So last week we started exploring the unbelievable tiny world that is the Snaefellsnes peninsula in west Iceland. This week we are going to continue to delve into what it has to offer. Sadly as the day wore on the clouds kept rolling in and the brief moment of sunshine that we got to witness over Snæfellsjökull seemed like it would be the last. As we continued on the road, Útnesvegur, to the left most of the ocean was obscured by fog and clouds and the story was true of the mountains on the right. Determined not to be detoured we pressed on. The next stop was going to be the red roofed church, Ingjaldsholl, just on the other side of the small town Hellisandur. Featured at the top of this post this is one of the most stunning churches we would come across in our travels in Iceland. Perched on a hill at the end of a tiny road that you’re not totally sure is going to get you there is the perfectly picturesque church. Resting comfortably in a backdrop of mountains and valleys stretching off in the distance, standing here it feels like the stage of an incredible story. If you noticed the waterfall nestled in the hills to the left of the church above you would have caught a glimpse of the next location.
This waterfall is one of those hidden gems that you do not hear about or see very often. Svöðufoss is a huge waterfall sitting in the distant foothills seen behind Ingjaldsholl church. Just getting here is a challenge. There is a big wood sign next to a ride that points you down a dirt road. You think you’re going the right way but you cannot be sure. After you drive a few very slow kilometers down a road that will rattle your teeth you arrive at a small concrete parking area. No signs indicate you are in the right place but you can kind of see the waterfall off to your left. There is a small trail that will lead you on a 5 minute walk to a sitting area across from this exquisite waterfall cascading down the hill and feeding into stream running past you. This is a drone shot as I had heard some horror stories about stepping in the wrong place in Iceland. I later found out there are trails that walk right up to the falls but I loved being forced to be creative with a tool I did not get to use very often.
Kirkjufell. Full stop with a period. This is the one on the postcards, travel brochures, websites, advertisements, etc. Arguably the most famous mountain and waterfall scene in Europe. If you search Iceland and click into images the first five are of this exact place. I don’t even know how to begin. How do you describe the experience of seeing a place that you have always dreamed of for the first time? It’s like meeting your hero or achieving a goal you have been working towards for years. Everything leading up to the reveal of standing in this spot it seems like a blur. Trying to find a place to park that you won’t get in trouble for. Walking across the road and climbing up the hill. Crossing the concrete bridge over the upper falls. Walking down the paths next to the falls. Passing the other photographers setting up their postcard shots at the upper falls. Watching the local kids coming up to the falls and jumping off into the torrent below, wowing everyone watching. I couldn’t get enough of it, years of staring at other photographers work and waiting for my chance to see this exact place for myself. We stayed for hours. Waiting on the hope of the clouds clearing off and letting us see the peak or the sun to set just right bringing in the color, ideally both. We waited long past the other tourists and photographers leaving when the clouds didn’t show any sign of breaking. To be honest I probably could have stayed all night. I didn’t want to look away like it might all disappear if I stopped staring even for a second.
There was a brief moment, maybe 7 or 8 minutes, where the sun came through just enough to light up the clouds before it faded back to grey. I didn’t want just the same photograph everyone got here and was lucky I had time to grab this panorama of the entire water falls. Just before the sun stopped lighting up the clouds I moved about 30 feet down the trail to shoot back at the falls (below). If you notice in both shots I left in another photographer that was moving behind me at the spots I was shooting from. Like I said in the Akranes post this is a super funny theme that carries on through out the trip but I liked the sense of scale and place this gentleman brought to the images. The funnies part is in the second image he is crouched where I was before to get the panorama above. He wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing and looked really confused that you could just see the front of the lower falls in a single frame and why I might have been so excited about that.
Finally it was time to call it a day. From where we were standing below the falls it looked like the sun had set. Cresting the hill you could see an amazing sliver of color on the horizon, but it appeared that the sun was firmly down. This scene was our companion as we scrambled back to the car to make our way back towards our hostel in Akranes.
There are times as a photographer when you are surprised by the opportunities that you are presented and the obstacles you have to overcome to get the shot. This final image was just such a surprise. It was well past midnight and the sky was just inky blue clouds. Everything was dark and it looked like it was going to start raining soon. We stopped for gas and tried to get some food but all of the local shops had already closed for the evening. Resigned to getting some sleep we began driving back to Akranes hoping to find an open gas station for some snacks. (PRO TIP, have trail mix in your camera bag) Just as we were coming out of Grundarfjörður my sister glances over her shoulder and says “HOLY SH*T LOOK!” I just about wreck the car into a ditch when I see that the sun was resting on the horizon over the water. What you have to realize is how slowly the sun goes down here and it can really trick you into thinking you’re done for the day. Soooo I might have ignored the sign that said not to park on the side of the road. And the one that said not to cross the bridge on foot. And the one that said the beach wasn’t a safe place to be. I DID pay attention to the one that said not to feed the wildlife though give me some credit. But it was 1am and there was no one in the area so I risked it. Camera on tripod and strap around my neck I did a quick scramble down the beach to catch the last light of the day streaking across the water all the way to my toes where the wet pebbles were glowing in the crimson light.