a tree, watching the sunset behind the mountains and climbing the 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock are just some of the adventures we had there, all with Emily strapped to our backs! Back on the coast we watch surfers at Swamis, enjoyed brunch in Encinitas and visited Temecula for wine tasting and lunch. I was blown away with how well Emily coped with jetlag, she seemed to do better than me and she was so good on the long flights.
As any parent is aware it takes time to adjust to looking after a tiny human and it has been hard to keep up with writing on my blog along with my freelance work at the same time as being a Mum. I’ll often put Emily down for a nap with grand plans of getting some work done and a blog post, then I’ll hang some washing up, make a cuppa, sit down, feel all like ‘yeah I’ve got this being a Mum and writing thing nailed’ jot down a paragraph and then Emily will wake up!  I’m not complaining as I am completely in love with her, I think it’s just something I’m still learning to get used to. So my new years resolution is to stop beating myself up about it!

 

December: Somerset

I’m writing this today from Somerset, Matt, Emily and I are staying in a cosy cottage near Cheddar and will be seeing in the new year sat in front of the log burner in the lounge with a bottle of champagne. Travel plans for 2017 are already in motion with the first being a trip to France we’re going with friends by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen. We are staying in a lovely apartment in the fishing village of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain overlooking the seafront near Normandy which is famous for the D-Day Landings. I’ll be going back to work too, which right now seems like a terrifying prospect but at the same time I’m really look forward to flying again and visiting some new destinations, Peru, Costa Rica and Cape Town are just a few of the new routes I’ll be exploring when I return. As cabin crew I think I’ve never really got used to the idea of being ‘grounded’. Having said that I have got used to being in a ‘normal’ routine at home now so it will be interesting to see how I get on with weekly jetlag and 3am starts! But I’m sure surfing in Barbados, shopping in Orlando and a whole nights sleep all to myself will help me get through it! There will be at least one longhaul adventure for the three of us too, Matt and I are currently mulling over some options so watch this space.
Cheers to new adventures in 2017 and Happy New Year to you all!

 

Review: Loft Hostel Reykjavik, Iceland…

If you are on a budget then Loft Hostel is a little gem, especially as Iceland can be quite expensive.  The location is brilliant, right in the centre of Reykjavík with shops, bars and restaurants all on the doorstep as well as being within walking distance of the harbour and all the main sights.  The bar, reception and communal area are all up on the top floor of the building along with a roof terrace overlooking the city, great for drinks in the summer.  We saw the Northern Lights from here one night, which was awesome!  Wooden cladded floors, funky lighting and brightly painted walls give a Scandinavian feel.  The whole place is kept really clean and tidy, a nice bar area with happy hour everyday from 4pm to 8pm attracts not only those staying at the hostel but locals too.  There’s plenty of seating with comfy sofas and cosy corners and a small kitchen.  We didn’t use it but it was perfect for filling up my water bottle!  Breakfast was roughly around £8 with a selection of cereals, toast, bagels, meats, cheeses, yogurt and fruit, plus tea, coffee and juice made for a great start to the day.  We had a private en-suite room; it was clean, tidy and came with towels.  We didn’t have the most exciting view out of the window but then we weren’t there to sit in our room anyway so it didn’t really bother us.  The hostel has excellent free WiFi and really helpful, friendly staff; we booked both our Golden Circle and south coast trips with the help of the reception staff.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve not always been a hostel dweller, the first time I stayed in one was in New Zealand where I discovered you can get private en-suite rooms which can be just as good, if not better than some budget hotels I’ve stayed in.  Loft is definitely one of my favourites, with a laid back vibe and plenty of interesting people to chat to it’s definitely a good way to travel.
One thing to mention is that Friday and Saturday nights in Reykjavík can apparently get quite noisy as Icelandic people like to party!  Reading some reviews on Trip Advisor and other travel bloggers reviews the noise is mentioned so it might be something to bear in mind if you are staying here over a weekend and are planning on sleeping and not partying.  Loft’s website also mentions this and offers earplugs to help with sleeping!  We stayed there Monday to Friday and didn’t experience any noise whatsoever from the street or from other hostel goers.
It is worth joining up to Hostelling International when you book, you save 10% on HI accommodation worldwide, including Loft.
If you are planning a trip to Iceland check out my four day itinerary and Northern Lights adventure

 

 

Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland…

Seeing the Northern Lights was one of the main things I wanted to do when I visited Iceland in January, so when Iceland Travel invited Matt and I on a Northern Lights trip we jumped at the opportunity! This wasn’t just any old Northern Lights trip either; it was a Super Jeep Tour…
I had been keeping an eye on the Aurora forecast and it was looking good, the Icelandic Met Office is brilliant for checking on the upcoming Northern Lights action. All ready to go, wearing thermal layers and most of my clothes I had packed in preparation for the cold night, we were picked up promptly at 8pm outside our accommodation in the centre of Reykjavík by our 4×4 driver. The super jeep was a very cool looking white Land Rover pimped up with the biggest wheels I have ever seen! In fact I struggled to clamber up into the seat with my little legs! As we drove out of the city, busy bright roads turned into snowy tracks and darkness, we were joined by seven other super jeeps and continued in convoy. Making our way through deep snow I began to get excited. One of the benefits of going in a super jeep, apart from being immensely fun is that the vehicles can get to places that coaches and cars can not reach, the powerful Land Rovers could plough through massive snow drifts with ease, it felt like a real adventure! The snow-covered forest tracks eventually turned into a clearing; we pulled up and jumped out. I looked up and there were the Northern Lights, dancing in the night sky. I watched in silence as the vibrant greens constantly changed shape swirling and gliding through the darkness. As well as taking photos of these beauties I was conscious of just taking it all in, after all it’s not everyday you get to see the Aurora Borealis if you live in the UK. For information on capturing the lights on camera take a look at my blog: Northern Lights photography tips. After a good hour at this spot the lights started to fade and I could no longer feel my feet! So it was back in the jeeps to chase the lights once more and onto the next location. We drove higher up into the mountains, it felt a lot chillier here as I jumped out and scanned the sky. The lights were still visible but not as bright as they had been, it was really interesting here to see what the camera could pick up that the eye missed, the lights were much more apparent viewing them on the back of the camera but of course still great to witness. Our guides whipped out some hot chocolate to keep warm and we even had the option to add vodka to it, a proper winter warmer! Loosing the feeling in my hands and feet again I reluctantly retreated to the warmth of the 4×4 to warm up. Not long after that it was time to make our way back to Reykjavík, snow drifts blocked the road home, after some clever manoeuvres the super jeeps ploughed on through and back onto the road, we even got air at one point! It was an exhilarating experience; one that I definitely won’t forget and to top it off we even saw the Northern Lights again from the roof terrace of our hostel. Seeing them over the city was great and the colours of the lights even changed to purples, it was the perfect end to a perfect evening and something to tick off my bucket list!

 

 

Adventures on the Golden Circle in Iceland…

You can’t go to Iceland without seeing the natural wonders of the Golden Circle, either hire a car and do your own thing or book onto an organised tour. Matt and I went on a small group trip with Sterna Travel. As well as seeing the main sites there were a few other interesting stops along the way, we also chose to add a visit to a geothermal pool as when we were in Iceland the Blue Lagoon was closed for refurbishment.  If you are visiting during the winter months wrap up warm with plenty of layers as the minus temperatures are definitely part of the experience!

The highlights of the Golden Circle are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir hot springs and Gullfoss waterfall. The drive itself was fantastic and a great way to see Iceland’s incredible landscape, we drove along mountain passes, through lava fields, past lakes, over fresh water and glacial rivers which are apparently clean enough to drink, across fault lines and past plenty of steam billowing from the ground from geothermal activity; you could smell the sulphur! Not to mention catching glimpses of volcanoes such as Hekla, which erupts every ten to twelve years making it one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and Eyjafjallajökull the volcano which erupted in 2010 causing disruption to air travel worldwide. I got up close to this volcano whilst exploring the south of the island. Visiting in early January meant not seeing daylight until around 11am. This was the perfect time to stop in the mountains to watch the sunrise; it was an epic start to the day….

 

The next stop was Þingvellir National Park, the site of the first Viking parliament it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has a lot of geographic importance due to being on a fault line. You can actually walk between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates through the Almannagjá canyon, which is pretty cool!

 

Þingvellir National Park

Iceland has its own breed of horse. These hardy creatures stand between 13 and 14 hands high and could be mistakenly classed as ponies. But make this mistake at your own peril, as you will offend an Icelander by calling them ponies! They are very good-natured and I got to make friends with some of them on a short stop.
Onto the geothermal hot spring area where water temperatures hit 100°c and water continually bubbles from the ground, steam rising high into the air. The showstopper here is the hot spring Strokkur, it explodes regularly every 5 to 10 minutes without fail, shooting a high spout of water up into the air. It’s fascinating and addictive to watch!
Gullfoss was one of my favourite stops of the day and I think one of the coldest. The thundering falls are enormous, the power and noise of the gushing water falling into the crevice 105 ft below is like nothing I have experienced before and as I already mentioned the cold was extreme too! Removing your glove for just a second to take a photo led to instantly frozen and painful fingers, but it was worth it!
Next was a quick stop for a selfie at the beautiful Faxi waterfall before the final stop of the day at the Secret Lagoon. As I mentioned the Blue Lagoon was closed during our trip to Iceland so the Secret Lagoon was for us the next best thing. As I was six months pregnant at the time I was unable to go in but Matt went for a dip and loved floating around in the hot pool which is generally around 36-40°c with a beer in hand.  I loved wandering around the edge of the hot pool watching the steam rising and taking photos of icicles hanging from tree branches, retreating into the warmth with a hot chocolate when I got too cold. This natural geothermal pool was first opened in 1891 and is such a unique experience.

 

Matt at the Secret Lagoon

For more information on what to do in Iceland take a look at my other blogs: What to do with four days in Iceland and if you are planning to see the Northern Lights: Northern Lights photography tips.

 

 

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast…

I visited Iceland in January and was a blown away by this beautiful place!  My favourite experience by far was visiting the south coast, I went on an organised trip but it is also easy to hire a car.  Although I chose not to do this as with limited daylight hours in the winter months (when I was there sunrise was at 11am and sunset 4pm) and having heard how bad the weather can get I thought I would leave the driving up to the experts!  If you do choose to hire a car a 4×4 is a must, there is also a great app: 112 Iceland.  Punch in your location and it can be used to help track your whereabouts in case of an emergency.  It can also be used to make emergency calls, a very nifty app.
I booked my tour through Sterna Travel; we had an excellent tour guide who was really informative.  He had so much knowledge of Iceland as well as telling us about local myths and giving us snippets of what it was like to grow up in this incredible country.  I never really thought that group tours were my thing but I actually really enjoyed this one, there was plenty of time at each location to go off and do your own thing and it also included a few other stops I wasn’t expecting.
If you are planning your own south coast adventure here are a few must-sees:

 

Eyjafjallajökull
This very hard to pronounce word is the name of the volcano that erupted in 2010 cancelling over 1000,000 flights worldwide.  There is a farm right at the base of this incredible giant and a lay by to stop in for photo opportunities.  I was so excited to see Eyjafjallajökull, this was one of the unexpected stops on the trip that I mentioned.  It felt quite surreal to be so close to the volcano that caused so much trouble all over the world.  I had been on a nightstop at work in Orlando at the time.  What should have been just a 24 hour stopover turned into a six-day trip, it felt quite strange at the time not knowing how long I would be stuck there for.  There was apparently up to 30cm of ash on the ground and it was so dark during the eruption you couldn’t see your hands in front of your face!  It was hard to imagine all this on the beautiful morning that we were there.

 

Eyjafallajokull volcano

 

 

Skógafoss
Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, it has a 200ft drop and legend has it that there is buried treasure in the cave behind, unfortunately it was too cold that day for me to find out!  With temperatures of around -7°c taking a glove off to take photos meant an instantly frozen hand, although this waterfall was too beautiful to miss a photo opportunity.  The icicles formed around it were incredible too.

 

 

Reynisfjara beach
A trip to the south coast would not be complete without stopping at a black sand beach. Volcanic activity has created striking basalt stacks, known as Reynisdrangar.  The stacks along with the black sand give this beach its uniqueness and make it a striking place for photos.  Cape Dyrhólaey, a short drive from the beach is definitely worth the steep drive up to the view-point.  From the top of the peninsula there are incredible panoramic views, ocean in front and a huge arch cut out in the rocks, looking back towards Reynisfjara and the basalt stacks, glacier and mountains behind and then more beach in the opposite direction.  In the summer puffins nest in the cliff face too.

 

 

Sólheimajökull glacier
I flew over glaciers in a helicopter in New Zealand which was breathtaking, so being able to walk right up to one in Iceland was incredible.  We stopped at Sólheimajökull, an outlet of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.  I would loved to have gone on a glacier hike but being six months pregnant at the time I unfortunately wasn’t able to do this.  To just walk around the base of it was amazing, it is constantly moving and you could hear strange cracks and creaks from this.  The colours and edges of the ice were like nothing else I have seen before.

 

 

 Vik
The pretty town of Vik is the most southerly village in Iceland, it is tiny and very picturesque so worth a stop if you get the chance.  There is accommodation in Vik, if you are looking to stay somewhere other than Reykjavík then this is a great area to be based, right on the coast by the black sand beaches, and all the beautiful southern waterfalls.

 

Crashed plane
If I had rented a car I would have loved to have gone looking for the famous ruins of a crashed DC 3 aircraft on a beach near Vik. I have read mixed opinions as to whether the plane is easy to find but there is plenty of information online of its whereabouts. TripAdvisor has a list of things to do and see on the south coast, the plane being one of them and there is lots of information on there of how to find the aircraft.

 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall
This well-known waterfall is a beauty, in warmer months you can walk right behind it, but being so cold the day I was there the staircase that leads behind the falls was totally encased in ice making it too dangerous to attempt.  There are also two viewpoints, one climbs up high above the waterfall.  I would love to visit it again in the summer; I’d imagine the landscape looks completely different.
For more on my adventures in Iceland head to: What to do with four days in Iceland and Northern Lights photography tips.

 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Northern Lights Photography Tips…

During a recent trip to Iceland I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights and capture them on camera, I went Aurora chasing with Iceland Travel on a super jeep tour.  January to March is a great time to go hunting for the Aurora Borealis due to the long dark nights.  In Iceland the sun sets at around 4pm during the winter months and doesn’t rise until 11am so there is plenty of time for stargazing.  The sky also needs to be mostly clear to get a good view of the lights.  If you are planning a trip to Iceland around the Northern Lights the Icelandic Met Office is a great website for checking on cloud cover up to six days in advance.  Of course these forecasts can often change so you may not have a perfect prediction until a few hours before you go hunting.
Hoping to capture the Northern Lights on camera? Look no further here are my top tips…

 

Things you need:
Camera: Ideally a DSLR or a camera that you can control the settings on manually, I initially tried to take photos using my iPhone and had no luck whatsoever!
Tripod: As all the images will be long exposures you need to ensure the camera doesn’t move during the exposure.
Shutter release: To minimise camera shake, alternatively set the camera timer to 2 seconds.

 

Setting up your shot:
  1. Mount the camera on the tripod and make sure it is level, most tripods have a spirit level.
  1. Have the lens set to the widest it will go and compose the image.
  1. Set the lens to the widest aperture, in my case 2.8.  This allows for the maximum amount of light to hit the camera sensor during the exposure.
  1. Set your lens to manual focus and turn the focus ring around to infinity, this will ensure everything is in focus.
  1. Set your ISO to around 500 to start with.
  1. Shutter speeds that worked for me ranged from 10 – 30 seconds.
  1. Before taking the image to minimise camera shake use your shutter release, as mentioned above or set the camera timer to 2 seconds.

 

Good luck and happy Aurora hunting…