The Northern Lights were my goal. I’ve seen lots of photos of the aurora, but I’ve always wanted to see them in person. So I decided we would go to Iceland and try to see the lights. Of course, you have to go when there is darkness, so you can’t go in the summer when the sun never really sets. And I didn’t particularly want to go in the middle of the winter when there wouldn’t be much daylight. Since clouds or aurora activity can prevent you from seeing the lights, I wanted to be able to enjoy the Icelandic countryside during the day if we couldn’t see the lights at night.
So I settled on the end of April as the best combination of darkness at night and daylight during the day. So, from April 25th to April 31st, 2015, we headed to Iceland with high hopes of seeing the Northern Lights.
We drove to Atlanta after work on the 24th, stayed in a hotel, then flew out in the morning on the 25th. We had a connection in Toronto, which was absolutely terrible. I think Toronto might be my least favorite airport so far. But we survived and eventually arrived in Reykjavik at 6:30 in the morning on the 26th. We rented a car and headed out onto the patchy snow-covered roads.
We drove about an hour and a half to Laugarvatn. This was a very small community on a lake, and we stayed here because it was outside of city lights. It was snowing when we arrived, and continued snowing all night, so we didn’t get any views of the aurora. We did get a chance to explore around the lake and visit a couple of waterfalls. We also explored some hot springs and geysers that were nearby, and that was cool.
We got up the next day and drove to Vik. We hiked to some more waterfalls…beautiful waterfalls are everywhere in Iceland. We also hiked along the coast with some views of interesting rock formations along the cliffs and out in the water. But the wind was crazy all day, so we weren’t able to get many photos. We drove along the road on the other side of town, and just got a good look of the moon-like volcanic landscape north-east of Vik. We had a great hotel room with huge windows that I had hoped would help us see the lights from the comfort of the room. But, again, it snowed overnight, so the sky was cloudy. We enjoyed braving the strong winds to explore the coast that day.
We got up early the next day to drive the snow-covered roads back to Reykjavik. When we arrived in town, we hopped on a van and took a tour to a lava tube outside of town. We hiked a short distance through the snow and then toured through the tube. There were some interesting ice formations, and it was interesting seeing a lava tube. We then headed back to town and explored the city. Again, it was cloudy at night, so no northern lights.
Sunday was our last full day in Iceland. We were scheduled to take a hike on a glacier back towards Vik. The tour van picked us up at the hotel and headed toward the glacier. There were two other guys on the tour, and they were from England, so we enjoyed talking to them about Monty Python and Chuck Norris jokes. Unfortunately, the closer we got to the glacier, the more it started to snow. We stopped at a gas station and the guide made some calls. He came back and said the snow was too bad and we wouldn’t be able to do the tour. So we turned around and headed back to Reykjavik. We explored around town some more, and just enjoyed the beautiful city.
That night started cloudy. We decided that if the sky cleared then we would drive out of town for a chance to see the lights without the light pollution of the city. But it wasn’t looking good, and it was now a full moon, so we took a walk towards the coast. As we were walking along the water, I started noticing weird movement in the sky. Towards the north, the sky was mostly clear. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing because it was very faint. But we stopped and watched more intently, and it began to get brighter and more pronounced: finally, it was the northern lights. Luckily, I had brought my camera and tripod, so I tried to get some photographs. Unfortunately, we were in the capital and it was a full moon, so the sky wasn’t very dark. But we still got to see them. And they were amazing. The way they danced and moved around the sky made you just want to laugh at how pretty and whimsical they were. The show lasted about 45 minutes, and we were elated that we got the chance to see the aurora on our last night in Iceland.
Eventually, we wandered back to the hotel, and the next morning we drove to the airport and headed home.
Iceland was absolutely beautiful. It felt more like my imaginations of Middle Earth than New Zealand did…you could just imagine Hobbits and Elves wandering around the hills. The people were nice, and everyone spoke perfect English. We want better photos of the aurora, so we’ll have to go somewhere again to see them better. But we also want to hike around Iceland when it’s covered in green, so we’ll have to go back in the summer to enjoy the backcountry. This was a short trip, and the country deserves more attention. So the next time we will plan a summer backpacking trip of this beautiful island.