The question is inevitable when you travel to a place over 20 times: why Iceland? I admit it takes some explaining, some convincing, and some imagination, especially for a spot like Iceland that is a complete unknown for many. However, in order to understand my love for this location, you first have to understand the intricacies of my relationship with this beautiful country and how it has become my home away from home.
Iceland first appeared on my radar back in 2008 because of the surf. Little was known about the waves, which for me meant it was the perfect place to plan a surf trip. Why not? I had no idea what was in store as we packed our bags for this far off destination. We camped in our cars, drove for days, and ended up scoring some world-class surf; we forged relationships with locals I treasure to this day; and while our sole goal at first was finding surf, the diversity of the Icelandic landscapes and its culture continue to enthrall, enchant, and inspire my craft, my sense of community, and my journey into the unknown.
The unique thing about Iceland is how vastly different each region is. The country itself is a hidden gem: as you explore more of its breathtaking landscape, you become exponentially more fascinated by what it has to offer. Iceland can be geographically categorized in many different ways, but here is my perspective on each region.
When most people think of Iceland, they think of the South. Volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, geysers and hot springs seem endless as you drive on the Ring Road traversing the entire country. This was the first region I visited, and is the first for many new visitors; I honestly think it’s the best region to see the most in the least amount of time. In the same day you can see Skógafoss waterfall, explore Vatnajökull glacier, and walk on the black sand beaches in Vík í Mýrdal. The concentration of iconic Icelandic landscapes in such a small area is incredible and unlike any other place in the world I’ve seen.
The interior region of Iceland is the most primitive area of the country. It’s known as “Europe’s last true wilderness.” As I became more familiar with the South and its outright beauty, the Interior drew me in with its raw and barren landscape. During the summer, the upland plateau and interior highlands are some of the most remote and incredible areas I’ve ever seen. During the winter however, it is a completely different story. Extreme caution must be used in this area anytime outside of the summer months due to dangerous and volatile weather conditions. In fact, most roads become inaccessible due to snow, and blizzards produce white-out conditions with temperatures often dropping below -10C with windchill.
This region is often overlooked but is worth the 7+ hour drive from Reykjavik. The highway snakes along the coast in and out of dozens of fjords. As you exit one fjord and enter another it seems as if each headland is more magnificent than the last. The Westfjords are sprinkled with quaint fishing towns that oftentimes have nothing more than a few homes, a gas station, and a bakery. This region is where I’ve spent the last few trips, and it has quickly become my favorite area because I get a glimpse into what Iceland could have been like 50 years ago. My quest to explore some of the world’s most remote places is what pushed me to travel to the Westfjords in hopes of sailing to Hornstrandir, Iceland’s northernmost peninsula. Accessible only by boat, this area is made up of vertical coastal cliffs that have been carved out by ancient glacial movement. At the tip of the fjord you’ll find a massive cliff, towering over 1500ft high, standing tall above all others. I was leading a photo adventure workshop and had seen several photos of the locations, but knew I had to see it for myself. We packed our bags and set sail through the Westfjords with my sites set on Hornstrandir.
The Hunt for Hornstrandir
With bags packed, we set sail through the Westfjords. My time on the boat was so refreshing as everything seemed to slow down. We simply enjoyed nature’s presence around us. We cruised at around 5-6 knots with the occasional detour into a surrounding fjord. As we anchored at Hornstrandir, I fell asleep thinking about the hike the next day and listening to the water slapping against the boat hull. Since it was the middle of summer, the sun never really set. Nevertheless, we were able to get a few hours of sleep before making the paddle to shore.
We were greeted the next morning by foggy conditions and low cloud cover, so low you couldn't even see the impressive Hornstrandir skyline. We headed to the beach to explore regardless. After a few hours of hiking the surrounding beaches, the weather began to clear and we were presented with a prime window of opportunity to shoot these cliffs.
After about an hour-long nap we set off into epic conditions. As we hiked toward the summit, the sun began to dip below the horizon, creating the craziest glow all around us. When I got to the top, I felt like I could only take a few photographs before I had let go of the camera and simply experience every bit of the landscape before me.
Beauty in the Unknown
Iceland represents one of the first opportunities for me to experience the sensation of exploration, which is a cornerstone of my career as a photographer. Every time I travel to Iceland, I face new challenges and rewards, which take me back to what originally led me to photography: a desire to show people the beauty that can be found on this earth when willing to push into the unknown.
Iceland has become a home away from home for me in so many ways. When you travel as much as I do, it’s easy to get into a travel routine that’s solely based around seeing and experiencing new things constantly; but within that wanderlust routine, you lose the ability to put down roots and have a sense of community. Iceland has given me the opportunity to constantly experience new things, while at the same time providing a sense of community and a place to which I feel deeply connected. I am incredibly thankful to have experienced Iceland and all the beauty I’ve witnessed there. Even with 24 trips under my belt, I haven’t seen all that Iceland has to offer, and I’m certain that will continue to inspire return trips to the beauty of its unknown landscape.