Introduction Iceland travel documentary
In 2019 I drove through Iceland for one month between mid-August and mid-September, alone. An unforgettable time with many adventures in breathtakingly beautiful but also rugged nature. The nine months after my journey I made this documentary to share some of the scenery from this beautiful island.
In eight episodes of about fifteen minutes each we travel step by step through this beautiful country. We begin at a glacier lake in the south and travel anti-clockwise through Iceland. In between we will explore the rugged highlands. The place to be, away from the mass tourism around the ring road.
The attentive viewer will notice that I have driven two different cars. Due to an electrical defect in de first car I lost a lot of time. Filming in some severe weather conditions was not appreciated by some of my film equipment. Wind, water and lava sand were sometimes brutal for my camera's and my own endurance, but is was definitly worth it. Through these challenges you create vivid memories and you learn to persevere. I have little to none film of the scariest moments and worst weather conditions. For example in a sand storm on the plain Mælifellssandur or the deepest rivercrossings. If you look at some of the cloudscapes in episode 2 or rivercrossings in episode 6, you maybe can imagine how the situation would be if you are at that place in far worse weather. If you ever have the opportunity to explore the interior of Iceland: be well prepared, and just do it!
The entire film is shot and produced by Johan Spies.
Many thanks to Scott Buckley (www.scottbuckley.com.au) for his excellent cinematic music.
About episode 1
It’s ten past five in the morning, and I am under an almost clear sky at the glacier lake Breiðárlón. Halfway through the stormy night, the wind finally died down. Icebergs are floating in the lake on a soft breeze, some are smaller than your hand, others are larger than a house. Black lava sand from eruptions in the past creates great contrast in the ice. No two icebergs are alike. As the sun slowly awakens, the icebergs float by. The light changes from deepblue via pink to soft yellow when the sun comes up.
Via the bumpy road F985 we arrive at the vast glacier Skálafellsjökull with numerous crevasses. From this glacier we fly in the direction of the coast where you can already see the ocean. First we make a stop at the green but quite busy Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. Thereafter we arrive at the cliffs and coastline of Dyrhólaey, where the Atlantic ocean comes ashore. A lot of puffins and other sea birds go out in the early and late hours of the day, searching for food for their little ones. I’ve only seen the puffins for one day, then these migratory birds had flown. It’s hard to capture the power of the waves of the Atlantic ocean at Vík. You have to feel it yourself, the deep roar of the sea.
We continue to Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon. Icebergs breaking off the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull melt partially in the lake, and a tidal current draws the icebergs to the coast. Most icebergs beach at the black sands of Breiðamerkursandur and melt away slowly. At this beach you can walk around for days, looking at reflections of seawater, foam and black sand in the ice. The waterfall Skogafoss is still one of the most beautiful waterfalls with its majestic curtain of water. However, this is now spoiled by the amount of visitors. An image without people in front is almost impossible, just like a shot after which your camera isn’t soaked with water from the waterfall.
At the glacier lake Heinabergslón we see a nice phenomenon from the air, the land and underwater. Brown glacier water mixes with clear melting water from snow. During the mixing you sometimes see the greenblue color that is also present in glacier ice. After a few timelapses of the lake we fly above some of the floating icebergs. Sunlight reflects on them, as if diamonds are present in the ice. We fly over the rugged glacier Svínafellsjökull and end this episode with the sunset at one of the many glaciers.
About episode 2
Wind, storm and rainshowers. One of the most recurring themes during this trip. Even when the car is stationary, the wind screeches around it and shakes it back and forth.
We start this episode with a part of route F88 towards Herðubreið. On this route I encountered some rivers, to deep to pass with my car. We look at some timelapses of cloud formations in the south and east. Some clouds were so low, you could almost touch them. The stormy wind also regularly caused dust storms under these skies. Part of the water comes down via the Fagrifoss waterfall, about 80m high. A nice place where you can enjoy in peace, as not many people visit this area.
In the east we drive on Snæfellsleið, route F909. This road through gray lava sand runs along the mountain Snæfell, with its 1833m the highest mountain of Iceland outside the ice caps. Wherever water is present in this arid region, neon-colored mosses live here in shades between bright green, yellow and red. Especially from the air, the sharp contrast between this vegetation and the substrate is clearly visible. Part of the Icelandic reindeer population is present in this area in summer. Unfortunately, I haven't seen one. Although the weather doesn't look too bad in the drone images, my tripod for timelapse shots was almost constantly blown over by gusts.
Back in the south we drive one of the most beautiful (but relatively unknown) routes: Öldufellsleið. It runs quite close to parts of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. We encounter a wide waterfall at the last small cabin before the wilderness begins. A lot further we arrive at a place where the road crosses a waterfall. The water here appears blue-black due to the black lava sand on the bottom of the river, but it turns white at the waterfall or as you drive through the river. A river with brown glacier water runs alongside this clear river. A little further on these rivers meet.
While the late afternoon sun is still shining in this beautiful place, we see new showers hanging further inland. At the last river passage you can clearly see from above how the car sometimes shakes back and forth on the stones that lie underwater. After this drone shot has finally succeeded at the tenth try, it is time to travel further east.
About episode 3
We start episode 3 with our head in the clouds. A mysterious atmosphere hangs here on the mountain pass Hellisheiði, where the bottom layer of clouds blows from the fjord around the colorful mountains. The view in these weather conditions was breathtaking. So much more mystical than with a clear blue sky. We fly through the clouds towards the fjord Vopnafjörður which you can already see through the clouds.
The clouds also hang low at the rock in the shape of an elephant (Ljósastapi). All kinds of seabirds find their place here to breed and get food. It is very quiet in this corner of Iceland. Even along the main road, only occasionally a car passes by. Such a big difference from the southwest coast.
One of the scariest places to film with the drone was at Gljúfurár(s)foss. Many birds fly back and forth here and come close to you at full speed. Many have their nests with young at the edges of the waterfall. The adult birds made no noise at all. The only sounds present came from the young birds and the waterfall itself. At the end we see that the waterfall flows through the canyon directly into the sea. I enjoyed this view a lot.
Eén van de spannende plekken om met de drone te filmen was bij Gljúfurár(s)foss. Vele vogels vliegen hier af en aan en komen rakelings langs je heen op volle snelheid. Aan de randen van de waterval hebben velen hun nesten met jongen. Wat opviel is dat de volwassen vogels helemaal geen geluid maakten. De enige aanwezige geluiden waren afkomstig van de jonge vogels en de waterval zelf. Aan het eind zien we dat de waterval door de canyon heen rechtstreeks uitmondt in zee.
In various timelapses we see the play of wind, clouds and sunlight around the mountains in the east fjords. We continue towards Seyðisfjörður and stop at one of the waterfalls there. Via a slippery path you can enter the cave behind Fardagafoss and even walk completely behind it. It's like a large rain shower, but with ice cold water.
Various waterfalls can also be found along route 95. From one waterfall we dive with the camera into the crystal clear water to look at the underwater landscape and the strong current. On the other side of the mountain runs the mountain pass Axarvegur which is almost even greener. Here, water comes in many stages towards the valley. After a heavy shower and seeing the rainbow, the sun starts to shine again. This gives us a view of the Berufjörður fjord. Meanwhile it has become windless there and we enjoy the coloring sunset and a quiet night.
About episode 4
That's what still comes up when I see this episode over and over again. If you look up photos of Landmannalaugar in preparation of your travel plan, it seems surreal that this place exists. And even when you are there it' incredible.
In the morning I climb the blue-green mountain Bláhnúkur in a strong wind and temperatures around freezing point. On the left you can already see part of the rhyolite mountains, but from the top the entire panorama unfolds. As if someone has painted the mountains in all kinds of pastel shades and some highlights of fluorescent green. In other parts of this area you walk through rough lava fields. The weather changes quite quickly these days. In the sun and rain, the area has its own character. You can see geothermal activity in various places.
We drive on to Eldgjá, a very extensive volcanic canyon containing the waterfall Ófærufoss. You can see here how the earth was once torn open in an eruption. As we continue towards the F208 it has started to rain, but the car gets even wetter at the various river passages on this route.
At the river Jökuldalakvísl I make a long stop to enjoy the colors and structures in the landscape here. After a heavy rain shower further down the route, the sun comes out for a while as we fly over a number of red-black explosion craters in an otherwise gray landscape.
Somewhere in this gray landscape a spectacular canyon opens with teal water and countless waterfalls. An view you do not expect at all if you have walked through this desolate landscape for a long time. The nickname of Sigöldugljúfur is "valley of tears". In the storm wind here I almost lost the drone, but fortunately I was able to regain control, land it safely and download the images.
We return to the craters and mountain range during the very last sun of the day. Long shadows indicate that this episode is really over.
About episode 5
The wet sand on several Icelandic beaches is so black that it seems that these first images were shot in black and white. Sometimes you can see a green tint of the sea water in the breaking wave.
From this almost monochrome image we go to a very colorful geothermal area, Hverir. As if you ended up on the planet Venus, with all kinds of minerals, boiling mud and fumaroles where the steam comes out of the earth under pressure.
In the first sunlight of the next morning we go to Goðafoss, where the soft sunlight in combination with the water mist gives beautiful rainbows. Although the infrastructure has completely changed to serve the amount of tourists, it remains a nice place to come back to. And certainly this early in the morning it is'nt that busy. A short stop at the rock Hvítserkur got a lot longer due to the presence of a group of seals a few kilometers away.
In the Kolugljúfur canyon, the water flows through various waterfalls to the other side. Here, as in most other places, you cannot get to the bottom of the canyon. That was however possible in another location. When I dipped my camera there in the ice-cold and fast-flowing water, salmon was visible in various places. Nice surprise...
At the Leirhnjúkur lava field, the soil is still warm after the last eruption. In this region, geothermal energy is close to the surface. That is why a lot of energy is being extracted here from different places by a geothermal plant. Walking around in this area is definitely worthwhile.
As is the Dettifoss waterfall. Although it is very busy here with tour buses driving back and forth, I enjoy the overwhelming body of water from Iceland's largest glacier river, Jökulsá á Fjöllum. This waterfall is almost deafening. It's 100 meters wide, 40 meters high and has a flow rate of approximately 200,000 liters per second.
Near Mývatn is the crater Hverfjall that might as well have been on the moon. In the storm wind I walk around the entire crater rim where you have a beautiful view of the surroundings. Around sunset we see silhouettes of several pseudo-craters in Lake Mývatn and some of the many ducks that reside around the lake.
About episode 6
We return to the interior in the south and first explore part of route F210. Yesterday it rained hard and the frost caused my car to freeze up. In the morning when the sun is only up for a short time, most mosses are still frozen, which creates a special color.
The landscape around Álftavatn is extremely varied. Every 15 minutes you drive on the landscape is so different that it is almost impossible to absorb it all. The Markarfljót river must be crossed in a few steps, but that is not a problem due to the relatively low water level early in the morning.
On route F208 I arrive at Axlarfoss via an small exit. A beautiful waterfall in a canyon where nobody can be seen for hours. We continue with views of Valagjá, a huge crater that looks like a combination between the moon and Mars. One side of the crater is red while the landscape on the other side is only black-gray. In the background we see the Hekla volcano with snow.
Back on route F210 we arrive at the wide river Hólmsá. It is not clear from the side how deep it is here, and there seems to be a lot of current. Because I haven't met anyone for hours, the only option is to wade through the meltwater river on foot and search for the route. Although the water turns out not to be too deep, these river crossings remain a bit scary when travelling alone. After the crossing we arrive at the sandy plain Mælifellssandur.
A week and a half ago I drove here in a sandstorm, but today the weather is great. This sand plain can flood quickly due to meltwater or rainwater that comes down through the glacier. Then it turns into quicksand. The weather forecast is therefore important here. Now that the sand is dry, you still cannot drive fast because of all the channels that the water has drawn in. We see the large Mýrdalsjökull glacier on the left and stay a few kilometers away from it.
We go back through the river Hólmsá and drive a few days later on the F225 towards the Hekla volcano. Everything here is covered with gray volcano dust and lava from the many eruptions of this volcano. One crater stands out in this landscape: Rauðaskál. I climb this brightly colored crater and feel insignificant in this enormous landscape. When do you spot me at the crater edge? It is that large.
We end with two dashcam images. A fairly deep river passage of the Bláfjallakvisl and another recurring image: sheep on the road…
About episode 7
Episode 6 had been grand and imposing so we rest a bit at the first day of episode 7. This day begins ever so quietly at first dawn near Drangsnes in the west. Also this morning I was the first to leave the campsite together with the sun.
At Steingrímsfjörðúr there is almost no wind, and in the reflection of the cloudy sky we see a large group of ducks. Suddenly there is movement in the water, and as a big surprise I come across a humpback whale, very close to the coast. I can follow it for a while and enjoy it in amazement. One moment the whale hangs relaxed in the water, the other moment it is busy. After a deep breath and a final greeting with it's tail, I have not seen the whale again. Ever-expanding circles in the calm water are the only sign that something has happened here.
The seals in the same fjord rest between the seaweed for a long time, while birds in the background call to each other. After intercepting a few showers we arrive in the west fjords to look at the wide waterfall Dynjandi. Below this waterfall, the water continues to the fjord through numerous other waterfalls. It is early September and in you can already see plenty of autumn colors here.
On the Snæffelsness peninsula I climb the crater Eldborg in the early morning. This crater and the smaller ones next to it are already old and largely overgrown. Sheep graze in the area. We have a nice view of the Snæffel volcano, which lies on the tip of the peninsula and remains covered with snow all year round.
After a few shots from the west fjords (where I could only stay for a short time) we drive down via Snæffelsness to the west. We see clouds form at one side of Mount Esja, they already dissolve on the other side. After a hike through a very muddy trail I arrive in the rain at the beautiful Brúarfoss waterfalls. A place to revisit another time.
About episode 8
Already the last episode, but one with many highlights for me. Last night I spent the night at Hveravellir and set the alarm early. The sun was only visible for 5 minutes before clouds rushed in and the weather deteriorated. The low sun provided beautiful light in this geothermal area. A furmarole blows steam under high pressure into the air. In the background we see a corner of the glacier Hofsjökull. Everywhere are springs with boiling water, steam bubbles and all kinds of mineral deposits. Yet all kinds of grasses and mosses grow here too.
We drive on via the Kjalvegur route. The sky is already colored by the sun that will soon set. We switch to the dashcam and experience the bad road conditions. Being rattled for hours is part of the inland roads. It is advisable to stop a little more often to relax.
A few days later we arrive at Kerlingarfjöll shortly before sunset. This mountain range is around 1450m high, and contains the special combination of eternal snow, glaciers, geothermal energy, rhyolite mountains, mineral deposits and so on. One of the most amazing landscapes I've come across. Many hiking trails run through this, but due to the predicted extreme weather, I have to get out of here early in the morning. In the meantime, everything is shrouded in a thick fog and the next storm is already coming.
Speaking of magical places, the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall is one I will never forget. For hours I sat here looking at the color of the water, the waterfalls, the special basalt structures and the cloudy skies. When magma cools under certain conditions, the new rock splits into hexagonal columns. Depending on the direction in which the magma flowed, the columns are divided vertically, horizontally or in all directions. We fly slowly through the canyon to take in everything.
This journey has now come to an end, but another journey will continue. Curious what the next picture will be...