Of all the places to see in Iceland, it was the ones I hadn’t planned on visiting that blew my mind.
The waterfalls and mountains you see in every Instagram post or article about Iceland are of course absolutely beautiful, but when you come across an unexpected scene that just takes your breath away, it has a different kind of wow factor.
Because I was in Iceland to compile a guide about the best photography destinations, I drove from Reykjavik to Hofn ticking off locations along the way. I had prepared a list of places I wanted to see but then left a little time to simply drive and explore places that had no name…just spots down a dirt road.
Having a full day without plans I decided to drive east past Hofn and see what I could find. It was one of those days where the complete lack of wind makes everything reflect perfectly across the sea, the snow was sparkling and my camera was begging to be taken for a spin.
After driving for thirty minutes I realised one thing was very different already. There was no one else around. Most of the main tourist sites are west of Hofn but once you start venturing further to the east, the traffic numbers drop dramatically making it feel like it’s just you and the vast landscapes of Iceland for company.
I had no idea what to expect past Hofn, I knew the Eastern Fjords were beautiful but didn’t know what I’d find along the way.
For as far as I could see the shores of the Lón glacial river valley were covered in sheets of ice. Stopping the car I took my tripod, cameras and underwater housing for a wander to capture the landscape. Initially I was just looking to photograph the shoreline however a stream caught my attention and I jumped in with my gum boots to take some split level shots then couldn’t resist skipping through the chunks of ice!
The whole time I was taking photos I could hear a weird noise in the distance that sounded possibly like angry seals or moaning cows. Driving a little further to explore I was shocked to find the sound was coming from swans. A big beautiful flock of about 400 white Whooper Swans that looked like they were floating in a painting with cold, calm seas and snow-capped mountains behind.
After trying to speak swan and failing, I set off to continue my drive around the coast only to be completely gobsmacked by the view before me just five minutes down the road.
I’m not sure if it was the mountains, the black sand beach, the perfect weather or a combination of all three, but something about this one spot had me immediately speechless.
I stopped my car beside a cattle guard and ran across a paddock with my camera. I didn’t actually take any photos at first because I was trying to soak up the scene and every little detail.
In the distance perfect sets of waves were rolling around the point. I could see a clear water stream flowing down from the mountain, shimmering once it hit the black sand. Flocks of sea birds flying high above the rocky cliffs. Reindeers were scattered across the field foraging for food. I was stunned by giant slopes of loose rocks which sat at a daunting angle and then I noticed the sound. There was none.
I couldn’t hear anything but the waves and birds. No cars, no people, no music, no artificial sound at all, not even a gentle breeze. Then it hit me that I could also see for miles and I was the only person there, just me and my camera in what felt like the most incredible landscape.
I sat in that one spot on a rock looking at the view and watching the waves roll in for an hour. Only one car drove by in that entire time and luckily it did because I would’ve had a hard time proving just how immense the landscape was without that one car as a subject!
It might sound silly for someone who travels so much to be shocked by the sight of a beach but all I can say is I was wowed. To finally be in Iceland after dreaming of it for so long, to be on my own in a landscape that felt like a painting and to witness just how impressive nature can get. I’m pretty sure the waves had something to do with what I was feeling too. One thing I miss about Australia are the surf beaches and having lived near the still waters of the Mediterranean Sea for the past tenmonths, these waves had be smiling from ear to ear.
I felt like mother nature gave me a big slap in the face that day to let me know where I was and that it was exactly where I was meant to be.
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. With 14+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it’s useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.
I'm Lisa Michele Burns, a professional photographer and founder of The Wandering Lens from Australia. Welcome to your guide to photographing the world, improving your photography and scouting unique and inspiring places to experience with your camera. After three years online, The Wandering Lens has turned into the leading publisher of photography focused travel guides and I'm always so excited to hear from readers as they're travelling and improving their photos!