So often, we head straight for the main attraction without realising there could be something amazing behind us, or just a short walk around the corner.
While on a weekend trip to Iceland in May 2018, one of the last locations on our itinerary was the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. In November 1973, a United States Navy Douglas DC-3 crash landed onto the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur (hence the name given to the plane wreck). There is some confusion as to what caused the crash, but it seems that it was either brought down by excessive icing or by the pilot switching to the wrong type of fuel. Luckily the whole crew survived, but the DC-3 was left behind and the fuselage can still be seen today as one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland. Strangely there is no sign of the wings or tail, but perhaps these were salvaged by the navy.
In past times, it was possible to drive straight up to the wreckage, but recently the route has been closed off. The only way to get there now is to take 30-40 minute walk from the car park, or alternatively, you can book a quad bike tour from a caravan located within the car park. The car park is around a 10 minute drive from the Skogfoss waterfall towards Vik, visible on the south side of the south coast road. There were no obvious signs indicating we were in the right place, but the large number of parked cars and camper vans did kind of give it away.
We arrived quite late in the day and the option of quad bike was not available, so we happily walked the 30-40 minutes, turning our battered faces away from the regular blasts of wind and hail. The track was lined on either side with bright yellow posts guiding us straight to the attraction and also ensuring we would find out way back to the car park. It is recommended to wear decent ankle supporting footwear as the pathway is not very well kept. We actually found it easier walking outside of the marked route.
Considering our weekend visit to the south coast of Iceland as a whole, it was clear that it would be very difficult, if not impossible with the time we had available, to get any of the main attractions all to ourselves. Even in May, just coming out of the winter season. With so many other blogs and vlogs showing the masses how beautiful this island is, Iceland is likely to become an increasingly popular tourist destination all year round, despite how expensive the trip can be. The Sólheimasandur plane wreck was no exception, with a steady line of tourists ahead of us and behind us, it seemed we were destined to have our images compromised.
This got me thinking as I was walking towards the wreck. What else has this location got to offer, and is there something I can capture that few other people will see while concentrating on the wreck.
The answer is a resounding yes. Taking the time to look around carefully and studying the scenery in every other direction left me breathless. With the dips and curves of the black sand, scattered rocks, insanely stunning mountains in the background and waves crashing on the shore, the alternative shooting options were endless. The black basalt sand itself was mesmerising, formed by the rapid cooling of the top layer of lava. The large and small rocks spread out throughout the landscape were like something out of a movie set on mars. I imagine that the rocks were brought along with lava streams as they flowed to the sea, or perhaps shot out from volcanic eruptions.
Its can be pretty windy in Iceland, hazardous to the lover of long exposure shooting with a tripod. The larger rocks were very useful as a windbreak. Keeping low to the ground with the tripod legs stretched out wide also helped to steady the camera. As a happy result of keeping low, I was given a completely different perspective of the surrounding landscape.
I embraced the mass of tourists passing through my shot. Rather than seeing them as a hindrance and and having to spend time Photoshoping them out, I used them as accessories to my images.
It was an hour before sunset, the sky was overcast and still we were suffering the wrath of the viking gods with regular bursts of wind and hail. My two companions decided it was time to head back, but I wasn’t finished. I thought to myself, I may only be here once, and we were leaving the next day, so I decided to stay for the sunset with the very slim chance I may get a glimmer of light through the thick clouds.
While waiting, I decided to wander further east, exploring in the hope to find another alternative shot. I was rewarded with a river, lined with what looked like the cleanest glacier stone I have ever seen. Further south, I was given a view of the sea with weird and wonderful shapes of stones and mounds in the foreground.
Heading back towards the wreck, the positive attraction provided, and for a short time, parts of the clouds split, letting the sunsetting light through to the horizon.
Just as I was about to pack up, the sunset light turned into an amazing twilight blue. A tourist in the distance decided to get up and stand on top of the wreck. He must have read my mind as he stood there waiting patiently while I set my tripod back up and took a 30 second long exposure shot.
It was time to head back to the camper van. It took me at least 40 minutes to get there, the light was fading, and all the different shapes of the rocks gave an impression that something was there and moving in the dark. Rather than freak me out, I just enjoyed the experience of walking in such a surreal setting, already wondering when I am going to return.
The Sólheimasandur plane wreck, even in heavy tourist season, is a must see destination if you are travelling to Iceland. The fuselage, with the alien like landscape surrounding, is just a wonder to see. You can climb inside it, head to the cockpit, or like my faceless model above, you can climb on top and take in the wonderful scenery in the surrounding landscape.
Mike Greig – The Highland Rambler