Chasing the light in Iceland – Reykjanes Peninsula

Chasing the light in Iceland – Reykjanes Peninsula

This post was updated on February 24th, 2019

Friday, November 24, 2017

The wind is hauling around the hotel and across the Reykjanes Peninsula when I wake up. It is almost as strong as it was yesterday, and I am not up for a walk to the Viking museum about 4.5km away. Instead, I am taking a slow start of the day before going out for some postcards. The pathway is icy; slippery …this is not a day for long walks at all.

Language observations

Icelandic does not sound like Norwegian at all. There is the odd word every once in a while that I can identify, but there is no way my Norwegian will be of much help. This though Icelandic and Norwegian – sure enough, the old Norwegian of the Viking age – are related to each other. In Icelandic, there are no Anglicism or other forms of loan words from another language. If there is a need for a new word to describe something new they will create a new word for it as well. Below a few Icelandic words and their translations.

Icelandic English Norwegian Danish
ljósmyndun photography fotografi fotografi
eldfjall volcano vulkan vulkan
myndun formation dannelse formation
eld fire brann brand
ljós light lys lys
jökull glacier bre jøkel
fjall mountain fjell bjerg
áin river elv å
verslun shop butikk butikk
skála cabin hytte hytte
hellinum cave hule hule
Norðurljós northern lights Nordlys Nordlys
viti lighthouse fyr fyrtårn

Whenever you think you might have found the connection between Norwegian and Icelandic, you will find at least two words, which don’t fit the rule.
The letters are to a degree different as well. All vowels come with a version with an apostrophe and one without. Additionally, as like as in the other Scandinavian languages, there is an “ö” (Danish/Norwegian have the “ø,” while the Swedish use the “ö” as well) and an “æ.”
But there are also the “ð” and the “þ,” letters that date back to the Old and Middle English. These letters survived in Europe only in Icelandic, Faroese, and Elfdalian.
The Scandinavian “å,” however, did not make it into Icelandic.

The first encounter

I just received a message that Mark and Emma, two of the three photographers I am going to travel with, have arrived in Keflavik. They will be here soon, and I will be waiting for them in the lobby. I can still finish my last postcard / Christmas card there.

I am not good at recognizing faces, but when Mark enters through the door, I immediately identify him. The shock on his face when I greet him with his name is visible. We’ve so far only been speaking via email or Facebook, but never in person, so he does not know how I look like. We have a few hours to kill before we can pick up the fourth member of our intimate group, Michelle, from the airport. Mark suggests to make the best of the time and to start with a tour to the sea stacks at Valahnúkur for some sunset photos. Though it is only 1:30 p.m. we have to leave within the next few minutes for the sea stacks if we want to make it in time. It is just a 30-minute drive, but the sun is setting already at 4:09 p.m. Sunsets are early in the winter and sunrises late. During the upcoming tour, I will have to make the most of about 4-5 hours of sunlight during the day. The sun is low on the horizon, creating a beautiful, soft light all day long.


A single volcano eruption formed Valahnúkur. The different stages of the outbreak are visible in the different layers of soil.
There are layers of pillow lava, formed by the underwater laver eruptions. Then there are layers of tuff, created by the explosions above the water and finally the breccia layer. Ash or slag, rolling down, creating angled slopes forms the breccia layer.

If all the spots Mark is going to take us to are as beautiful as this one, I am going to have the time of my life to photograph them. It is possible to climb down the cliff, but getting back up might be difficult in one section. Even without the climb, it is such a beautiful spot; time passes fast. It is a lovely experience to be photographing here. Mark always stays close by just in case that we have any questions or need help. He does not even take out his camera! This to make sure we can take full advantage of his knowledge.

Dinner comes as a surprise

I am stunned when Mark suggests leaving so we can have dinner before picking up Michelle at the airport. Is it that late already? Didn’t I just get here? Meals this week will be at the cheapest and best possible places. Restaurant visits are usually expensive, but we will not eat very often at a restaurant. Most of the time a KFC or a hot dog at a gas station will have to do the trick. So this won’t be the healthiest week of my life. But it will be rich in experiences, laughter, and friendship, this much I can see already from the first few hours.

After picking up Michelle at the airport and a brief stop at the hotel, we are out again looking out for the Northern Lights. There are only a few minutes between entering and leaving the hotel. That is, however, enough to get a group message from Mark, who has seen the lights already. We have barely started the tour and are already spoiled.

Garður Lighthouse and the Aurora borealis

Mark takes us to the Garður Lighthouse, well rather the Garður Lighthouses, as there are two. The newer white one is the active one. The old red and white one, which is not active, acts as an excellent foreground interest for our photos. Instead of taking pictures, Mark helping us to find the best points and to set up our cameras, ensuring we go home with the best possible images. Time just flies. Two hours after arriving at the scene we start the return journey to the hotel. Before bedtime, we have a drink at the bar to bond just a little more and then its time for some sleep. We’ve got to get up at 4 a.m. tomorrow…or rather later today. Where do we go then? The weather forecast will lead the way.

If you liked this post, you might also like the other stories from my Chasing the Light in Iceland adventure:

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