The midnight sun on the glacier lagoon
The midnight sun on the glacier lagoon
In recent weeks, Iceland has seen a small amount of tourists returning to the country. This is largely due to the success of comprehensive border testing. The few who chose to take the risk of traveling this year were faced with empty landscapes and pristine terrain. A radical change from the normally busy summer months. So if you decide that Iceland is a good travel destination, we are ready and waiting. But please do your research and assess the risks before booking your flights. Iceland might be safe, but keep the journey in mind to get here. And the ramifications when you get home.
In the meantime, I thought I would share a happy story about one of my favorite experiences in Iceland – watching the midnight sun on the glacial lagoon. I hope this story inspires you to travel to Iceland in the future. Maybe not now, but soon.
What is the midnight sun?
For those who are not aware, Iceland is located right at the edge of the Arctic Circle. This means that the seasons change drastically. Not just temperature and weather, but also daylight hours. In winter, the darkest days allow barely 4 hours of sun. The darkness looks bad, but it gives you ideal northern lights conditions.
Summer, on the other hand, is the opposite. The sun is still setting, despite what you may have heard. However, because the sun only dips below the horizon for a few short hours, the sky remains bright and blue, even at 3 a.m. So, depending on which part of the summer you come to Iceland, the sun may still be in the sky at midnight. Hence the name of the article. And even better than that, for about 2 weeks before and after the summer solstice (June 21), the sun sets so quickly that it is easy to experience a sunset and sunrise in a very short time . On June 21, it can be a matter of minutes. The story below from a few years ago will hopefully sum up this magical moment.
The night of June 21
It is a bit questionable to say that it was at night when we arrived at the glacial lagoon that day. But it was certainly not dark. We had been driving in the hot summer air all day from Reykjavik. It was the longest day of the year, June 21. The weather had not been kind with us the previous summer, so I hadn’t known the midnight sun for 2 years at this stage and I was looking forward to adding this memory to my stay in Iceland.
Fatigue gives way to excitement and wonder under the midnight sun.
It was my only challenge for the day; to watch the sun go down (and then rise) in the glacial lagoon filled with icebergs. One objective, I would come to learn, which would be shared by thousands of migrating birds and sleeping seals that inhabit the glacial lagoon.
The journey to the glacial lagoon
We took our time that day to take in the sights by traveling the entire south coast of Iceland, making sure to try the local specialties along the way. The ever-present Icelandic hot dog (lamb-based) is an affordable and tasty meal if you’re on the go. It was going to be a long night, so refueling was essential. I think I had 4 that day. We also stocked the now famous Icelandic Skyr – a yogurt-like substance that is high in protein and very filling. Most Icelanders eat them daily. I was no exception. They come in many different flavors but my favorite by far is licorice. Mainly because this flavor is inexplicably always the one that stays on the shelf.
There was a group of us during the trip. About 10 people. A mix of beginners in Iceland and experienced guides. I had personally seen the bright blue icebergs the size of a building floating in the glacial lagoon several times before. But seeing them in the middle of the night as the low sun entered the ice horizontally and temporarily lit it was something I hadn’t realized yet. Because some of the group members were tourists, I wanted to show some of the other famous sites along the way. We sneaked behind the 200-foot Seljalandsfoss waterfall, meandered along the endless black sand beach of Reynisfjara and looked into the 300-foot Fjaðrárgljúfur gorge. But it’s the glacial lagoon that everyone has really come to see. This region of Iceland is dominated by dozens of fast-flowing glaciers and mighty volcanoes. However, since the climate has changed over the past 100 years, the glaciers have retreated (melted), leaving behind huge lagoons where icebergs calve off the now distant glacier. The most famous of them is the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.
The glacial lagoon is different every time I go there. Sometimes the lagoon is filled with massive blue icebergs that collide. Other times, there are barely a few pieces of ice you can see. It all depends on the tide, the rate of melting of the icebergs and the amount of breaking in the last few days. Fortunately, it was one of the best days I have ever had. The numerous icebergs were so close to the edge of the lagoon that you could practically touch them. And the ice was still so clear and blue that it would be easy to see the sun shining through the ice once it was low enough in the sky.
The first timers were hypnotized. And to be honest, I still am. We spent a lot of time wandering around and looking at the natural beauty in front of us.
As the clock was ticking around midnight, we walked along the lagoon shore jumping over rocks. The lagoon is about 5 miles long, so there was a lot of shore to examine. It wasn’t until midnight approaching that we realized that the local seals were following us curiously all the time. They are frightened by sudden movements and waves, so it is important to share the landscape with them rather than trying to interact.
As the sun moved across the sky, it affected the ice in such a magical way.
Shortly after, we would also be joined by the diving Arctic tern. A small white bird that has the longest migratory pattern in the world. They come to Iceland every summer to lay eggs before making the long journey back to Antarctica. You have to be careful where you enter this time of year or the protective mothers will rush to protest if you get too close to their nests. If you stick to the shore, they become companions rather than enemies.
The icebergs in the foreground moved back and forth with the tide. As the sun started to descend towards the horizon, we found a good perch to rest on. With my hot chocolate hidden in one hand and my camera in the other, I relaxed a little dazed. Hypnotic is a good word to describe the effect that the landscape had on us at this time.
The sun sets
Midnight had finally arrived and the light show we were treated to was well worth the wait. As the sun moved across the sky, it affected the ice in such a magical way. The colors of the ice quickly changed from blue to yellow to pink when the sky became red. The weak sunlight bounced between the shards of ice and refracted in all directions. We had to protect our eyes at times when the reflection of the sun plunged right into our eyes. Putting on sunglasses at midnight was a fun time for all of us. The rhythmic movement of the icebergs meant that no two seconds were the same. I was personally overwhelmed to see the whole spectrum of visible light flickering in front of me in a fantastic movement. I had to take a deep breath just to calm down. Before knowing it, the show was over. The sun had fallen below the mountains in the distance. Normally, that would be it. Darkness to follow. But not in Iceland! In fact, we would not see the stars for at least another 6 weeks.
The sun is rising
Instead, the sun did not stay long below the horizon. As the sun reappeared, we calmed down and looked forward to the second part of the evenings. This second show was similar to the first, but from a different angle. But it was no less special. The fact that we saw the sun set shortly before made the sunrise even more special. The group enthusiastically compared the light changes to the sunset we had just experienced. I couldn’t help but remain silent, with a satisfied smile on my face. We sat there for hours, enjoying the company and the view equally.
Very few of us slept that night. Not only because our tent was easily penetrated by the perpetual sun. There was something deeply energizing about seeing the midnight sun. It seems that tiredness goes behind with excitement and wonder under the midnight sun. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Coming home the next day was strange. Most of the people in the group spent hours sifting through their countless photos. On the other hand, I barely used my camera knowing that no photo could ever do it justice.
Since then, I cannot say that I have succeeded in reproducing this experience. Part of me doesn’t want to. Another part of me wants to share it with the world. Hopefully one day, when my memory of that night fades, the conditions will be perfect and I will be in the right place again at the right time. For now, I have the rest of Iceland to explore.
See you soon!
Ryan Connolly is co-founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specializes in private travel, taking you to some of Iceland’s hidden gems with a passionate and experienced guide.
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