The Thing About Iceland

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

In the few days leading up to our flight from Greenland to Iceland, Pete became obsessed with weather forecasts. He checked different websites every few hours, enthusiastically calling out any new findings that pointed to increased warmth or a drop in expected precipitation.

I finally convinced him to give up the compulsion and just acknowledge that it will be what it will be. We both came to accept that we might not see the sun in our four days there and that we would likely encounter rain.

If only that was the worst of it. Instead, we were once chased back to our car from wind so strong it whipped pebbles at us. We saw almost nothing for two full days, with cloud and fog so low that the famous dramatic hills disappeared beneath. We spent a couple of hours tracking down an off-the-beaten-path waterfall that we could hear, but barely see.

Háifoss Iceland

Well, at least it *sounded* cool.

“I believe that Iceland would be pretty,” Pete said as we headed to the airport to leave. We were bitter.

Because the thing about Iceland is that not only is the weather regularly craptastic (locals we encountered were apologetic for the climate, but would then follow it up with: “well, that’s Iceland!”), but it is such a pricey country to visit. Even with some fantastic partners who helped alleviate the load, we still ended up spending a whole lot of money for our brief stay. I wish we could recommend it as a must-see destination (which is what we expected to do!), but in reality all we can say is this: it is a very expensive crapshoot. You might have amazing weather and a great time, but there is also the chance that you might have paid an awful lot to see very little. You have been warned.

Rather than spend all our time sulking though, we did the best we could with a couple of great excursions that weren’t entirely weather dependent. And while the highlight of our trip was expected to be an amazing photographic journey, we had to be so patient for breaks in clouds and rain in order to get just a few good photos. Ultimately, we decided to present the results to you in black and white, as it is indicative of our time there.

The best way to discover Iceland is via road trip.

Iceland is a very expensive crapshoot.

Iceland Roads

The Geyser is one of the most famous sights, and it shoots water every few minutes.

Iceland Geyser

The Gullfoss Waterfall, very near the Geyser.

Gullfoss Iceland

If the world becomes in desperate need of water, we’re moving to Iceland, as the number of water sources is surely incalculable. This is Seljalandsfoss.

Seljalandsfoss Iceland

And this is Þjófafoss.

Þjófafoss Iceland

A fixture in the local culture is the Icelandic horse. They are small, sometimes even just pony-sized, but sturdy and long-lived. They were a breed developed on the island and feature prominently in Icelandic history.

Horses of Iceland

The soft black sand beaches at the town of Vik were as mesmerizing as they were lethal. The waves were so powerful, and the wind coming off the water matched their strength.

Vik, Iceland

Near to Vik is Dyrhólaey and it was one of our favourite spots. More black sand, thrashing waves, and even a nearby nesting spot for Puffins.

Iceland Coast

Dyrhólaey, Iceland

The Sólheimajökull Glacier – it is 8km long and 1-2km wide. Under a misty rain, we strapped on crampons to try ice walking and climbing.

Solheimajokull-Glacier-Iceland-small

Oh Iceland, you are an elusive one. We really wanted to love you.

Best-of-Iceland-01

How We Did It

We were able to see (what we could of) Iceland thanks to a complimentary rental from SADcars. And during our time in Reyjkavik, we had a very enjoyable stay at the Bus Hostel. To read our review of both, please click here.
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  • September 23 2013

    I am so bummed that the weather was so bad for you! Iceland really is spectacular and worth the crap shoot.
    Jennifer recently posted..10 Things to Taste in Russia #gAdvRussia

    • September 24 2013

      If it works out, that is.

  • September 23 2013

    Yeah… Shame the weather was not exactly optimal, but I’ll go with the natives and say: it’s Iceland! There’s a reason why the landscape is so stunning and it’s not completely overrun with tourists. Actually, two reasons, and you mention them both: arctic weather and money. Regarding the first, we visited in early October and were greeted by gales and inclement rain. The following day, the sun was shining, and it stayed gorgeous until we left – a complete fluke. Nonetheless, we still failed to see any northern lights: clear skies, dark night, fantastic conditions, but no solar storms. Again, that’s Iceland! Regarding the cost, we didn’t find it very expensive. We just rented a car, which was not cheap but hardly outrageous, drove around to see the sights and ate bucketfuls of Skyr. I believe the tours are quite exorbitant though… Anyway, how many countries can you think of where even with crappy weather you are able to take such stunning photos? Hope you can one day return and enjoy Iceland in the sun – it’s a memorable experience. Good luck!
    Lunaguava recently posted..Making Chocolate in San Cristóbal

    • September 24 2013

      Not very expensive? It has to be the most expensive country we’ve ever been in. But perhaps that’s because we had no desire to just eat bucketfuls of Skyr. 🙂

  • September 23 2013

    I am sad that you did not have great weather. I went this past March and had on and off weather.

    Iceland Air actually allows up to a week long layover in Iceland if flying with them to European countries. Maybe you can have another go!

    • September 24 2013

      I’m honestly not even sure if we’ll give it another go. Not unless we start rolling in the Benjamins with this here little travel blog. 🙂

      • September 24 2013

        That is too bad, but I completely understand. There is so much of the world to see and so little time/money!

  • September 23 2013

    You know what, I’ve heard so much about Iceland lately and people reporting that it really is hit or miss whether you get good weather or not. Bummer that you guys didn’t have amazing weather but you still got some awesome photos! 🙂
    Beverley | Pack Your Passport recently posted..Sightseeing from the Sky – A Helicopter Tour of London

    • September 24 2013

      Thanks Beverley! Thank goodness we got a few good photos, because we took far fewer photos on this trip than our regular boatload. 🙂

  • Joy
    September 23 2013

    What beautiful, mystical photos. You’re true talent is showing through, Pete.

  • September 23 2013

    The weather we had in Iceland definitely wasn’t as bad as what you experienced, but it certainly wasn’t great either. And it was FREEZING. In August.

    • September 24 2013

      Cold, I can take. But terrible wind, rain, and fog is another story. It made Greenland look almost like a tropical paradise which is saying a lot.

  • September 23 2013

    Oh wow, Iceland has been on my bucket list for quite some time. It’s just so beautiful. But, you never think of the darn weather. And how it can put a damper on things. For what it’s worth, though, those are great photos.

    • September 24 2013

      Thanks Nicole. Yeah, the weather is surely a factor when planning a trip to Iceland. Gotta take what you can get I guess!

  • The horse shots took my breath away! WOW!!!

  • September 23 2013

    Such is the way of travel, you know the good bits are there but its the weather that will decide if you get to seem them.

    A shame you lucked out guys but hey you can always go back (with more money of course:P)
    Chris recently posted..Things To Do In Clare

  • September 24 2013

    Very interesting, Iceland does look a fantastic place to visit even if the weather seems very unpredictable.
    Although you sound a little disillusioned from the post your pictures highlight how beautiful and wonderful the country is to visit, maybe looking back you will view it in a more positive light.
    Alex | Partial Parallax recently posted..Itsukushima Island – Touring The Torii

    • September 24 2013

      I wish that were the case, really, but these are just a few snapshots in four days. We had planned it as a “photography roadshow” but didn’t take nearly the number we normally would.

  • September 24 2013

    Sorry to hear that you missed out on seeing Iceland in nice weather, it still remains up there with our favorite countries!

    Weather can impact any destination but it definitely is a lot more volatile in Iceland than most other places.
    Kieron recently posted..Sunday Spotlight: Mount Rinjani, Lombok

    • September 24 2013

      I remember you guys saying that, and a lot of people do! 🙂 We fully expected to be in that camp, but mother nature sadly had other ideas for us.

  • September 24 2013

    ah, I feel kind of bad now for telling you how awesome Iceland is and how much you’re gonna love it! sorry for that! if it makes you feel any better: my friends were there at the same time, with a tandem bike… 😉 you can imagine the rest of the story 😉
    kami recently posted..flea market in Lviv

    • September 25 2013

      It’s all your fault!! Haha. 🙂 You weren’t the only one selling us on Iceland, and if the weather had been even a bit better, I’m sure we would have loved every minute. Tandem bike? Oy vey.

  • Chanel @ La Viajera Morena
    September 24 2013

    Gorgeous shots! Absolutely love the b&w. Iceland is a place that had not been on my list until I did a layover there a few months ago and I fell in love.

    • September 24 2013

      So glad you had a great visit Chanel!

  • September 24 2013

    Bummer to hear the weather was so terrible for you. I drove the Ring Road for the first time this past summer and it’s one of the places on my list to return to, even after traveling all around the world. Truly magical. Expensive yes, but worth saving up for.
    Jessica recently posted..Instagramming Art at Burning Man 2013

  • September 24 2013

    Well, you still managed to take some beautiful photos!

    Happy travels 🙂
    Lauren Meshkin recently posted..‘Travel Your Way’ Photo Competition!

  • Sam
    September 24 2013

    I visited Iceland this time last year and had a mix of beautifully sunny days and wind so strong I was knocked over a couple of times (how people cycle in that city, I don’t know!), but I was only in Reykjavik visiting a friend. I imagine that in the interior of the country, it’s at least less windy…? Shame you didn’t have the greatest time.

  • September 25 2013

    It’s a wild place and your b & w images do it plenty of justice.

  • Beth
    September 25 2013

    Iceland has been on my list for a while now, especially with so many people talking about it lately.

    I’m bummed you guys didn’t get better weather, but you still made the country look beautiful in your photos!

  • September 25 2013

    These photos are all excellent, I think you guys did a fantastic job, regardless of the weather!
    Laurence recently posted..Brindisi by Instagram

  • A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer)
    September 25 2013

    I’m planning on going next June for the midnight sun… fingers crossed I’ll actually get to see that damn semi-sunset!

  • September 25 2013

    So sorry to hear that. Iceland was magical for me and I am grateful now more than ever for the flawless weather I had in my eight days there.

    I have long been lucky in weather, however I am about to head into the heart of the Peruvian rainforest in the height of rainy season. I really hope I don’t have a post like this when it’s all over!

    • September 27 2013

      Good luck Alex! We’ve been there during that time, it can be tricky! 🙂

  • September 25 2013

    Sorry to hear you guys had such crappy weather in Iceland. I didn’t have the best weather, either (rain and snow), but at least none of that affected visibility, or my trip as a whole. I promise it IS an awesome country, when you can actually see it.

    That being said, these photos are still pretty amazing!
    Amanda recently posted..Local Living in London

  • September 26 2013

    You obviously made lemons out of lemonade. It’s a bummer when the weather isn’t good, especially for photographers. You’ve done a great job of capturing Iceland.

  • Dani Blanchette
    September 25 2013

    You may have been disheartened with the weather, but your photography is gorgeous! I especially love that it is in black&white. It makes all the scenery look more majestic and more timeless.

    I would love to visit Iceland myself, but yes, I have heard many times how expensive it is, and can’t afford it (unless they want to pay me to come there) at the moment. But even with this post, it is still on my list. I just don’t have illusions about perfect weather. 🙂

  • September 26 2013

    The weather in Iceland can be utterly invasive to your day but that’s part of its charm. well it was for us the 2 times we’ve been. The hostels are so warm and well looked after and retreating indoors (hostel or car) after braving the elements is a very nurturing experience. Kind of like snuggling up under a duvet and having a comforting cuppa. Sorry you didn’t get to see the lights. they really made our trips both times and maybe without them I would feel much like you do
    Becki recently posted..Yay! I’m Allowed to Drive the Motorhome!

    • September 27 2013

      Haha, I don’t think I’ve ever considered bad weather as “charming”, but good on ya for making the most of it. The lights we weren’t so concerned about – having grown up in northern Canada, I’ve seen them many times.

  • September 26 2013

    Iceland is on my list, as I want to ride an Icelandic horse and experience the Tolt gait!

  • September 27 2013

    When it comes to reviews of Iceland, I have to admit that I really just want to hear that it’s breathtaking, beautiful, magical and soaked in northern lights and hot springs! With that said, I absolutely loved your honest review and must say that while I am sorry to hear about your frustrations in regard to the weather, the images that you shot while there are some of the most beautiful that I have seen! They are breathtaking and deserve the widest possible audience. Thank you for sharing your experience and these stellar photos!

  • September 27 2013

    The weather may have been crappy but trust me, you still got some breathtaking photos. Black and white was definitely the way to go 🙂

  • September 28 2013

    Sorry the weather didn’t work out for you. My day exploring the Golden Circle was absolutely perfect, but on the drive back to Reykjavik, the weather started turning for the worse and I was aware of how lucky I was on the day I had for sightseeing. Despite the weather, you have some truly gorgeous photos here.
    Josh @ I Ran So Far Away recently posted..The Best Place to Stay in the Cinque Terre

  • lalu
    September 29 2013

    amazing photos for such a crappy trip

  • September 29 2013

    You made the right decision to go with black and white. Instead of noticing the dreary weather, all I can see are the stunning landscapes.

    I am so sorry the weather didn’t cooperate for you though.

  • Ali
    September 30 2013

    So sorry the weather didn’t cooperate! Your photos are still gorgeous though. Maybe you’ll get a chance to go another time and have better weather.
    Ali recently posted..Best Views of Rome

  • soley
    October 6 2013

    I think you are forgetting that Iceland is an island in middle of Atlantic ocean, being born and raised there I know you never know about the weather, you can have it all in one day, and it can snow in mid june. I like your photos, they are very nice. I’m sorry that you did not like it very much, I always tell people if they wanna go to Iceland then july is the best month for it, but even then you can have a cold weather. but once again it is an island in the Atlantic ocean. hope you go again and have a better time.

    • October 7 2013

      I never once forgot the location, but also never expected that it would make Greenland look like a tropical paradise. 🙂 I know so many people who have visited your country and loved it. Had we actually gotten to see it, I am sure we would have to.

  • Alex
    October 23 2013

    Hi, I have no idea who you are but I somehow stumbled upon this blog. I understand it is very disappointing when you travel all the way to Iceland and get bad weather. But what I do not understand is that you generalize that Iceland is shitty and that it is a very expensive crapshoot.. When you travel to India or Japan (wherever) and you get bad weather, rain or wind, not sunny at all. Are you able to generalize that the country and culture is shitty? That you wouldn’t tell your friends or family to go and see the beautiful nature and culture because you got bad weather? Because you had no luck. Instead of seeing the beauty in the fog, using the fog for art (use your talent, because you truly have it), the mistery that lies within the nature through the fog, you decide to see the country, the nature, the culture, everything that Iceland has to offer (which is very much) everything negative.
    I think that’s very sad, as an Icelander I am actually deeply disappointed..

    • October 23 2013

      I invite you to read the article again, closely, and realize that I never once told anyone NOT to go there, and I did not at all generalize and say it’s shitty. We spoke of our experience but clearly did not give our opinion one way or another, expect to say that it is an expensive crapshoot based on the weather, and I stand by that. I would say the same about India or Japan or wherever if the same happened – but this was solely about our experience in Iceland. We had no intention of slandering, and we didn’t, we just gave an honest account of our experience.

  • Dan
    November 7 2013

    Great photos! We head to Iceland in a week and a half.Can’t wait, fingers crossed we have better weather though

  • Christine
    August 17 2014

    Went there at the end of may, 8 degrees celcius, cloudy and very windy. Walking up to the blue lagoon, I was freezing, wondering why I even took the 9 hour layover. But I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the lagoon. That being said I find that what I did see of the country not exactly spectacular, in fact I found it kinda Barron, and ouch very expensive. And so did everyone else I talked to. I guess you can charge what you want when your on an island. To go back, maybe, but only to go whale watching.

  • August 18 2014

    Hi! We just came back from Iceland and had to deal with the same lousy weather. As you say one has to accept whatever the weather is, and enjoy the dramatic landscapes under a different light. But sometimes it’s too much. Four days out of 14 (which is a lot) were almost completely wasted because of the weather. Nevertheless, regardless highs and lows we enjoyed Iceland and we’re ready to go back. I’m not trying to convince you to do the same, as giving a second chance to such an expensive country is a decision not to be taken lightly, but in case you are having a second thought let us know 😉
    …and beautiful photos by the way, your (and your trip) sacrifice was not in vain!
    Rick recently posted..Iceland day 2: Reykjavik to Grundarfjordur

  • October 1 2014

    Hello.

    Great blog and bw pictures.

    Spent 2 great weeks in Iceland this September. The weather is pretty unstable and we did have some rain. Nothing major though as most days were sunny or cloudy but dry. Obviously one can’t expect warm summer days so far north in the world. The highest we got was 18C, lucky I guess. Probably the freezing wind was the biggest enemy.

    Found it very pleasant as were the Icelanders. A must for nature/outdoor lovers. Recommend the least visited areas, such as the east fjords, highlands and the west fjords.

    By the way, going to Iceland only to hit the Blue Lagoon/Reykjavik is waste of time, in my opinion. The best is the raw nature that you can find in every corner while travelling around the country.

    Cheers!
    Hugo Cura recently posted..One day visit to Liechtenstein

  • February 19 2016

    I know this is from a couple of years ago, but you should definitely go back, in the summer. The weather isn’t perfect, but it’s the best time of year to see the sights. My husband and me lived in Iceland for 2.5 years while he was in the Navy. We were always traveling and seeing all that we could. And now we have had 5 friends and family go to visit Iceland because it was so amazing for us. A couple of them have even made return trips.

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