Sunday, 29 December 2013

Velkomin aftur til Íslands (welcome back to Iceland!)

Our latest travel blog brings us back to Iceland. In contrast to our visit in September 2012 this time we have chosen to come back in the winter. Iceland in the winter certainly provides a different kind of experience but our main aim this time is to capture the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and hopefully a chance to see Orca whales.

Arriving late on the 26th December with an overnight in Keflavik first we then travelled up to the western part of the island, to a place called Grundarfjordur. With just 930 inhabitants and around 250km from the capital Reykjavik this was our base for two nights. Here we had hoped to have a chance of viewing the lights as well as being one of the best places to view Orcas in the wild, who from late November to spring feed on the plentiful herring in the surrounding waters.

The journey up was certainly an interesting one! firstly it was a rather strange experience driving at 1030am in the dark, with the sun rising at around 1130am. At this time of the year just 4 hours of daylight occur and so careful planning to time our activities during light hours will be needed! We navigated intense icy roads and in some areas met harsh snow storms that created an almost complete 'white out'! It was certainly a marked contrast the the fairly mild and wet weather we had just left behind in the UK.

As we arrived into Grundarfjordur, we were greeted with a quaint little fishing village, surrounded by beautiful mountains and fjords, some of which were partially iced over. Snow covered fields housing the hardy Icelandic ponies and a multitude of frozen waterfalls dominated the landscape. Our base in here in the town was a small hotel called Hotel Framnes, a friendly establishment that although basic carried with it a certain charm with very friendly staff and everything that we needed for our short stay.

Sadly thus far during our stay here we have been rather unsuccessful in seeing the Northern Lights. The weather has been extremely cold and windy on both days and marked with heavy cloud and occasional snow falls. Last night we had hoped we were in luck when around 9pm the skies finally cleared so Andy, Angela (our good friend who also joined us) and I doned our thermals and headed out in the car, driving just 20 mins from town and where there was no light pollution. Here we sat cosy in our hire car watching the skies for 3.5 hours hoping for a glimpse of the Aurora. The predictions for activity have been low in the past few days. However, we hoped we would be lucky as the predications for activity are not always accurate. However, sadly we were not and at 1230am we decided to retreat back to the comfort of our beds!

Hourly we continue to check the space weather centre websites for updates on Aurora conditions. This site measures the particle flux from the Sun and how it is interacting with the Earth's magnetic field, a phenomena that causes the Aurora spectacle. The Aurora are measured by a 'KP' index with ideally a grade of '2' plus needed. The predictions sadly look poor, with a KP index hovering around 0-1 and with very cloudy conditions continung for at least the next few days across most of Iceland the outlook is not looking too promising! However, we will continue to remain optimistic!!

Today in daylight hours our attentions turned to whales, and we booked a boat trip to hopefully view the Orcas. However, just 15 minutes before we were due to depart the trip was cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions! A disappointment but when it is for reasons of safety we are not one to argue with the captain of the boat! It seemed thus far luck was not on our side and Iceland was certainly giving us a show if its infamous unpredictable and fast changing weather conditions!

Instead we took a really lovely scenic drive further west and into the Snaefellsjokull National Park. Continuing on roads literally blanketed with ice we were pleased to be driving in a robust 4X4. We drove through immense lave fields covered in snow, with imposing mountains cloaked in cloud looming ominously above. Here where the lava fields meet the sea we watched a beautiful sunset. However, just getting out of the vehicle to photograph this even provided a challenge! The wind chill is quite something, not only icy cold but on some occasions almost knocking you off your feet!!

Tomorrow we head to our next destination, an area known as the 'Golden Circle' and where we will spend the last three nights of our trip. Here we will once again return the the famous spouting Geyser and of course every night (after the sunsets at 4pm!) will be avidly watching the skies hoping for a show of the Aurora!

En route to Grundarfjordur

Kirkjufell mountain in Grundarfjordur (463m)

Frozen waterfall

Fjords 10 minutes from Grundarfjordur

Snaefellsjokull National Park




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