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Iceland: Like Driving through pages of a Geography Book




“Driving through Iceland is like driving through the pages of a geography book.”

This was a comment made by the Photographer/teacher of the Wild Photography Holiday trip I went on recently in this stunningly beautiful and isolated island between Greenland and Europe.

Niall Benvie was right. As we made our way from Reykjavik to the south beach part of Iceland, near Europe’s largest glacier Vatnajokull, it was like flipping through the pages of a geography book.

Made me wish I had paid more attention in Mr. Bryson’s 8th grade geography class instead of flirting with the cute basketball player who sat a row away from me.

Iceland landscape

The landscape of Iceland, a relatively new block of land, was formed by the volcanoes popping up at the point where the teutonic plates of North America meet the Eurasian ones. And the 20 or so active volcanoes continue to pop up and spill over.

We all remember the one in 2010 that shut down air travel all over Europe. I learned on a PBS show recently that Hekla, near where we stayed in Vik, is long over due.

This trip came about because I wanted to see the Northern Lights and improve my camera skills. I wrote more about that in an earlier blog called Iceland: Taking a Photography Tour.

Yep, I got to see the Northern Lights , but I sure saw a lot more. Here’s a smattering of the highlights.

I was intrigued with the warmer area along the coast with the verdant landscape in full fall colors. Really gorgeous. Interesting to learn that Iceland doesn’t have trees unless they have been imported.

Niall, full of fun stories, quipped, “ We always tell people that if you are lost in the forest in Iceland, stand up.” Haha. After driving around a bit, I got it. There are no forests.

I enjoyed these colors in the area around Thingvellier, a national park and site of the oldest parliament in Europe.





On another part of Iceland we saw horses grazing. The Icelandic horses are small (but don’t call them ponies….Icelanders don’t like that) and are known for having 5 gaits. They are so revered in Iceland that no breeding with other horses are allowed.

Then there’s the lava rock. The land is covered with lava. Duh. I had a chance to see it near Langjokull, a large glacier. Barren. Cold. Not an appealing spot. Later we went through an area that made me think we’d landed on the moon.


I loved the black beach near Vik with the stacks of lava rock. We took photos from several different viewpoints.

Black Beach at Vik, Iceland
Black Beach at Vik, Iceland
Black Beach at Vik, Iceland

We learned that lots of movies are shot here because of the variety of terrain. One of my guides told me that the landscape changes dramatically pretty much every two hours. I believe it.

Glacier in Iceland
Glacier between the mountains in Iceland

I also saw evidence of geysers and geothermic pools. Most interesting to me was observing where locals bake bread in the hot lava rock soil. This young lady was covering her bread for a 24 hour baking session. The small stones you see on the mounds are markers for her fellow bakers’ breads.

geothermal water pool
Waiting for a geyser to blow
Icelandic people bake bread in the hot lava soil. The stones on the top mark the spot.
Digging a hole for baking bread in the geothermal soil in Iceland

One of the most interesting spots we stopped to photograph was were the lava rock is covered with moss. Takes decades for this moss to form.


Again, interesting observation from Niall. He called this an “Upholstered Landscape.” Don’t you agree.?

Upholstered landscape. Lava rock covered with moss.
upholstered landscape

And then there was the ice. One of our overnight stays was south of Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe. Here we visited the Ice lagoon and the Ice Beach multiple times to catch the right light. Both were fascinating for tourists and photographers alike.

Ice beach
Atlantic ocean crashing over the ice on the ice beach in Iceland
Ice beach in Iceland
Special moment at the Ice Lagoon, Iceland

And then there were waterfalls….and beautiful spots to photograph reflections……and of course, the amazing Northern LIghts. Many people come just for that. In fact, our hotel had video monitors set to the Aurora predictions. We constantly monitored what the night time show might be like.


And I leave this post with one last quip by Niall,

“Will the last one to leave Iceland, please turn out the Northern Lights?”

Northern Lights, Iceland
Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Dec 15, 2015 Reply

    I find this post fascinating for your lovely photographic “tour”….I especially love the photos of the Black Beach and the Ice Beach. It’s hard to fathom the variety of topography in Iceland for someone like me who hasn’t been there. I can easily see why photographers love to visit!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Dec 16, 2015 Reply

      Thanks, Margaret. It was really marvelous. As long as you are prepared for the changes in weather it is terrific. I’m so glad I went.

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