A Week In And Around The Golden Circle

Iceland has been the main objective on this itinerary. More specifically, we were seeking out some northern lights viewing with a few family members. We’ve also managed a lot of fun and incredible sightseeing, but if we had returned without any aurora sightings, it might have felt like a bit of a failure. Thankfully, we got lucky a few days into our visit.

We flew into Reykjavik from London via a direct British Airways flight. I brought a large drone via checked baggage. That, along with our usual maxed out cabin baggage had me a little worried for a flight with an airline with which we carry no status. Everything worked out great though and I was never questioned in England or Iceland regarding the drone in the checked hard case or the large Lipo batteries in my cabin bag.

All gear accounted for!
All gear accounted for!

We toured Iceland independently, using a rental SUV and home-basing out of a nice AirBnb near Laugaras, a rural area a couple hours east of Reykjavik. One point I will make about the weather here this time of year: It sucks. It’s cold, wet and drizzly more times than not, and you get like five hours of daylight. Glimpses of the Aurora at night are the trade-off you better be trying to make if visiting this time of year. With all things considered though, you can still comfortably visit the more typical summer attractions if you plan your time well, and the crowds are pretty manageable.

3 BR AirBnb in Laugaras
3 BR AirBnb in Laugaras

On our first full day, we backtracked to Reykjavik and spent half the day relaxing at the Blue Lagoon hot springs. This place is an absolutely must visit in Iceland. Definitely prepay for the full package, skip the lines, and know you’ll have everything you need. We also toured the old town in Reykjavik a bit and stopped by the famous  and much-copied Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand, which was quite tasty and perfect in it’s simplicity and unpretentiousness.

"Silica Masks" in Blue Lagoon
“Silica Masks” in Blue Lagoon

If you’re going the AirBnb or rental cabin route for a visit to Iceland, plan on doing some grocery shopping. Many or most of the restaurants in the vicinity of your typical tourist circuit here are extremely overpriced for lousy and uninspired fast food type offerings. You can probably do better for yourself stopping at one of the “Bonus” (the “Piggly Wiggly” as we called it) or “Kronan” grocery chain locations and stocking up on some goods for home prep. That was our approach, only eating out a couple of times. For long driving days through very rural areas, having a picnic ready to go for the group was much easier.

We spent a full day visiting the Geysir hot springs geothermal fields and continued on to the massive Gullfoss waterfall. The weather was pretty lousy that day, but we managed a successful drone flyover at Geysir, actually capturing a couple of eruptions from the air. The weather during our Geysir visit was a little drizzly, but not very windy or cold, which allowed for decent flight conditions. Gullfoss, on the other hand, was extremely windy, wet, and bone-chillingly cold. We opted to keep the drone grounded for that visit.

Geysir Geothermal Field
Geysir Geothermal Field

We had planned for the next full day to include a long drive in the southeast to the black sand beach and the glacier at Jökulsárlón, but there were severe weather warnings for that day. We managed to move up a snorkeling tour we had booked and spent the next day visiting Thingvellir National Park and doing some dry suit snorkeling in Silfra, the glacial lake there. A brief note on that: dry suits are pretty miserable. The rubber neck choker alone is kind of a deal breaker. Anyhow, the weather in the park that day was actually pretty decent, allowing for some hiking and a couple more uneventful and stunning drone flights. This was our first trip bringing a drone along (a DJI Inspire, requiring a fairly large resin hard case). I wasn’t sure ahead of time if it would be worth the trouble, but I am definitely a believer at this point. When you choose a location well under the right conditions, you can just cut through a whole lot of time and stress to get some amazing location shots. This proved particularly useful at sunset when we hadn’t scouted a good vantage point to shoot from. The drone just allows you to cheat and get past the crowds and into a vantage point that would otherwise be impossible. We didn’t see anyone else with drones on this trip, but we also didn’t encounter any difficulty flying in Iceland.

Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park

On the way back from our national park visit and snorkeling, we came across some really pretty northern lights for the first time when we were very close to home. We made a little photography stop for an hour or so and watched the show play out in the sky.

First Aurora Borealis sighting
First Aurora Borealis sighting

For our final full day in Iceland, we had about six to eight hours of driving east along the southern coast, culminating in a visit to the glacier at Jökulsárlón. We visited the black sand beach at Reynifjara, which had some very windy and wet conditions. The rock formations there are pretty interesting, and the violent ocean chop frothing against the smooth black sand was really striking. Mixed with the fog in the distance, full color pictures there almost appeared black and white. We stopped by a couple of waterfalls on the way, making a drone flight at Skoger Falls. There is a long and barren (but picturesque!) drive between the last of the waterfalls and tourist stops and the glacier at Jökulsárlón. Given the sunset at a 3:45 pm, we cut it very close on our arrival and went straight for the drone launch, catching the last gasps of sunlight hitting glacial ice drifting out to sea. We got some nice still shots, but also some really incredible 4k footage that I’ll put together after we get back and I have access to a better computer.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Jökulsárlón Glacier
Jökulsárlón Glacier

On the long drive home, we were treated to one more northern lights sighting, one that almost formed a rainbow across the sky. It was a nice way to wrap up our Iceland trip. Tomorrow we have a leisurely afternoon flight back to London, where we’ll spent our last couple days of the trip.

Aurora Borealis on Last Night
Aurora Borealis on Last Night

 

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2 thoughts on “A Week In And Around The Golden Circle”

  1. Great shots! The drone really adds another dimension, though I’m surprised you didn’t try and bring it in the MEI bag:)

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