Wild Camping at Jokulsarlon

imageJokulsarlon glacial lagoon is one of my favourite memories of Iceland from my first trip there in 2012. The mind bogglingly enormous Vatnajökull glacier stretches in a 180 arc in front of you and it is responsible for depositing the huge icebergs into the lagoon for your viewing pleasure. Photographs can’t reproduce the same brilliant blues that the glacier creates in the ice.

If Mother Nature was an artist, then Jokulsarlon would be her.. chaotic attempt to slap a few random shards of ice at a canvas, see what stuck, and then claim the ‘work of art’ (that is indifferent to work produced by a child barely of walking age) is ‘contemporary art’ and then sell it for an obscene amount of money to a bunch of stupidly rich wank art collectors who just want to show their friends that they have something that no one else has. You thought I was going to say masterpiece didn’t you.

Getting there

In an incredible deviation from normal backpacking practice, I took the bus. How unusual, it was just an outrageously adventurous day for me. Actually, I did a little more than that. I scammed a free bus ride!

The bus driver had overcharged me to get to Skaftafell, so I simply asked if today’s bus driver could charge me less and make things right. Maybe he misunderstood what I was asking, but he just told me to get on for free. Saved 2,500ISK and like hell I was going to ask more questions. Ohh yeahh!

Glacial Art Wank

So this is the art I was talking about. Some how this part of the ice melt got cut off, producing what looks like a lagoon with one 30m wide outlet to the ocean. What that means is that all the icebergs trying to get to the ocean choke themselves at the outlet producing a weird, but wonderful array of shapes and colours at the exit. Every one of them wanting to go, but unable to go. A glacial traffic jam that’s marvellous to see on a blue bird day.


Nature's contemporary artwork

When we were last here four years ago, I’d say that there were at least a third as many tourists and zero permanent infrastructure. Now there’s a shop, a cafe of course, and a toilet with a line about thirty women long next to an empty men’s bathroom.

Boat loads of tourists on amphibious vehicles charge out into the bay to get a close look at the icebergs. Little dingies with outboard motors buzz about for when the amphibians break down. Again, the atmosphere had deteriorated. What once wasn’t even a point in Google maps when we were searching for it, is now a place invaded by the 2 million tourists coming to Iceland this year. Iceland only has 350,000 inhabitants by the way. It’s just mental!

Bird life is more abundant than I remember though. Perhaps it’s that I was here a month earlier this time, but I don’t remember all these geese. Just the artic terns and gulls circling the icebergs.


Geese call Jokulsarlon home

I wandered up the east side of the lagoon looking for some inspiration and a potential camp. It was nice up that way, until I saw all the used toilet paper strewn about the place. For fucks suck people, at least dig a hole and bury it.

I felt like I was walking into the nesting area of all the geese so I headed back to the bridge again where the ice was centred.

I say nature’s art here is chaotic not to make a joke, but because it is. It can be hard to pick out distinct subjects and take interesting photos when all the ice is concentrated together so tightly.

One thing is for sure, and that is that the colours and textures of the ice are so beautiful and varied. Deep and brilliant blues, all the way to whites and transparent.

Or the ice can be layered in all of these at once, whether created by the glacier, the melting process or influences of the sea.


The brilliant blues produced by the glacier

Another thing was different on this day. The ocean seemed to be flowing into the lagoon with the tide and further impeding the ice’s escape. No ice was out in the ocean unlike last time, but there were these cute little guys.

Ridiculously cute baby ducklings

I walked the west side of the lagoon looking for a place to stay and to get closer to this bizarre sculpture of ice. I have no idea which way is up or how it formed, but it’s awesome!

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I just love this axe shaped iceberg

I found a place to camp with shelter from the ocean and miles from the tourists, but there was next to no top soil. I think my pegs were only secured by moss. It was so still that night, so I went with it.

Clouds rolled in, but I maintained faith that there would be a break for sunrise and there was. Just barely and at 4am. There are advantages to camping on the spot you want to photograph – i.e. no walking at freezing o’clock in the morning.


It was worth camping to see sunrise

When I left camp there was no used toilet paper left around and I patted all the moss back down as best I could. Minimal impact I thought.

The tides must have headed back out because the water of the lagoon was being sucked out to the ocean like it was powered by a Dyson on roids. The flood gates had opened and huge icebergs were being torn apart and out to sea. They crashed into each other, cracked and crumbled with tremendous sound. Actually, now I remember, I was hearing that all night too.


Nothing like a bit of drama

This place is just incredible. I love it!


Just incredible. What can I say?

Last time though, the weather was phenomenal. We basked in the sun as the light refracted about the ice. I can’t help, but add some of the pictures.


The Vatnajökull glacier is just epic

The light was just incredible on a sunny day. A shame I wasn’t so lucky this time, but I’m glad the weather was clear on the trek and at places I hadn’t seen before rather than the other way around.

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More incredible colours and light

Getting out

As I packed my bag to go hitchhike, a guy in a blue jacket looked straight at me and said hi like he knew me. Stunned and having no idea who this guy was I was scratching my head, but apparently he’d seen me at Skaftafell.

I ended up sitting down and having a good chat with him and his girlfriend. Austrians and an Australian, people who’s nationalities had been jumbled numerous times before when collecting marketing information.

They were funny and very upbeat people. So hilarious that I skipped my bus to continue the good times. They hitchhiked everywhere far more successfully than me and even told me about the ultimate travel stinge. An Eastern European guy who hitchhiked, free camped and dumpster dived spending almost nothing in Iceland. The master. My sensei. I must learn from him!

We continued the conversation whilst hitchhiking across the road. I gave up when it was clear the intersection was not a good place to wait and I realised 95% of the traffic was going to Reykjavik. I took the bus, but the Austrians’ smiley energetic faces had no issues getting a lift before I’d even passed on the bus.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with some of the shenanigans from last time.

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Glacier shenanigans!

So I boarded a bus bound for Höfn trying to make my way to East Iceland or the closest place in Iceland to being confused with Australia and that is Austurland

To see the rest of my July 2016 trip to Iceland click here.


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