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Icelandic observing opportunities


bomberbaz
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Hello everyone.

My wife and I are hopefully off to Iceland in late February next year. Sadly I have to say this is something of a bucket list type holiday and needs must as my wife's health is getting worse rather rapidly from the affects of secondary horrible big C. However we should hopefully still be able to take this break.

Observing aside, the place looks beautiful and we are doing a 9 day self drive tour on the entire island (hopefully) 

The observing opportunities I refer to is aimed partly towards the solar people as I am hoping for some aurora observing and wondered if any advice can be given in regards this aspect. (apps to use or other things to be aware of, etc)

But also looking to see if anyone has done Iceland before and can give me a few pointers for bins observing as two nights of my self drive tour will be a short drive from B1 skies 

Also any tips of obscure things on the island itself will be brilliant. I want to make this a time to remember for us both.

TIA
Steve

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Sorry to hear about the problems. Iceland is fantastic, a place you will never forget, there is nowhere else on Earth quite like it. I can't help with the astro side, but here are some "must visit" places.

Thingvellir: site of the world's oldest parliament. a valley being pulled apart by tectonic activity between north American European plates with a river and huge waterfall.

Geysir: erupting hot springs.

Gullfos: the European Niagra of waterfalls

Hallgrimskirkja: the huge and dramatic looking church in Reykjavik. Amazing pipe organ inside.

Blaa Lonid (Blue Lagoon): over-rated but maybe worth a visit just to say you've been. Could be good theraputically for your wife to bathe in the waters, though.

Reykjanes Peninsula: You will see this on the way from Keflavic Airport. Very dramatic scenery. NASA trained Apollo astronauts here as the terrain is so alien and lunar like.

Kringlan Shopping Mall: used to have a 4 metre tall stuffed polar bear on display at a sporting goods store. Store went bankrupt long time ago and bear was list for many years. Has been found recently and is on display somewhere in Iceland. Google will find him.

Vatnajökull: Europe's largest glacier.

Reykir: site of Europe's largest banana producer!

The Perlan: Iceland's most famous revolving restaurant sat on top of the water storage vats that feed Reykjavik.

Trains: Iceland has no rail network, but has a steam train near the harbour in Reykjavik! It goes nowhere.

Food: Fish, of course! we ate at a small cafe in downtown Reykjavik and had the most amazing lobster soup.

Everyone is so friendly and nice and most speak excellent English.

 

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5 minutes ago, Mandy D said:

Sorry to hear about the problems. Iceland is fantastic, a place you will never forget, there is nowhere else on Earth quite like it. I can't help with the astro side, but here are some "must visit" places.

Thingvellir: site of the world's oldest parliament. a valley being pulled apart by tectonic activity between north American European plates with a river and huge waterfall.

Geysir: erupting hot springs.

Gullfos: the European Niagra of waterfalls

Hallgrimskirkja: the huge and dramatic looking church in Reykjavik. Amazing pipe organ inside.

Blaa Lonid (Blue Lagoon): over-rated but maybe worth a visit just to say you've been. Could be good theraputically for your wife to bathe in the waters, though.

Reykjanes Peninsula: You will see this on the way from Keflavic Airport. Very dramatic scenery. NASA trained Apollo astronauts here as the terrain is so alien and lunar like.

Kringlan Shopping Mall: used to have a 4 metre tall stuffed polar bear on display at a sporting goods store. Store went bankrupt long time ago and bear was list for many years. Has been found recently and is on display somewhere in Iceland. Google will find him.

Vatnajökull: Europe's largest glacier.

Reykir: site of Europe's largest banana producer!

The Perlan: Iceland's most famous revolving restaurant sat on top of the water storage vats that feed Reykjavik.

Trains: Iceland has no rail network, but has a steam train near the harbour in Reykjavik! It goes nowhere.

Food: Fish, of course! we ate at a small cafe in downtown Reykjavik and had the most amazing lobster soup.

Everyone is so friendly and nice and most speak excellent English.

 

Some of those I was already aware of but the affirmation is good to read, several I was not. Thanks for the reply post, most helpful. 

Edited by bomberbaz
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I’m off there myself for a few days in January, so I’ll watch this thread with interest.  

No doubt I’ll report back on this forum if I see anything of interest. We’ll be staying in a cabin close to the beach near the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsular just north of Keflavik airport. I chose it as it will have clear views northward over the sea, free of street lights. The sun is relatively active at the moment, so you should see the Aurora.

The downside is that cloud cover is even worse than the UK! I’ve been to Iceland twice before and absolutely love the place, but didn’t see the Aurora due to cloud!

Whatever happens, I’m sure you’ll have a great time. It’s a fabulous country.

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Some more to the list:

EDIT :  Oops already got !!!     >>>   Perlan :   Restaurant / exhibition centre / water tower (!)   and  has a great view over Reykjavik.

Reynisfjara beach :    Black sand beach with Basaltic columns and offshore volcanic stacks.    In mist you could believe you are on Rigel 5  !!  Alien landscape.   Watch out for the waves though.

Waterfalls along the South Coast:   At least 3 beauties.    One you can walk behind.   One which is hidden, and you walk into the bottom of the plunge pool.  Very bracing.

Enjoy.

Hopefully I am going there over Christmas.

Sean

 

 

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Hi Steve,

Very sorry to hear about your wife's health. Iceland (in my opinion) is one of the most interesting countries in the world to visit.

One of the highlights for me was Skaftafell Visitor Center where a short flat walk takes you right up to the face of a glacier. Very very impressive.

As @Craney mentioned, there are some very impressive waterfalls on the South Coast (Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss). At one of them (I think it is Seljalandsfoss), a path leads off to the left which will take you to a hidden waterfall. You walk in through a gap in the rocks and are in a sort of cave with the waterfall coming down almost on top of you. Very atmospheric and when we were there, very few people seemed to know about it.

Another big tourist attraction on the South coast is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Here you can get to see icebergs close up!

We only did the South coast so I can't help you with the rest of the island.

In February it will likely be very cold. I think we went at Easter and when hiking around Gullfoss we had every item of clothing on and then some!

We also had a snow storm/whiteout while driving which was exciting! Hire a decent car, potentially 4WD if you are going off the main road at all.

You can be driving for miles and miles on the South coast and not see another car, let alone any habitation. It is a very wild and beautiful place.

It might be worth checking how much is accessible/open in February. I think much of the interior is simply off limits in the winter.

Hope this helps,

Malcolm

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Meant to add, I was out each night looking for the Aurora. Only one semi-clear night in a week and no sign of the aurora. I have heard that the various Aurora excursions that are available from Reykjavík seem to know where to go to get the gaps in the clouds! A friend from work did one of these and managed to eventually get to see the Aurora after haring all over the country in the middle of the night!

Malcolm

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Really sorry to hear about your wife's health, hope you have a good time in Iceland.

I took the local Astronomy Group to Iceland in February 2013.  I agree with all the suggestions above and would like to add a couple of other things.  

Be aware that in February it will be very cold, and the nights long, so do take very warm clothing with you and walking boots preferably.  I recall it was minus 12 degrees plus wind chill.  Could only take my gloves off long enough to take a photo it was so cold.

We stayed in Reyjavik for the first 3 and the last 3 nights, and in the middle we flew up to Lake Myvatn as it is very good there for aurora and it is very dark.  Since you are travelling around the whole island, you should include this in your itinerary, there are some hotels there, but not sure if I can remember the name of the one we stayed at, will see if I have anything on my computer and get back to you if I find it.  The Myvatn hotel provided a greenhouse nearby with hot drinks and a radiator so we could intermittently shelter from the cold.   On the 3 nights we stayed there we saw aurora on 2 out of the 3 nights.    Some interesting trips around the lake too.  At that time of year the ice is 3 feet deep and you can even drive on it.  We went snowmobiling while we were there and I found out afterwards we were snowmobiling on a frozen lake!!!!

The two trips with did from Reykjavik (jeep aurora trips out of the city)  we didn't see aurora at all, it was cloudy one night and apparently the aurora were there, on the 2nd night it was perfectly clear but no aurora. 

We also took a trip one day to the site of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erution in 2010.   Of course the eruption was up in the mountains, and so we could only get to the foot of the mountains.  There was a farm at the foot, and then we suddenly noticed on the main road a museum to do with the eruption, so we went in.  They showed a film from the Icelandic perspective, and the farm we saw was right under the volcanic dust cloud and it showed how most had to be evacuated.  When we went into the gift shop afterwards, who should be behind the counter but the farmer's wife who featured in the film.  I don't know whether it is still there, but certainly worth a try.  Additionally our Jeep took us along the river where the glacier (under which the volcano had formed) melts into the river, and got as far as the foot of the Glacier.  Not sure if this drive up to the Glacier will be suitable for cars as I recall the Jeep driver had to get out and do something to the tyres before we drove along there and then rectify it afterwards when we went back onto normal roads.  

Just going to google hotels in Myvatn...... pretty sure it was hotel Sel.   There are pseudo craters nearby.    

To be honest the whole of Iceland is interesting, it is unique and different.  We of course had the services of a guide on each trip so we learnt a lot more about the geology, the life style etc etc, so do a lot of reading before you go.  Lovely people.  

N.B. if taking photos of the aurora, don't make the mistake I did and take the exposures too long, because the aurora move.  I took 15 seconds, I think 5 might be more suitable.  

Photo taken from Myvatn and stretched afterwards, you can see the pseudo craters behind. 

 

Carole 

IMG_0534 adjust.jpg

Edited by carastro
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So sorry to hear of your plight, but if you're up to it there is so much to see in this other worldly place. It is unique. When my wife and I did a tour around Iceland (10 days total) some years ago, half of the people we spoke to said " What on earth do you want to go there for?", and other other half said "Fantastic. I'd love to go!" And how right they were too, an amazing place quite unlike anything we'd ever experienced. We did go in the middle of Summer, not in the cold of Winter though.

According to the stats I read that Iceland's circumference is about 3000miles, about 2/3 that of Ireland, so it's a fair distance to cover in 9 days*. I can't add much to what has already been said, but we found Akureyri on the North coast a lovely little town. When we were there they offered whale watching trips, as does Husavik, a bit further around the coast. Might just be a Summer event though.

The melted glacier flood plains between Hof and Vik, on the South coast, is a thought provoking drive. You can see remains of previous roads that had been washed away, and the planned renovations to the existing road are I believe on hold until after the next eruption, which they reckon is not far off 😀.

Wherever you go, I'm sure that you will be enchanted by what you see.

Ian

*I have since read that Route 1 is about 820m long, so not so bad. But nevertheless, Iceland is bigger than you might think.

Edited by The Admiral
Amending facts
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Thanks for all the replies, I will be doing route planning and destinations once booking is confirmed. I will refer back to this as some items on my list, some not, so certainly a worthwhile post even though it is a difficult (read heartbreaking) time in my life, I have to make it a full of love and wonderment as I can.

steve

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Yes, we went to Husavik too, l recall there was an interesting museum there.   Also we landed in Akureyri and the route from the airport to Myvatn was full of interesting features.  But we did have a guide to point everything out.  Hot mud pools, cooking bread under the ground, explosion crater, an area of high volcanic shapes rumoured to be trolls etc. 

Carole

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On 16/11/2022 at 00:44, Mandy D said:

Sorry to hear about the problems. Iceland is fantastic, a place you will never forget, there is nowhere else on Earth quite like it. I can't help with the astro side, but here are some "must visit" places.

Thingvellir: site of the world's oldest parliament. a valley being pulled apart by tectonic activity between north American European plates with a river and huge waterfall.

Geysir: erupting hot springs.

Gullfos: the European Niagra of waterfalls

Hallgrimskirkja: the huge and dramatic looking church in Reykjavik. Amazing pipe organ inside.

Blaa Lonid (Blue Lagoon): over-rated but maybe worth a visit just to say you've been. Could be good theraputically for your wife to bathe in the waters, though.

Reykjanes Peninsula: You will see this on the way from Keflavic Airport. Very dramatic scenery. NASA trained Apollo astronauts here as the terrain is so alien and lunar like.

Kringlan Shopping Mall: used to have a 4 metre tall stuffed polar bear on display at a sporting goods store. Store went bankrupt long time ago and bear was list for many years. Has been found recently and is on display somewhere in Iceland. Google will find him.

Vatnajökull: Europe's largest glacier.

Reykir: site of Europe's largest banana producer!

The Perlan: Iceland's most famous revolving restaurant sat on top of the water storage vats that feed Reykjavik.

Trains: Iceland has no rail network, but has a steam train near the harbour in Reykjavik! It goes nowhere.

Food: Fish, of course! we ate at a small cafe in downtown Reykjavik and had the most amazing lobster soup.

Everyone is so friendly and nice and most speak excellent English.

 

Good list, I've been twice and done the loop. Next time I'll cross the interior via F roads 

I would add Myvatn area NW, volcanic with blue mud geysers, Hofn on the South west for the shrimp, and if you can manage it, a hike from the south coast road up past the waterfall to the unpronounceable volcano that stopped all air traffic a few years ago

Wonderful country, be prepared for any weather

 

 

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Absolutely.  Swimming in the thermally warmed blue lagoon, ice cream in hand and being snowed on at the same time was another unique experience. 
 

You can scuba dive between the tectonic plates too but l imagine that is in the summer months.  
 

Carole

Edited by carastro
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On 16/11/2022 at 18:48, bomberbaz said:

Thanks for all the replies, I will be doing route planning and destinations once booking is confirmed. I will refer back to this as some items on my list, some not, so certainly a worthwhile post even though it is a difficult (read heartbreaking) time in my life, I have to make it a full of love and wonderment as I can.

steve

I've been fortunate enough to travel to Iceland several times, it is a fantastic place whatever  the weather throws at you. Here's my list of practical tips to help you get around - please note that in February there can be a lot of snow and heading north (Myvatn, Akureyri) can be a challenge - expect to have roads blocked and detours because of bad weather. Even in October we have been stranded for a day in Akureyri because the passes out in both directions were blocked with snow. 

 

Iceland hints and tips

Book accommodation outside large towns and settlements - you can then observe aurora without much travel! Street lights in Reykjavik and Akureri will prevent you from seeing aurora if you are in town.

Check weather (and earthquake/volcano) conditions here: https://en.vedur.is/

 

Driving in Iceland

 

It can be very windy in Iceland! Pay particular attention to the wind forecasts when you are in the south west, travelling towards Vik (or Vik to Reykjavik). The wind can blow the volcanic ash and sand strong enough to damage cars. Hire car companies offer sand and ash cover for this, but it is quite expensive (we paid £17 per day the first time we hired  car). We now take out annual car excess insurance with Questar instead https://www.questor-insurance.co.uk/car-hire-insurance which is much cheaper.

Outside of Reykjavik the roads are very quiet – even on route 1 you can drive for a while before you see another car as you head north. Iceland has speed cameras which are painted grey and hard to see so pay attention to the speed limit. This is normally 90kph outside built up areas (where it is 50kph). The traffic cameras are mostly found in Route 1 north to Borgarnes and to the west on the way to Vik. Icelandic drivers like to speed and tailgate, so don’t be surprised to find cars zooming up behind you and driving close for a bit before they pull out to overtake!

The scenery can be spectacular in Iceland but avoid stopping (especially on route 1) until you can find a stopping point – there are a lot of laybys and picnic areas, especially in the scenic areas. There have a been a lot of accidents with cars getting rear-ended on the main roads. Iceland has a mix of tarmac and gravel roads, and some roads will change from tarmac to gravel – keep an eye out for the sign that indicates this and make sure you slow down before you reach the transition to gravel. You can find this and other signs on the https://safetravel.is/driving  website.

Some roads are marked ‘F’ roads. You need to check if your car is insured for driving on these roads – generally you need to have a ‘proper’ 4x4 car to go down these. The roads are gravel, may have big potholes and cross rivers. Some of these roads may still be closed as the inland mountain roads do not open until summer.

Tolls – the tunnel from Reykjavik to Borgarnes (and vice-versa) is free, but the toll booths have not been taken down. There is a tunnel between Akureyri and Godafoss/Myvatn that reduces the journey time by 15 minutes. You can pay up to a day before and day after your trip https://www.veggjald.is/en/pricing

The tunnel was built as the mountain pass is often blocked in winter – we have never used the tunnel – the pass route is quite scenic.

 

Whale Watching

It might be a challenge doing this in February - I expect the seas mostly to be too rough for the boats to go out. You may possibly manage this in Akureyri where the trip is in a more sheltered fjord.

The main locations for whale watching are Reykjavik, Akureyri and Husavik. You can also do some whale watching trips from the villages on the road north of Akureyri on the way up to Siglufjordur. The main providers are:

https://elding.is/tours/whale-watching for Reykjavik and Akureyri

https://gentlegiants.is/ for Husavik

 

If you go from Akureyri, you will sail up the fjord which is generally more sheltered and calm if you suffer any seasickness. We have found these to be very effective! https://www.boots.com/stugeron-15-tablets

When booking whale watching, I would recommend take the first opportunity that comes along. It can seem calm on shore, but if there has been a storm a day or two previous, the seas might still be too rough for the boats to go out. You also want to check for any cruise ships docking the same time you are in the area – they will normally book up all the places on whale watching boats.

Cruise ship calendar – Akureyri - https://port.is/cruise-ships-2/

Cruise ship calendar – Reykjavik - https://www.faxafloahafnir.is/cruiseships/index.php?l=en&w=csyear=2016#2016-9-27

Cruise ship calendar – Husavik - https://www.cruisetimetables.com/cruises-to-husavik-iceland.html

 

Eating and drinking

This is expensive in Iceland! A main course for two is likely to be £50+ before allowing for any drinks.  Most service stations (Oli and N1 are the two large chains) have diners attached to them and food there is reasonably priced although nearly always ‘something with chips’. Most places will also serve traditional Icelandic stew (lamb) and a vegetarian option (normally tomato).

You can save on wine and beer by going to the duty free off licence in the airport - you will go past  this on the way to baggage reclaim. Around Iceland the off-licences are called Vin Budin, are all state owned and only open for a few hours a day outside of Reykjavik. You can find opening hours and locations here: https://www.vinbudin.is/english/home/um_atvr/tabid-2338/visiting-iceland You will also find some very strong beers in these stores.

The two main supermarkets are Netto and Bonus. You will recognise Bonus stores by the big pink pig logo! They are a good place to pick up snacks and try some local Icelandic treats. We like Skyr (a strained yoghurt), kleinur (donuts) and Icelandic chocolate. Liquorice is very popular in Iceland and you will often find it mixed with chocolate – Dramur and Apollo lakkris chocolate bars a good place to start!

Safety

The safety emphasis in Iceland is on personal responsibility, so in some places you will only see signs or roped off areas to mark where you should not go rather than large barriers. There are regular accidents with tourists ignoring these signs to get to the edge of a waterfall/cliff to get a photograph. Please be especially careful at Reynisfjara beach (near Vik)  where large, unexpected waves have swept people out to sea.

Music for the trip

Here are some Icelandic musicians we like!

https://olafurarnalds.com/ - you can hear (and see) some of his songs performed at different locations in Iceland here: https://www.islandsongs.is/

http://www.ofmonstersandmen.com/

https://www.asgeirmusic.com/

https://1860.bandcamp.com/album/sagan

 

General

Iceland Webcams: https://www.livefromiceland.is/

Traffic webcams:  https://www.road.is/travel-info/web-cams/

Icelandic news and events: https://grapevine.is/ and https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/

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