Iceland Day 2: A Breaking in the Storm

I spent the entirety of my second day in Iceland sleeping. We got back from Skogafoss and Vik at about 7 am Reykjavik time and just collapsed on our beds, falling asleep in a manner of minutes. By the time we had driven back into town, the wind was howling outside and the winds were already starting to pick up to around 30 mph. Still not terrible, but it certainly foreshadowed times to come.

At around 8 pm, the forecasts seemed to indicate that the wind would be dying down for a couple of hours. So we made our way out once more to explore more of Iceland’s legendary waterfalls. Given the small window of time before sunset and poor forecasts, we made our way to Gullfoss with plans to stop at Bruarfoss and Strokur before ending our trip at Gullfoss.

We drove south before making our way to Bruarfoss because we had hopes of stopping by the Kerid Crater along the way, but a thunderstorm along the way kept us moving. There were some serious lightning strikes along the way as well. I hopped out to capture some images of the lightning from a distance, but the storm moved quickly breaking out with some interesting light along the way.

The drive was altogether amazing given the passing storm clouds and changing light.

At times the lightning seem too close for comfort, but we made it to the parking lot for Bruarfoss without incident. Now Bruarfoss is one of those places in Iceland, which is actually on private land so the directions I found led me through a private residential neighborhood. I was surprised to find that the directions actually encouraged me to walk through an area where barbed wire had actually been cut.  Rather than try to break some apparent rules, we just decided to press on to Strokkur. Ironically enough we found the official parking lot for the waterfall as we were driving away from the area. The hike from this particular lot is around  2.5km each way. This would not have been a terribly bad hike, if we weren’t in a rush to capture sunset at one of the locations on our map. If you would like more information on this waterfall, check out Mads Peter Iversen’s Youtube Channel where he covers many of Iceland’s waterfalls in detail.

 

First Stop: Strokkur

Strokkur is an fountain-type geyser in the Haukadalur Valley of Iceland, which erupts almost every 10 minutes. The geyser is said to spew boiling water up to 140 feet in the air. That’s quite honestly nothing compared to it’s larger cousin “Geysir” located a few hundred feet away. Having seen the crowds at “Old Faithful” I half expected an area where with just as many tourists and rope-ways everywhere discouraging visitors from getting close to anything. To my sheer surprise, what I found was an empty parking lot and an area which was freely accessible from the side of the road by the public. Although there were advisories to stay away from the geysers spewing boiling water, there weren’t too many hard restrictions like what you would see at Yellowstone.

There were maybe 3 locals in the area when we walked around and enjoyed the sunset. The locals just seemed to be a few people who worked in the area.

After the light faded a bit, we made our way to Gullfoss, which is about 10 km further up the road. Do note that we saw tons of horses alongside the road here which can make for magnificent compositions. It was windy as hell for me to pull out my telephoto at this time. I certainly tried, but all the images shook. It didn’t help that I had to shoot the images from the side of the street with often no place to pull over.

Just as we were approaching Gullfoss, light began to fall on the mountains in the distance. I ran over to the other side of the road and captured this image after parking in the Gullfoss parking lot.

It was still pretty crazy windy, but I hope that gives you an idea of the kind of golden light which was falling everywhere. And of course the ominous looking clouds to the east began to change colors at this same moment:

Second Stop: Gulfoss 

Gullfoss is perhaps one of the most powerful Icelandic waterfalls dumping nearly 5000 cu ft of water per second. It is formed inside of a canyon along the Hvita River, and there is really no missing the sound of this waterfall while driving on the road. The waterfall itself is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Iceland, forming part of the famous Golden Circle route. I was told that the parking lot at Gullfoss would be packed nearly all the time, but it turned out not to be the case on this incredibly windy and stormy day in Iceland. I presume it also helped that it was well past 10pm when we were at this location.

The view point from the side of the parking lot is itself quite spectacular. If you don’t want to get wet, stay here and just take it in. 

There is a trail leading down to a ledge, which sticks out into the middle of the waterfall. Of course, I had to pay a visit here and get absolutely drenched. I don’t regret it though given that the light really started changing quickly at this point with more purples and pinks in the sky.

Do note that you have to cover your camera up with a rain cover to even have a chance at shooting from the ledge in the middle of the waterfall. Unless the wind favors you, you and your camera are going to get drenched.

I must impress upon you here that you should by all means stay away from the edges of the cliffs at Gullfoss. So many people meet their terrible ends at the edge of the waterfall because of how slippery the rocks can be. And not everyone takes a supervillain like Professor Moriarty down with them (yes I know stupid joke).

I saw a couple of photographers go across to another vantage point from where the best composition of the waterfall can be found. I by no means can recommend anyone goes to this vantage point (which requires some climbing over slippery rocks). I myself wouldn’t do it again.

The clouds over the area came back as fast they had left, and the light started fading extremely fast. By the time we were back at the car, the clouds looked as dark as ever and the wind started gusting at almost 40 mph. We started driving back to Reykjavik using the road through Pingvellir.

Oh man were the road conditions ominous: dark clouds, dark highway, howling wind, lightning in the distance, and steam bellowing from the side of the road from the geysers. The rain which was pelting our windshield even turned to snow for a brief time making road visibility a challenge.

As we approached Reykjavik, the snow and rain stopped, but the wind started to intensify. We stopped at a Subway near our Airbnb for a meal and the door of the car nearly flew of its hinges as we got back in the car. On a more interesting note, it turns out that Subway is a real “happening place” on Friday nights in Iceland. So many young locals were in line getting food. After which they would go bar hopping I presume?


Summary:

That pretty much wraps up Day 2 of our Iceland trip. While most of the day was unusable because of the weather, the 4 hour window during which we were able to drive through the storm created some of my most memorable experiences. We didn’t get to venture far from the car because of conditions, but even roadside photography can be quite lucrative in places like Iceland. No doubt day 2 certainly made me think even more highly of Iceland. There’s no denying Gullfoss and Strokkur should make your list of places to visit in Iceland.

Have you been to Iceland? What was your experience like? Did you experience a storm or the winds of Iceland?

TRIP REPORT INDEX

Iceland Day 1: The Most Incredible Sunset I’ve Ever Seen

Iceland Day 2: A Storm is Coming

Iceland Day 3-5: Iceland on House Arrest

Iceland Day 6: Pingvellir/Thingvellir, Whatever it’s called.

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