Unable to feel my, now frozen, fingers thanks to the minus temperature, I take a break from playing hide and seek with the seals and head inside the welcoming café to defrost. Sitting at the large, unencumbered window the turquoise tinted iceberg flashes back at me as the low-rising, winter-day sun reflects on the dark blue indigo waters.
I am starring at one of Iceland’s natural wonders, Jökulsárlón ice lagoon, amazed at what I am seeing. Never before have I seen, let alone stood on such a large expanse of ice.
The outer edge has begun to thaw leaving only shingle behind for people to wander on and it makes me question what we are doing to such a wonderful sight. If we were not invading, would this habitat be melting at such a frightening rate? In the summer months, boats fight for space on the bitterly cold waters taking day trippers around the glacier boundaries to get a closer look at the seals in their natural environment.
Today, thankfully the boats are not running but that does not mean that the experience has been any less rewarding. In fact, for the first hour we are the only humans to wander the shoreline giving us full exposure to the harsh elements and the wildlife in unbroken peace. Never before have I been in touching distance of such playful seals, so willing to utilise me as their plaything for the afternoon. I am sure they can see me flap, trying to get the right setting on my camera; using that as their cue they swiftly glide through the water towards the lagoon edge. Astounded by their boldness I too move closer towards the edge hoping to gain that all-important photo; that one image that will demonstrate to others just how close I have come to these graceful creatures. It would seem however, that these elegant mammals have different plans and as soon as the black cover of my camera lifts up to eye level they are off, ducking under the deep, dark waters once again, dodging the gaze of my lens.
Looking out over the glacier, as far as my eyes can see, seals grace the ice. This is no zoo experience, this is an opportunity to see these wonderful animals in their own habitat and I suppose I can almost forgive people for wanting to get close to them – but only almost. Sometimes, we all want our space, and surely animals feel the same way as well. When they want to attract your attention they are vocal, splashing and brazen in their approach. Often in small pods of three or four they will command your attention, drawing you in and making you aware of their close proximity to you. Therefore, when they move away should we not, in the same way that we do for friends, respect them and give them their space?
In the peace of the fading sunshine I move to higher ground and sit up on the banks of the lagoon looking out to sea. Seabirds move in with the tide, hoping to catch dinner perhaps and photographers start to emerge from their cars in a hope that they will gain the perfect sunset picture over the ice. No-one speaks, frightened of breaking the calm mood that comes with the orange haze that is beginning to descend and whilst the birds are happy to stay, the one-time friendly seals have decided that the overwhelming increase in foot traffic is too much for one day and they head off to quieter expanses of ice.
It may be the coldest way to see the sunset but, if you could find a quiet spot, it could also be one of the most beautiful.
In our opinion, if you are travelling to the southeast end of Iceland, Vatnajökull National Park, the surrounding landscape, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic and geothermal activity, is well worth a few days of your time. It is so large, covering 14% of Iceland that Jökulsárlón ice lagoon, in comparison, is only a pinhead of what you could experience in this area.
After a serene afternoon, in what felt like iceberg wilderness, it was time to return to the ring-road and head back towards Þingvellir National Park. Normally, after such a peacefully rewarding afternoon, you are left feeling downtrodden and disheartened about the return journey – this however, is not the case in Iceland. The varying, striking landscape left us feeling invigorated and hopeful for what we might encounter next.
Have you visited Jökulsárlón ice lagoon? We would love to hear your thoughts?