Iceland, Part V: Hvítserkur and a lot of driving

Part I: Introduction
Part II: Snaefellsness Peninsula
Part III: Into the Westfjords and Dynjandi
Part IV: Djupavik and the most remote swimming pool in the world
Part V: Hvitserkur and a lot of driving

My time in the Icelandic Westfjords was coming to a close.  Part of me was sad to be heading back to civilization but honestly I was excited to get back to the Ring Road, which is famous for…well, being paved.  I mean there’s only so many potholes you can hit before you feel like your rental car is just going to fall apart, after all.

I bid a fond farewell to the Hotel Djupavik and started the long trek back toward my destination for that evening: Iceland’s second-largest city, Akureyri.  Note: when I say “second-largest city” I’m being factually accurate but I don’t want you to think Los Angeles versus New York or anything like that, Akureyri has a population of about 20,000 people.  But still, it was civilization so it’d be a nice contrast from the spartan Westfjords.

My thought process when planning the trip

Iceland is a land of coasts.  Most of the waterfalls and big tourist attractions are along the coast, while the middle of the island nation is full of mountains and plateaus (and an incredible national park).  I knew of the big ticket items along the southern coast and I knew about the Snaefellsness peninsula and the Westfjords on the west coast, but I didn’t really know of too much (outside of a few waterfalls) on the northern nor eastern coasts.  I knew of a place called the Vestrahorn on the southeast tip of the island and I was in the far northwest of the island.  There really wasn’t a good way around it: I was going to have to drive all the way around.

I realized quickly that this was turning into a driving vacation as much as it was a landscape photography vacation.  It was ok though, all the driving was going to be on the front end.  Once I made it to the southern coast it would be just fine, I told myself.

Back to day five though.  It was going to be a driving day.

The drive

The first part of the drive was getting back to the Ring Road, which meant unpaved roads potholes.  At least it was in daylight this time though.  Oh and the scenery was just incredible as well, I sent the drone up to get a great look and the undulating hills as the road wound up and down the fjords.

After a few hours bouncing around the potholed road I eventually had the most heavenly of left turns onto Highway 1: I had finally returned to the Ring Road!  I cranked my music, put the windows down, and put the pedal to the metal (ok not really the speed limit in Iceland is 90km/h, around 54mph, but metaphorically).  The northern coast of Iceland was absolutely stunning and equally remote compared to the Westfjords, there’s just not much there.  Occasionally I’d pass a few houses assembled close to each other in what could pass as a village, but I still felt far from civilization.

To help break up the drive I’d stop when I found something interesting for a couple of snaps.  Iceland has some wonderful religious architecture (despite being one of the most atheistic countries in Europe) so a lot of the following pictures are of churches I found on the drive to Akureyri.

Hvítserkur

Shortly after I rejoined the Ring Road I recalled a rock formation from my research.  Like most things in Icelandic I couldn’t quite recall the name of the formation so I just googled “rock formation northern Iceland” and I immediately got results back for Hvítserkur.  I plugged the address in to Waze and it looked to only be a 45 minute or so detour so I drove out to a crowded parking lot at the end of a farm road.  I walked past the No Drones Permitted sign, sighed, and put my drone back in the car but kept my camera out.

Hvítserkur is a volcanic plug which still stands today (albeit reinforced by concrete at the base) even though the rest of the surrounding rock has eroded away.  It attracts quite a crowd as it is quite large and, when the tides are right, you can walk right up to it!

The parking lot area of Hvítserkur gives you the above view but I thought it was worth walking down to the black sand beach to see the formation up close.  I’m sure there were easier trails down to the bottom but I’m a moron and took the steepest trail down, nearly slipping and falling about 22 times.

My efforts were worth it though, I ended up with a great composition of the rock and used my 70-200mm lens to get some nice compression of the background into the image to place the formation in a bit of context.

(yes, I photoshopped some people out of that image)

Satisfied with my picture, I climbed back up the hill, again nearly slipping, and made my way back to the car and back to the Ring Road.  The landscape seemed to change every 15-20 minutes, just a wonderful drive.  Along the way I came across a small town called Blönduós with a petrol station, which was a good refueling point not only for my vehicle but for myself as well (Red Bull kept me going on the long drives).  The petrol station was near a beautiful modern church, called Blönduóskirkja, that I just had to photograph.

I was getting close to Akureyri when it all kind of hit me at once: I was really tired of driving.  And just really tired in general.  I pushed through, though, with the help of yet another cool church I saw alongside the Ring Road.

One of the most dramatic sights of the driving day was just west of Akureyri.  I was driving up a mountain and there was a canyon next to me, carved out by a river over thousands of years.  I stopped for some pictures, of course.

I sent the drone up to capture the contrast between the straight road and the twists and turns of the canyon as the rock battles the inevitability of the water’s erosion.

The sun was setting as I drove into Akureyri.  It had been cloudy for most of the day (and most of my trip, outside of a few moments of sudden sunlight) but the sun broke through the clouds just before setting behind a mountain.  I didn’t have much time so I turned into the first parking lot I saw and sent the drone up.  Well it turned out I had pulled into a primary school parking lot with children playing on the playground, the school administrators casually sauntered over, wondering what I was taking pictures of with the drone.

The picture was worth it though!

Near Akureyri

I finally made my way into Akureyri, checked into my hotel (my room mercifully had its own restroom and shower) and went to a burger place for a beer and burger.  I made it back to my hotel and am incredibly surprised I was able to get ready for bed before I fell asleep, I was so tired but knew I needed some good rest.  The next day would be another driving day allllllllllllll the way around the coast to southern Iceland!

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