Iceland: A New Year’s to Remember

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“Why on earth do you want to go to Iceland?”

A fairly stock standard response when most heard about my plans.

Iceland – A New Year to remember

Truth be told, I hadn’t done any research on the country. My soul purpose was to see the Northern Lights and continue my dream of visiting new places. I had no idea about all the treasures this island stores with a population of around three hundred thousand that covers 103 000 square kilometres – that’s roughly the size of Ohio in the US.

Listening to my gut was the best thing I’ve ever done. By now you would’ve read my introduction into Iceland and the changes in weather. I had decided that, as I was travelling alone in the country, I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve and the first day of 2017 in a remote part and not be in the capital Reykjavik; even though it’s known as one of the best cities to celebrate NYE.

I spent it in Vik: Population 291.

What to do in a place so remote?

The 31st of December begins with me enjoying sunrise (11am I should add) on Reynisfjara beach – the famous Black Beach. Jet black sand; cylindrical rock formations that make me think of a church organ; sub-zero winds blow snow across the beach and a jagged coastline is battered with angry waves fighting against the wind. What dramatic company I’m in as we welcome the sun into a relatively clear sky. After three days of cloudy weather this feels like a royal treat.

I find a sheltered spot with some rocks that look like a futuristic design using various heights to create a natural seat for me. The sun on my frozen face, I close my eyes and simply smile at being in such a magnificent setting. I feel invigorated by the solitude, not having to speak and simply sitting in the ‘stillness’ thinking about the 14 000 kilometres I’ve travelled to be in this exact spot. What an age we live in to be able to do these distances in such short spaces of time.

I’m also struck with an appreciation of ‘home’. Planet Earth. Our home. How we all benefit from an invention like flight. Or the cure of some disease no matter where we choose to live.

The beach is full of tourists trying to strike unique poses and take their special photo of this memorable place; so I decide to walk further up the beach in the relentless wind towards the arch, Dyrhólaey, on the far side of the bay. It’s wonderful to be the only person on the beach and leave only my tracks on the snow-covered sand. The video below gives you an idea of what it’s like to walk there – as though some crazed explorer discovering new lands.

Having been here almost two hours, I decide to take a drive further south to a place called Kirkjubæjarklaustur; about forty five minutes away. The wind is howling and with snow still on the road, the first fifteen minutes are definitely the hairiest. That overturned car I mentioned in my previous post is a glaring reminder twenty minutes later as I pass by. Reinforces how any lapse in concentration can lead to problems out here.

The drive is incredible with everything looking dazzling in white. Iceland looks like one big present wrapped in snow. I’d later see it in a different light when the snow had been all but blown away.

This village is even smaller than Vik – 120 people – and thoughts of having a late lunch here quickly fade. Nothing’s open. This small town will forever live in my memory though; because it’s unbelievably my first time filling my car with petrol myself (we have petrol attendants in South Africa).

The firsts on my list having turned 37 in November are racking up quickly – loving it!

The village feels eerily abandoned with no signs of life so I stop at another waterfall and enjoy more quiet solitude; just running water to keep me company.

The roads are almost apocalyptically quiet. This gives me an opportunity to stop on a straight stretch to get a picture I’ve always dreamed of taking myself. Seeing no cars for miles in each direction I’m safe in the middle, my car parked in a picnicking section.

I need to have this framed.

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A quiet road is like a quiet mind; rare and perfect for the soul

A phenomenal end to a memorable year

This 136km drive may have been ‘less’ than my previous day, but the sunset driving back is worth its weight in gold. A truly beautiful way to end off 2016.

Back in Vik and safe to take photos I capture the wonderful sight of the first evening star with the thin sliver of the moon as it begins its waxing phase back to full glory. How incredible that as we start a new year, so too is the moon in its beginning phase.

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Finally getting a chance to eat, the waiter gives me the best news ever: “Are you ready to see the Northern Lights tonight?”

As if this trip and day couldn’t get any better.

Aurora Borealis: on New Year’s eve.

You can’t script this stuff.

Yep, it’s been confirmed. I’m definitely the luckiest traveller on the planet. I’m able to ask this same question to J and M when I get back to the hostel. Amazing what smiles it can generate from strangers. A wonderful surprise to end up making two new friends, on a night I expected to spend alone, as we chat and share our Iceland stories with a good few laughs in-between.

I laughed a lot this holiday. That stands out for me as one of the highlights.

Then, before we can even think about where we would go to watch them – they make an unexpected appearance. I pop my head outside and see what looks like a normal white light in the sky. As if low clouds are being lit from the next town. I’m not even sure this is them. Until they turn green and start dancing across the sky. Scrambling for the camera my dear friend had leant me just for this – I start snapping away. Man do I wish I had a tripod but, nonetheless, I succeed in getting some beautiful moments captured to remind me of this night.

We walk up the hill away from the lights of the village, and sit in the snow just staring up; admiring one of earth’s exclusive spectacles. The reason I’d booked my trip is above me, and I can’t be happier. A moment shared with two travellers I now consider friends. Some early fireworks means we get to see the snow covered mountains light up red after the explosions while the Northern Lights silently wave above. Then just as quickly as they arrive they fade into the darkness, just the spattering of stars dancing in the sky.

There are some things you can’t completely comprehend reading about in books or seeing in pictures; you simply have to experience yourself. This is one of them.

The show isn’t over though. Fireworks from what seems like every house in Vik start just before midnight and feel like there’s no end in sight. “The big ones are being banned next year – so I’m sure people are going to go large”. The comment from the car rental guy could not have been more spot on. Actually, looking back now this guy gave me some real pearls! I later hear that Reykjavik’s sky that evening was a war zone for a time. We have no timer so don’t count down midnight – J pops the cork at 00:00 and they generously share their champagne.

What a way to see in 2017.

And this is just the start!


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