[Here is the photostream of Iceland 2014, for those who prefer pictures to tell a story. 🙂]
Two days ago, we made reservations for Beautiful South Coast tour with Sterna Travel and indicated clearly that we needed hotel-pickup. This is one of the smaller agents and it became apparent why they remained a small one.
Our shuttle was supposed to pick us up at 8am but we waited for more than 10mins without any sign of the shuttle. We got the hotel receptionist to help us call the number on the invoice. Finally the shuttle arrived after 30mins! Apparently something went wrong with their communications, and we had to take the shuttle to chase after the actual bus!
We finally caught up at a gas station and reunited with the tour. To our surprise, there is only one driver who is also the guide (unlike Gray Line Iceland which has separate persons). The poor driver-cum-guide needed to give instructions, explain the history of the sights, answer queries, and to do all these while driving on winter icy roads!
Today’s tour started with a visit to Eyjafjallajökull Visitor Centre. You would have remembered the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull in Apr 2010 when huge volcanic ash ejected high up into the sky and spread all over Northern Europe. Concerns that the minute volcanic ash would damage aircraft engines, the airspace of many European countries was closed for 6 straight days, resulting in the largest air-traffic shut-down since World War II. The closures caused millions of passengers to be stranded not only in Europe, but across the world. With large parts of European airspace closed to air traffic, many more countries were affected as flights to and from Europe were cancelled.
We were shown a short video on the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and the evacuations of the surrounding farmers whose farms and lands were almost instantly covered with volcanic ash. Quite a good geography and humanity lesson indeed.
Next stop on the tour was to the southern tip of Iceland, to the world-famous Reynisfjara shore, near the village Vik, which is widely regarded as the most impressive shore in Iceland.
Reynisfjara is a black pebble beach and features an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns resembling a a rocky step pyramid, which is called Gardar. Out in the sea are the spectaculary shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar.The area is rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots.
Lunch was a simple Icelandic Meat Soup and Lamb Chop at a nearby restaurant in Vik, and we were off to our next stop, the Sólheimajökull glacier!
The glacier snout Sólheimajökull is the southwestern outlet of the Myrdalsjokull icecap. It is about 8km long and 1-2km wide, and there are organised tours to walk on the glacier itself. Glacier walking is a highlight of Iceland but we were not really ready for it (plus its super expensive!) so we were happy to take a walk to the edge of the glacier to admire the wonders of Mother Nature.
The final highlights of the tour was the visit to 2 waterfalls, Skógafoss Waterfall, believed by many to be one of Iceland´s most beautiful waterfalls, and Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, where we got to walk behind the waterfall!
Skógafoss Waterfall is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25m and a drop of 60m. Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days.
And what a sunny day it was today and we got to see a beautiful rainbow!
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall of the river Seljalandsá drops 60m over the cliffs of the former coastline. It is possible to go behind the waterfall and that was just what we did (the cover photo of this blog was taken directly behind the waterfall)!
After an entire day of waterfalls, volcanoes and glacier, we were dropped off by the OMO driver-guide near Gray Line Iceland’s office, where we rushed to get the tickets for the Northern Lights bus tour, and quickly went to buy the best hotdog in town again. This time, we decided that we should have one each! It was great having hot food and the hotdog tasted as good as it did the first time. We manage to make it to our Bus No 3 in time, and guess what? It was the same Northern Lights tour guide whom we met 2 nights earlier!
The bus tour started with the usual commentary but since we were headed to another direction this time, we got to see some other sights. We got off near a church facing the beach, and were encouraged to get down the bus and walk further out to the beach where it would be much darker. The skies were very clear tonight, and we were hoping that we would get to see some good display on our final night in Iceland.
It was here that we met Arka, the tour guide for Bus Number 5. She was really very encouraging and enthusiastic! She was helping everyone with the settings of the cameras, trying to get everyone to chant AUOoOoRaAaAAaaaaa… Because sometimes the northern lights would appear if we all chanted and prayed hard enough. She had a really lovely voice! But we were all too shy about our voices to chant with her.
She also shared on how there is a main guide who would be analysing the forecast and deciding where the tour buses should go to, and whether we should continue to wait at a certain spot. She also whipped out her phone to try to check the forecast herself, and it seemed like the aurora activity was going down 😦 We stayed out as long as we could, but it was really freezing cold so we returned back to the bus to rest, which was what many people did as well.
Finally, it was decided that we should go for a toilet/coffee break first before we continue hunting for the lights. We were driven to a cafe at the Duus Safnahús Museum, where the cafe was clearly not prepared for such a crowd! Coffee and hot chocolate cost ISK 500, and the hot chocolate were made in a rush in pitchers. We paid to receive a small empty paper cup, while we waited for the hot chocolate to be ready. It was the worst hot chocolate we ever had in Iceland; it was so so super sweet that we almost fainted. Wouldn’t have ordered if we had not run out of hot water.
We reached back our hotel just past midnight, feeling quite tired and disappointed. The sky was so clear tonight! Boiled some water for hubby to make coffee and have some supper. I decided to open up the balcony window for some ventilation, and as I turned back, something made me turn right back. I wasn’t sure if I was seeing what I was seeing and shouted for hubby to come quickly!! The northern lights were appearing right there!!! In green!!!! Oh my!!! It lasted around 5 minutes and I decided that we simply had to get out of our room to the other side of the hotel as I thought I could still see light. Despite being cold and hungry and tired and just removed his socks and outer layers, hubby decided to indulged to my whims… We went down and circled our hotel, and concluded that the lights might have been from that yuko ono / John Lennon memorial light, or simply just the street and building lights…
We went back to our room and I thought that I should just look through the balcony once more before heading for shower. This must be the best decision I have ever made in this entire trip to Iceland… The northern lights have returned in full glory!!!
It flickered, it danced; it formed an arc in the sky and went beyond the hotel roof; it spiraled… It formed a curtain… It disappeared from the right and the middle section lit up, it died down for a while and the left side came alive…
It went on and on till about 1am before it became silent again. Poor hubby attempted to make his coffee a few times in between the displays without success because I kept going “come and see!!!” In fact, as I’m writing this at 1.30am, it was still going on faintly, smaller arcs, lights coming out of “holes” in the sky or just streaks… I wondered if I would be getting any sleep tonight. It seemed too precious to sleep the night away…