I remember seeing a doco as a kid on the Aurora Borealis. I was mesmerised by the dancing rainbow of colours moving across the sky.
‘One day I’ll go there, I’ll see the Northern Lights,’ I told myself.
Twenty-five years later I arrive in Iceland in the dark of night. On the ride from the airport I look out the window searching the skies but they are dark, there’s no moon, not even a star and no Aurora Borealis.
In the morning I find my window framing a wide bay of black water topped with white-caps whipped up by a wild wind, encircled by snow-capped mountains, bright against a pale winter sky.
I walk out onto lava fields and breathe in, filling my lungs with cold, fresh air as I gaze at the stark, flat panorama; a bleak yet stunning foreground to the spectacular, white mountains. The wind whips at my hair and plays with the thick grey clouds overhead.
I wander across the lava and to my delight it is not the barren landscape I was expecting. The rolling hills, grey-black, rippled and cracked are full of life. Grasses and minute plants grow everywhere. Tiny flowers, smaller than my fingertip bloom and the soft, carpet-like moss is thick and warm against the chill wind, a perfect place for trolls to nap.
There is a freedom here, this place is a real adventure. But there is also a freedom to believe and I embrace their old stories with childlike glee.
I see elves small and fairy-like peeping from behind flowers and peering between blades of thick, yellow grass. I imagine Vikings arriving on black rocky shores and dusky, pink sunsets with silhouetted trolls lumbering across the horizon.
I take the long drive to the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. Here icebergs broken off from the glaciers float down the river, slow and silent, like ghost ships sailing out to sea.
Ice is scattered over black, sand beaches. Chunks as big as cars emanating a cloudy aqua are battered by the rough grey surf. Smaller pieces, clear and glassy, glitter like diamonds in the soft afternoon light.
I could spend hours here, days even. Each piece of ice is different, like the snowflakes that fell a thousand years before to form them, unique and individual like precious gems.
I lay on the ground, snapping away with my camera at a small slab of ice. I get in close and can see every crack and bubble. I hear footsteps crunching on sand behind me and stand up to find a man looking quizzically at me. I give him a small, awkward smile and walk off.
When I turn back he is on the ground, photographing my piece of ice. I shake my head with a smile and continue to click away; some birds, a seal, the mountains. I wonder if he sees what I see or if he’s wondering what the hell I was doing down there.
I join a tour for a glacier walk. I strap metal spikes to my boots, don my helmet and grasp my ice-pick with a grin. Impressed with my outfit I step onto the ice, listening to the crunch of each step as my spikes dig in. We walk across frozen waves, step over deep clefts and tap away at the crusty white surface to reveal the blue glow of the glacier beneath.
Here the elves are different, they are thin and willowy with long silver hair. They are 100 metres tall and stroll gracefully through the mountains and across the glaciers.
The nights come early and we are driving in darkness as we head back to Reykjavik. I’m with friends I met only days ago, but we talk and laugh as if we’ve known each other for years.
Suddenly one of them starts yelling.
‘Stop! Stop the car!’ he says as he points excitedly out the window.
We pull up on a little side road and pour out onto the gravel. A bitter cold wind belts us and my arm is jerked hard as the car door is almost pulled from my grasp. The whole car shakes from the wind’s ferocity and the temperature is below zero, but we barely notice as we shout and jump and crane our necks at the sky.
In the sky to the north we see a cloudy green stripe. It spreads and moves, becomes more solid, grows brighter and the colours shift from deep greens to bright yellows. Soon it reaches the southern horizon too and there are parts that have a powdery look like they’re falling, giving a depth to the sky that makes it looks so amazingly large. The smile I have is so big my face hurts and my lungs feel ready to burst as I watch.
About the author: Kelly Benson lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is a keen traveller both at home and abroad. She has spent time in over 30 countries with her most recent trip including a month in Iceland and a month in Sri Lanka.
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Inspired to go to Iceland now? WSGT found these great travel books and travel accessories to help you along the way!
Lonely Planet Iceland: The worlds #1 travel book for Iceland
Canon Powershot Camera: The world’s leading brand and a great introductory camera perfect for beginner photographers.
Travel stories for inspiration: A great book comprised of stories of travel