We have been living with Charlie in Iceland for almost a year now, but I have seen the real, decent aurora in fact.... only once. And that was in September. Meanwhile winter, the northern lights season, is slowly coming to an end... Living in the capital, heavily light polluting the sky, lack of a car (Charlie sold Toyota Yaris which appeared in the previous entries) and working on night shifts unfortunately do not really help to witness the "lights of the north".
When the forecast finally indicated a high solar activity, we put our boots on and were preparing to take a bus. We planned to get to a popular place among locals from Reykjavík to observe the lights - a lighthouse. This place is so located that the glow of light from the city does not affect the brightness of the sky too much. Despite this, we were leaving with a bit reluctantly, as the vision of crowds and a dozen or so cars did not augur well for a pleasant observation of the sky. And then, opening the door, a friend of ours, Bartek, appears in front of our eyes.
– Fancy for the northern lights?
So we drove with Bartek, who had the luxury of a having car. Just a few kilometers after Reykjavík, shy, pale streaks in the sky, as if pretending to be clouds, started to resemble green, dancing flames. When we drove off the main road a real show started.
Finally, we could feel the fulfillment. A high intensity aurora with a large surface area and stunning movements. A dozen or so minutes in the cold and frozen fingers were all worth it. However, Aurora borealis is very addictive, and when the solar activity rate indicated a good chance for another show, we couldn't refrain from trying it one more time. This time in a slightly more unusual environment...
Both Charlie and I, when we visited the north of Iceland independently, missed one spectacular place. Ásbyrgi Canyon. The canyon, allegedly created by Odin's horse hoof, is in my opinion the biggest treasure in northern Iceland, neglected by the majority of tourists who come to the area. The canyon is exceptional, since inside it there is a very rare for Iceland birch forest and a lovely lake. We agreed that we must see it before leaving the country. The prospect of seeing there the northern lights which were caused by a magnetic storm of that week was very tempting. Quite spontaneously, we decided to rent a car and head north, in spite of the announced cloud cover, which could have thwarted our sight.
Source: Google Maps
The road was long and we stopped only for a moment in Akureyri for coffee and Icelandic hot-dog. We reached Ásbyrgi when it was getting dark, so the canyon was so far hidden to our eyes. The mysterious black circle covering the stars around the horizon revealed the enormity of this place. As well as the intense echo. We were there alone, it was evening, the sky was clear for the time being, so we excitedly started to prepare for the observation of the lights. So... The aurora appeared, but it was much less intense than from our previous observation with Bartek. The lights were much less sharp, probably through dispersed clouds, nearly motionless and actually white when you looked at them with the naked eye. The strip of aurora ran across the sky, but it does not impress that much when the aurora is pale and blurred. However, the camera was able to pull a little more out of the light, so having not the feeling that we were losing anything, I just started to take pictures in anticipation of a little more intense experience.
Unfortunately, it never came. The cloudiness increased, the activity weakened so we started to get ready to sleep with a bit of let down. The weather ruined our plans and the forecast was right. We put down the seats in the car, warmed it up a little and jumped into the sleeping bags. Every few hours we woke up out of the cold, looking out of the window and hoping for a pleasant surprise. Once I wanted to turn on the engine to warm up the car... I failed miserably. The battery was discharged, applause! Somehow we kept up to the morning, grabbed the umpber cables and set off on the road towards civilization, waving them along the road, hoping that the drivers would understand what kind of help we needed. Luckily, after 5 minutes, a car, driven by... policemen, was heading towards us. The officers quickly and efficiently helped us to start the engine, so we got the rescue really fast. But, but we still have a canyon to visit!
In addition to seeing Ásbyrgi from the inside, it is worth following the trail along the cliffs. Only from above you can see how high these cliffs are and how spacious the place is. Quite a simple trail gave us a hard time, thanks to a thick snow coverage – we felt our calves and thighs until the end of the day.
Being in the area we made a quick detour on the Melrakkaslétta peninsula. Described as "the most forgotten place in Iceland" it is... terribly empty. In fact, there is nothing there. A bit of interesting rock formations by the sea, and besides it's the wilderness, birds, empty space and two almost extinct towns. It resembles a kind of surreal Icelandic, post-apocalyptic universe.
Perhaps that's why someone decided to enrich this place and build here... The Arctic Henge, right next to the village of Raufarhöfn. Yes, this is the northern version of Stonehenge. It's not finished yet and eventually prisms are to appear on the stones, splitting the light at certain times of the day. Well, maybe it's better for us that we arrived before these prisms were installed?
We planned to stay one more night, in the hope of seeing more northern lights, but the forecast was still not very prospective. All night we were heading back to the capital. Admittedly, the lights accompanied us almost all the way, sometimes covering almost the whole sky, but the cloudiness was still significantly reducing their intensity and they were almost completely faded. At least we saw the desired Ásbyrgi, right! And those damn photos are not that bad. Hopefully we'll have another chance! I leave you with a panorama of Akureyri at night.