Iceland is number one on most landscape photographers’ bucket lists and for good reason: it offers a densely packed blend of picturesque natural wonders that are unlike anywhere else on Earth.
Ceaseless volcanic activity has shaped the island’s countless waterfalls, glaciers and coastal fjords, which are surrounded by an alien-like base of black ash and rock.
Making a stopover in between Europe and North America was cheaper than expected, so a friend and I planned a whirlwind three-day trip on the Number 1 Highway, a mostly coastal ring road that weaves its way around the entire country.
The trip proved to be far too short. We could have spent at least another week exploring and photographing everything we missed!
We started our road trip late afternoon in Reykjavik, but the Arctic summer gave us ample time to make the two-hour drive to Gullfoss Waterfall before sunset.
Attempting to rate Iceland’s best waterfalls is impossible – they are all truly unique in their shape, size, volume and even colour.
Gullfoss’ main flow was through an enormous plateau to the left of the above photo, but I loved this angle and how it showed off the downstream waters carving cliffs through exposed volcanic rock.
It was just a 10-minute drive down the road to the famous Great Geysir, but we would have been extremely lucky to catch one of its thrice-daily eruptions of 60-plus metres.
Fortunately, its little brother Stokkur (pictured above) was right next door and was much more lively, erupting to heights of up to 30 metres every few minutes.
We had our fingers crossed for sun the next morning and Iceland delivered beautifully, giving us a perfect day of driving and exploring along the country's south coast.
Considered the most commonly visited area for tourists, the summer crowds were surprisingly still very light compared to mainland Europe and we were treated to a fantastic view of Seljalandsfoss.
A 20-minute drive down the road delivered even more impressive sights at Skogafoss, where sunshine created a magic rainbow show spanning across the 60-metre cliffs of the falls.
While we opted for B&Bs on the trip, more adventurous travellers could be seen admiring the view from their tents at a campsite just a few hundred metres downstream.
From Skogafoss, we continued east, where the ring road wound through a stunning mix of fjords, volcanic mountains and glaciers.
We were stopping every 20 minutes to take photos like the one above at Jokulsarlon, an icy lagoon where the Breidamerkurjokull glacier meets the coastline in dramatic fashion.
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The further east we travelled, the more the landscape became other-worldly, with black ash-stained fjords rising straight up from the shore.
The road gained some serious elevation in the area, which gave me the opportunity to shoot an almost aerial view of a flock of birds taking a swim by monochrome beach sands near Djupivogur.
After a well-earned sleep, we rose to more typical Icelandic weather and explored the bleak and beautiful volcanic north-east corner of the island.
It really did feel like we were on another planet as we drove through the starkly contrasting black, green and red landscape formed from the region's constant volcanic activity.
We were excited to finally reach Dettifoss, a waterfall that features as part of an early-Earth landscape in sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus.
What I’d originally thought was impressive CGI turned out to be Europe’s largest waterfall by volume, and an unbelievably powerful sight to behold in person.
The falls were completely colourless from the ash, and created so much evaporation that a light drizzle came at us from above at all times. Good thing we remembered our rain jackets.
Our last stop in Iceland’s northern volcanic region was at Namafjall, a geothermic hotbed of bubbling ash-grey mudpools surrounded by earthy orange peaks.
Dark storm clouds framed another mystical scene perfectly, and we spent our last full afternoon exploring the area’s lakes, caves and hot springs.
There wasn’t much time to stop on our last day as we headed back towards Reykjavik, so we made the most of some more sunny weather to take in views of Hvitserkur Rock, a 15-metre-high basalt stack on the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes Peninsula.
The surrounding black ash beach was a great place to spy packs of seals that gathered in great numbers on the sand banks offshore.
Thanks, Iceland, for the best stopover I’ve ever had. The only problem is that we left wanting to see so much more – I can sense a northern lights trip coming up this winter.