Understanding how to read Northern light forecasts by Kaspars Dzenis

‘Hunting for northern lights’’ is a phrase you hear a lot, but I doubt that most of the people understand exactly what is meant by that. It might seem that the ‘‘hunter’’ need to possess specific tracking skills to catch the elusive ‘‘aurora’’. It´s actually not that difficult and I will explain how to use the available information on the internet to go out and ‘‘hunt’’ yourself.

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Exploring the heart of Reykjanes by Kaspars Dzenis

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Everybody knows where are them main attractions in Iceland. You can just pick up handful of brochures at any information center and you will know how to find them. They are beautiful, no doubt, but sometimes it is hard to enjoy them with countless camper vans, tour buses and all the buzz around. So, if you were hoping to enjoy some stunning scenery and experience wild and peaceful nature on a remote island, you might feel disappointed.

However, Iceland is big and if you´re not afraid to explore, there are still places that are just as stunning, but at the same time, you can completely immerse into the landscape and feel the beautiful desolation.


Another point concerning photographers. It is kind of a same deal when it comes to the popular landmarks. With million pictures out there, getting a unique shot in Iceland is getting increasingly hard. Sure, you can chase the light and make it unique, yet, I feel that in this day and age, it´s just not enough.


One of my main tools is satellite maps. I explore them thoroughly, searching for any mountain peak, river, waterfall, valley, sea shore, that is not marked, but looks interesting. Then I travel to the location and find compositions that would look great in pictures. I gather this information so I can include it in my photo tours, but also, just to share them with other enthusiasts, who are looking for something, maybe not completely, but different. 


One of the places I would like to talk about in this post, is a mountainous area right in the heart of Reykjanes. In this area you will find a recently active geothermal area, beautiful valleys and lakes and is just a joy to hike around, with no one else in sight.

You can reach this area from two sides. From the east side, after leaving Reykjavik, on the way to Keflavik, you can take the road that goes to Keilir mountain and drive until the very end. Park your car and follow the trail that leads into a geothermal valley. From there you can follow different sheep trails that will lead through the valleys and around the three kettle lakes.


You can also access this area from the east. This time, drive to Kleifarvatn following the road 42 and just before heading into the mountains, turn where the sign says Vigðísarvellir. Then drive until you reach Djúpavatn lake, where you can begin your hike there.



Little known valleys of the South by Kaspars Dzenis

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      There are plenty of places to travel to when you first arrive in Iceland. South of Iceland, for example, gives you an opportunity to go around the so called ''Golden circle'', visit mighty waterfalls along the ringroad on your way to Skaftafell national park, see puffins (in the summer) in Ingólfshöfði, and enjoy the sunset by Jökulsárlón. Those are all ''must visit'' places. However, how about those people, who are coming back for more. Sure, you can revisit those places, especially if you´re a photographer and you´re trying to get a shot in that perfect lighting. But what if you´re looking to go somewhere new, to a place that has no road sign and no parking lot. In essence, you can just stop by any valley, get your lunch pack, lot´s of water, hike into the wilderness and i can guarantee you will find something spectacular. In this article, I want to tell you about one of my favorite places in South Iceland - Hvannadalur.

      This particular hiking path is located not far from one of the main travel destinations in Iceland - Jökulsárlón. If you continue east (around 12km) you will arrive at Hali country hotel and this farm is the birth place of one of the most beloved writers in Iceland, þórbergur þórðarson. It is not a coincidence that the name of this hiking path is Söguferð (Literary walk). þórbergur loved to take long walks and it is said, that this hiking path was one of his favorite. After reaching Hali you continue east along Steinafjall, which is on the left. In about 5 kilometers you will see a small house on the foothill called Sléttaleiti and after another kilometer a valley will open up on the left side. There you take the first dirt road into this valley and continue until you reach Steinasandir (Open sands with multiple rivers crossing it). If you have a 4x4 then crossing sands and rivers will not be difficult. Road is tough, but you can reache the very beginning of the path, where you can park your car and locate the first checkpoint. First part of the trail is not difficult and will take 1-2 hours to complete it. Trail is marked with small wooden poles, as well as signs describing the area. AFter finding first one, following the trail will be easy.

      Path will lead you up the hill, alongside small rivers with multiple waterfalls, caves and breathtaking landscapes. 


      At the end of the path is a place called Klukkugill (Bell Gully). Legend states that Irish monks threw their golden bells there when vikings first arrived.


      Klukkugill is where Literary walk ends, however, those who feel physically fit and have 4-5 extra hours can venture further down the valley, into Hvannadalur. Old sheep trail is located north of Klukkugill and leads down into the gully. From there you can hike up the stream. It´s a magical place and well worth the effort. 


Walking inside a ''beautiful nothing'' by Kaspars Dzenis

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   Kálfafellsdalur is a long glacier valley located south east of Vatnajökull. Valley is scared with streams collectively called Miðvötn or Landkvísl and at the very end of the valley you can find steep glacier tongue called Brókarjökull (Breaches glacier). This is another place, where you can not find any signs and is rather difficult to hike in. However it´s a perfect place to disconnect from the outer world and marvel the ''beautiful nothingness'' of Icelandic nature.


   Valley is easily spotted from the ring road. Entrance is located near Kálfafellsstaður farm and it´s possible to drive inside the valley until Kaldá river. To venture further, there is no other way but to cross the river. I´ve not tried to do it with a car, and I would not recommend it, unless you have a monster truck.


From there you can venture further inside the valley. Landscape changes rapidly, from rock covered sands with steep mountain slopes, to green meadows, full of birds and grazing reindeer.


End of the valley splits into two, with glacier tongues at the end of each. Brókarjökull is a very steep glacier tongue that divides around the rock Brók. On the west side glacier forms lagoon. Nearby you can also find number of kettles - shallow ponds formed by retreating glacier. On the east side you can find a small valley called Vatnsdalur. There glacier literally hangs of the mountain. It´s a thrilling, yet a scary feeling to stand close to it. 


   It takes pretty much the whole day to explore the valley and it´s a demanding hike. But if you are looking for that feeling of peaceful desolation, it´s a perfect place to be in.  



Is Iceland really a photographers paradise? by Kaspars Dzenis

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         ''It´s a photographers paradise''. You might have heard this before about Iceland. Well, i certainly have. But is it really? And f it is, what exactly it is people are referring to when they say that there is no place better to take a landscape photo than here, in Iceland.

          One thing is sure though. No way you can say that Iceland is undiscovered by photographers. Certainly, not in the last few years. Amount of photo tours and workshops have been rapidly increasing and there's a stream of amateur and professional photographers coming in all year around. However, this land has still many places that are untouched by men. Rugged and pristine is how i would describe landscapes i have encountered deep inside valleys and highlands. Part of me wants for it to stay this way. And the only way to accomplish it is by keeping people out. However, there is something magnetic about theses places that attract us. And when you see them, you want to share this beauty with the rest of the world. I think a compromise is in place here. To get to these places you must work hard. No roads or signs. It should stay a challenge.

        One must remember, Iceland is a giant volcano. Come to think of it, all land in the world came to existence through various volcanic processes, however, in Iceland you have a first row seat to experience formation of the land. Do not expect to see erupting volcanoes the minute you step on Iceland, but if you look closely you can see traces of volcanic activity everywhere - lava fields, craters, ridges and dykes. All of these places are great for photography. I will not go into details, but there are different types of volcano and they erupt in different ways and in different circumstances. All this adds to landscapes that are different from each other. So it does not matter, where you are going, you can expect that the landscape will look unique. 

       Iceland sits on a hot spot, so there´s always a chance for an eruption. At the moment we have an ongoing eruption in Bárðarbunga volcanic system and there´s no telling of when or where will be the next one. It´s not advised to get close to a volcano, but it sure as hell provide for a great picture. This hot spot is also to ''blame'' for geothermal activity underneath the earth that translates into many hot springs above the ground. That´s also the reason why we have hundreds of pools and hot springs where you can bathe after a long day of sightseeing or hiking. 

      Now, some people may argue that Iceland and Greenland should swap their names. It´s true, due to Gulf stream, Iceland is not as cold as you might have imagined. However, it´s still pretty far north, so a cold snap and a winter storm will make you reconsider the name change. It´s also cold enough here to form glaciers where land elevates over a kilometer. Many glaciers are accessible and serve as great objects to photograph.

      Lighting is everything to a photographer and this is what i think makes Iceland a ''paradise''. In the summer, when sky is not dark enough for stars to appear, you have this amazing light of constant twilight all night long. Sure, during the day, you might want to take a nap or do some post processing on you images as sun sits right above the head, but those night hours are amazing for photography. During the winter, on the other hand, you have ''golden hour'' lighting extended for several hours while the sun is up. Obviously, in the winter darkness rules over the day, but that means you can hunt for some lovely northern light scenes.  

      I guess it is true. Iceland offer so much to a photographer, to the point where one might call it a paradise. Uniqueness of landscapes, their shapes and forms, colors and lighting provided by the contrast between night and day. All that adds up to a must visit place.