Iceland’s main natural wonders are the tourist stars: mineral baths, volcanoes, glaciers, and waterfalls, but Icelandic skies are another thing, holding the Midnight Sun in summer, and in winter, revealing the Aurora Borealis. This year, while staying at Guesthouse Gerdi positioned between Höfn and Skaftafell, I was also treated to an almost full solar eclipse. And while these experiences are empheral, elusive, and often based on luck, experiencing them adds to magic of a stay in Iceland significantly.
Green Aurora and stars, shot on the coast between Skaftafell and Höfn
Visiting multiple areas of the country meant diversified chances of seeing the lights. Though my first opportunity to glimpse and attempt to capture the Aurora was somewhat unplanned. I had been walking along the city’s coast towards Grotta, a lighthouse in the small town of Seltjarnanes which sits just outside Reykjavik. The sun had just set, so I thought I had at least an hour to walk there before the Northern Lights would show up. As luck would have it, a green Aurora became visible moments later, and it was still so light outside, I was able snap it with an iPhone (typically you need an SLR and a wide angle lens).
My night photography skills are a work in progress, but I did have a large size Goralliapod, a trusty Canon Rebel T3i, and a 28 mm f/1.8 wide angle lens, and a remote, so I could at least attempt some amateur photography of the lights. In hindsight I would have brought a taller, sturdier tripod, which would give me an easier opportunity to focus my lens and potentially frame the image. I brought three fully charged batteries, which on the cold nights waiting for the Aurora was critical, and usually all three were dead by the end.
The March 2015 visited afforded another opportunity to see something special in the sky: a partial solar eclipse that would be nearly full (it was only total for visitors to the Faroe Islands at that time). Again, out between Höfn and Skaftafell, we were very lucky to have clear skies on the morning of the eclipse. I woke up a bit early, trying to catch the somewhat soft, waning light a few hours ahead of the eclipse.
A sunrise that looks more like a sunset, a few hours ahead of the partial solar eclipse
Travelers prep their equipment to capture the moment.
A few people from the guesthouse had the glasses that protected people looking at the sun, and the tourists and farm/guesthouse owners alike shared in them, drinking coffee and chatting quietly and all looking forward to a special moment together. From our position, the sun never appeared to the naked eye to be gradually being blocked by the moon, but with the glasses (or through the camera lens with a heavy filter) we watched the moon make its way over, saw the whole sky seemingly darken though keeping a bright feel, and felt the chill as the temperature dropped significantly in a matter of minutes.
Two takes of eclipse moment: one with iPhone, one with filter on DSLR
All in all, Iceland’s numerous appealing terrestrial attractions are complemented by skyward sightings of the Aurora Borealis, and on this particular trip, the solar eclipse. While I wouldn’t advise counting on seeing the elusive lights, being that their appearance rests on a number of factors clicking into place, plus luck, you can certainly increase your chances by staying longer on a winter trip. And if you are able to see them, it does add to the magic of a trip, and will be a moment you do not forget.
One last shot of the Aurora Borealis, this from just outside Reykjavik.