I grew up in a town called New Plymouth under the shadow of the majestic Mount Taranaki. Hiking, adventures and exploration have been in my blood from a very young age. Coming from a small city in New Zealand, I always felt this urge to go out and explore the big wide world.
So it was a backpacking trip in 2011 that set me on my way. Many things captivated me on this journey from the landscapes, to the people, different cultures and amazing attractions. I took a camera with me and it was this trip that really kick started my passion for travel photography.
From all my travel experiences I can safely say that Iceland is the most incredible place I have ever seen. The diversity and vastness of the landscapes is mind-blowing. Travelling through this country is the most invigorating sensory overload if you love nature and the outdoors.
Once you add in the Northern Lights of Iceland – then you are just in complete awe. It’s hard to believe that places this beautiful exist on earth.
Journeys to Iceland in Autumn and Winter
I have visited Iceland on four occasions now. A couple of times in autumn and the other times in winter. These trips collectively have added up to around 12 weeks of travel. Despite having been all over the country several times, I still have so much more that I would like to explore.
It was on my most recent visit that I experienced the pure insanity of some of the best Northern Lights displays in Iceland. Thankfully I had built up the photography skills by then to capture the lights in the best way possible.
My Favourite Regions of Iceland
It’s impossible for me to choose a favourite destination in Iceland. Places that stood out to me include the Highlands and the classic Ring Road locations you see in photos. These spots are even more amazing in person.
In general, I am drawn towards the more isolated places in Iceland that tourists don’t really venture. The Westfjords and the north (for example) are places far off the popular tourist trail and make for awesome adventures.
Chasing the Northern Lights of Iceland
When you’re chasing the Northern Lights of Iceland you have to be prepared to find clear skies. You also have to be willing to drive to wherever you need to go to be able to capture them effectively. So that’s what I did.
I never stayed in one place. I was always on the move to give myself the best possible chance to see the Northern Lights. I’ve literally driven all around Iceland chasing clear skies to experience this natural wonder.
My experience has been one of absolute wonderment and awe. The Northern Lights of Iceland would have to be the greatest spectacle of mother nature anywhere in the world. Words just fail to describe the feeling when you are surrounded by a dazzling 360 degree light show.
Where to Stay in Iceland for the Northern Lights
My recommendation for where to stay when chasing the Northern Lights of Iceland is to be as mobile as possible. For me this meant hiring a campervan or 4WD and staying at the odd Airbnb around the country.
When you have this strong desire to see the lights you have to be willing to drive a few hours to find the right location. These places are where it will be clear enough to see the lights. I often just slept in the 4WD which was cool.
Finding Good Icelandic Food on the Road
The food in Iceland is delicious. Obviously, there is tonnes of fish which they are extremely fond of and so am I. The seafood was a highlight of Iceland for sure. You can also find more Western style foods like burgers and chips.
Outside of the capital Reykjavik it’s difficult to find a decent coffee. Although, from time to time you can find a random place that does a good coffee. The gas stations generally serve fairly decent hot food which is super handy.
Camera Equipment for the Northern Lights of Iceland
I use Canon camera equipment and have the 5D4 and 2 x 6D models. You absolutely want to have a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a fast lens to be able to let as much light in as possible for the Northern Lights of Iceland.
It would be wise to purchase a sturdy tripod because Iceland can get incredibly windy in some locations. You also need a long shutter speed.
Essential Tips for the Northern Lights
To see the Northern Lights in Iceland you must be prepared to travel. As mentioned before, that is the single biggest piece of advice I can give. You have to be flexible enough to move around and be willing to drive a lot.
Many people say you need a camera to see the lights but in reality you can experience them with your own eyes. You’ll be right under the magnetic pole where the activity for the Northern Lights is most attracted.
Be prepared to stay out all night if you really want to see the lights. They tend to come in waves and depending on the activity from the sun and the time – the strength of those waves is variable. So you want to have warm clothes and a lot of snacks to keep you going long into the night.
Final Thoughts on Iceland as a Destination
The most important factor when travelling to Iceland is attitude. Did you come all this way just to stay in your accommodation? Did you come to stay warm and cozy or did you come to experience something new and something that you might never get the opportunity to see again?
Those are the questions I constantly ask myself when I am out traveling, either exploring or on photography trips. It’s particularly an important set of questions to ask yourself when chasing the Northern Lights of Iceland.
Be present, plan for tomorrow but live in the moment.