Our travel wish list has included Iceland for years now. I was pleased when a friend who is an outdoor adventurer and photographer was traveling to Iceland. Her photos and stories make us want to visit Iceland even more to experience secret hot springs, Northern Lights and more hidden Iceland treasures!
Get to know adventure traveler Courtney
I live in Concord, New Hampshire and work as a photographer, focused on outdoor portraiture. I spend my time in the White Mountains ice and rock climbing, trail running, skiing, mountain biking and cycling. Combining adventure and photography is my passion.
Where in the world has been your favorite and why?
Iceland was a top destination for me. I was traveling there for a skiing trip to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle. I was lucky enough to be with two friends who are accomplished ski and mountain guides, Emilie Drinkwater and Jesse Williams of Cloudsplitter Guides. Emilie had been to Iceland on an ice climbing trip the previous year and met up with the Captain Sigurdur “Siggi” Jonsson of Aurora-Arktika, who operates adventure trips to Iceland and Greenland from his sailboats. We sailed from Ísafjörður into the magnificent fjords surrounded by high, flat-topped mountains and spent our days skiing in the untouched, vast winter landscape of the Hornstrandir Reserve. Our night were aboard the sailboat, eating delicious meals, cooked with local and fresh Icelandic ingredients. Our appetizer were the mussels we picked right on the shores that day.
The week before, I had the opportunity to travel from Reykjavik down the coast to Southern Iceland with my girlfriend. The landscape was surprisingly ever-changing and the sights along the coast were amazing. I encountered tall waterfalls, mile wide glaciers, black pebble beaches with thunderous waves, small towns nestled against cliffs and rivers with floating icebergs. Also, I was lucky enough to see and photograph the Northern Lights three nights during my stay in Iceland.
Share a place you found from a local or a lesser known place
While we were in Flúðir, which was located near the famous “Golden Circle”, we talked to a local who worked at the town’s hot springs pool. It was late in the evening and the pool was closing, to our dismay, but he told us about a hot spring located just outside of town, tucked away in the hills. We followed his directions to the trailhead, donned our headlamps and walked along the faint muddy trail and away from the road. As we arrived, a couple was drying off and heading out. We had the hot springs all to ourselves! It was located away from town and in a beautiful setting. It much better than sharing a pool in town! It was called Hrunalaug springs and I highly recommend it. I also recommend heading to hot springs at night, even the more popular springs gets less traffic at that time, and it’s a great place to star gaze or enjoy a moonlit evening.
What is your favorite travel photo and why?
My favorite travel photo from the trip is one of Emile ahead of us, scouting out our descent route. She looks so small against the backdrop of the mountains that make up the Hornstrandir Preserve. We were the only ones out there, and I think the image really gives you a sense of how vast and open it is out there. A skier’s dream!
What have you learned from travel?
Iceland is a popular tourist destination. When I told friends I was heading there, I found out that a lot of people I know have already been there! The timing was dictated by the skiing portion of the trip, but I was glad to go there during the “off-season” in March. I’ve heard stories from people who have gone in the summer months and the attractions are incredibly crowded. While I was there, there were plenty of bus tours and tourists, but I felt I was able to escape the crowds either by visiting at the certain time of day or just hiking further away from the road. I’m not sure that would be possible to do once the high season is in full swing there.
Share some tips for travel
For the first week, we rented a camper van. It was an SUV that was converted into a living space in the back. It came with a heater, a stove, pots and pans, dishes and a small sink. We brought backpacking type food from home and saved money on both accommodations and restaurants which are expensive in Iceland. Plus, it gave us the freedom to travel where ever we liked on that particular day and be more spontaneous. A lot of the campgrounds were closed, but if you do enough research, you can find places where you can legally camp and have basic camping services. Do be careful about just parking your camper anywhere, there is misinformation out there regarding staying overnight on private land. Two great places we parked were the main trailhead in Vatnajökull National Park and a campground near the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, both provide off-season services.
Thank you, Courtney, for sharing your amazing travels with us. Check out more of Courtney’s photography on her site: Courtney Ley Photography
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