Exploring Iceland: Vik to Jökulsárlón

After a long day hiking the Fimmvörðuháls trail, we were happy to settle into the passenger seats of a Nature Explorer super truck for a day focused on photography (pun intended).

Sólheimasandur Plane Wreckage

Rain was falling when we arrived at the site of the 1973 United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 emergency landing on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach. The entire crew survived, but the U.S. Navy was unable to recover the plane. Over the intervening 40+ years, one farmer with salvage rights to this section of beach sold off the tail section. The wings are also gone. But the remaining husk of the plane is sufficiently intact that it was serving as an impromptu shelter for a small tent and folding bicycle when we pulled up. Between the rain and the desire not to disturb the still sleeping camper, we took just a few photographs.

Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve

It stopped raining by the time we reached the car park at the Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve, but since we had a reservation for a zodiac excursion early in the afternoon, we had only 30 minutes for photography here. While most of us didn’t respond well to the time constraint, C brought home some great long exposure shots; several are shown below. Given the number of vehicles and tour buses in the parking lot, Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve is a very popular stop! Since we didn’t have any time to visit the Westfjords area, it’s also the only place we spotted puffins during our vacation.


This major tourist attraction is both amazing and amazingly busy. We made a 5-minute stop here before hurrying to another glacier lake for a zodiac excursion. The rapidly changing geology and striking landscape make the Jökulsárlón glacial river lagoon a “can’t miss” destination when visiting Iceland.

Fjallsárlón Zodiac Excursion

Fjallsárlón is a glacier lake at the south end of the Icelandic glacier Vatnajökull and is located just a few km southwest of Jökulsárlón. But while Jökulsárlón was super crowded, we saw only two other zodiacs on the lake over the entire duration of our half hour excursion.

It was cool and very windy, so taking into consideration the wind chill coming off the lake filled with glacier melt water, we layered up, including full rain gear, hats and neoprene rafting gloves. Even so, the heavy, insulated coveralls provided by the zodiac tour operator were essential to staying comfortable out on the water.

We can’t help but wonder why the water in Fjallsárlón is basically brown, compared to the turquoise blue of Jökulsárlón. On the other hand, the combination of the looming volcano Öræfajökull and the expanse of Vatnajökull make for a very striking backdrop. My one regret at this location is that we didn’t take our cameras down to the outlet of the lake (near an old bridge), to photograph the icebergs as they drain out of the lake towards the sea.

Ice Beach

Every day, chunks of ice float downstream to the Atlantic Ocean from the outlet of Jökulsárlón and are washed up on the black volcanic sand beach called Breiðamerkursandur (commonly referred to as Ice Beach). The ice sculptures come in all shapes and sizes, some crystal-clear and others turquoise blue.

Sunrise is apparently the ideal time for photographers to visit Ice Beach. Those arriving in the middle of a rainy afternoon (like us) have to make the best of less than ideal conditions! Even in such poor conditions (many photographers had full rain covers on their cameras), there were more than two dozen vehicles in the parking lot and we had to walk quite far down the beach to frame images that give the impression there was no one else around. On our next trip to Iceland, I’d like to spend more time on this beach, maybe even returning a couple of different days to see what kind new ice sculptures washed up overnight.


On the drive back to Vik, we stopped at Dverghamrar, a protected National Monument just east of Foss. The Dwarf Rocks, as they are called in English, are formations of columnar basalt topped with topped with cube-jointed basalt. Signage on site states that columnar basalt is formed when lava flows cool rapidly and contraction forces build up. Cracks then form horizontally and the extensive fracture network that develops results in the six-sided formation of the columns.

Sunset at Laki Lava Flow

Our last stop was an impromptu sunset photography session when we saw evening light reflecting off Mýrdalsjökull. We ended up standing on moss-covered lava from the 1783 Laki eruption, a form of lava field unique to southern Iceland. Since returning home, we’ve stumbled across an episode of CBC Radio’s “Quirks & Quarks” that features an interview with Alexandra Witze, co-author of Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the forgotten volcano that changed the world. It’s about 20 minutes long and quite interesting, if you’re interested.

That’s it: seven photo locations resulting in more than 1100 photographs between the four of us. And you’ve just seen some of the best!

2 thoughts on “Exploring Iceland: Vik to Jökulsárlón

  1. Pingback: Hiking Iceland: Bláhnjúkur | Out and About with the GeoKs

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