Archive for August, 2011

Land of the Ice Bears

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Polar Bear in Svalbard, Norway

One of the top animals on our list to photograph has been the “Ice Bear” or Polar Bear.  These elusive creatures are getting harder and harder to spot in the wild but we knew we could count on Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer and their crew to find them for us.  We travelled on the National Geographic Explorer to Antarctica last year and had an amazing time.  The ship, crew, staff, Nat Geo photo instructors and Antarcitca itself was one of the most amazing places we’ve been to.  Many of the passengers on the ship with us in the Antarctic raved about the trip to the Arctic.  Since seeing Polar Bears was on our wish list we booked the trip immediately after returning home.

Polar Bear in field of arctic flowers

Lindblad calls the trip to the arctic the Land of the Ice Bears.  They market the trip as an 11 day tour of the Svalbard archipelago.  In actuality, you only have 5 days on the ship searching for the elusive Ice Bear.  All of the other days are travel days or embarking/disembarking from the ship.  The trip was still amazing even though it was shorter than we expected.  An extra 2 days at sea exploring the archipelago would have been perfect.  It would have allowed extra time to search for Polar Bears, Walruses, Whales and most importantly not feel rushed when trying to get that perfect shot.  Overall, the photography experience in Antarctica was far superior and I came away from that trip with much better pictures than this one.  Even though it was only a 5 day trip they packed as much into every moment as they could and I did end up with a few good photos.

Over the next week or so I’ll do a few posts that describes what we did and what we saw each day we were on the ship.  Similar to what I did for our expedition to Antarctica.

The photo instructors onboard the ship put together a video slideshow of the passengers best photos from the trip.  Miki and I submitted some of our favorites.  We tried to submit pictures that other people wouldn’t have posted so we tried to get a little creative and kept the wildlife pictures to a minimum since everyone else had lots of them.

Some of my favorites.

- Polar Bears above.

Arctic Landscape

The Ice of the Arctic

Waterfall flowing off the Austfonna ice cap. Largest ice cap by area in Europe.

Kayaking in the Arcitc. (Gopro camera attached to end of kayak paddle)

and here are a few of Miki’s favorites…

(more…)

Iceland – video slideshow, gallery and summary

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Index of posts about our trip to Iceland…

Iceland – land of trolls, elves and hidden people

Iceland tours with GoEcco

Where did all the Puffins go???

Iceland’s Ice

Scuba Diving the Silfra Rift in Iceland

 

… and don’t forget to check out the gallery of the best pics from Iceland.  You can download and/or purchase prints of any of the pics you’ve seen at the link below.

http://www.busscher.us/holiday/iceland/

Iceland’s Ice

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Vatnajökull Glacier Lagoon

You would be surprised.  Iceland doesn’t have that much ice.  The landscape is green in many places as you can see from the pictures in my previous posts.  However, if you come all the way to Iceland you need to find some ice so off we went to the Vatnajökull Glacier… and look… we found ice :)

Vatnajökull Glacier Lagoon in Jokulsarlon

The Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest glacier by volume in Europe.  The second largest is in Svalbard, Norway which we also visited later during our Europe trip (more on that later).

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

The glacier lagoon in Jökulsárlón is a great photo destination.  Huge pieces of the glacier calve off into this lagoon before they float out to sea and eventually melt.  You can even take a cruise out into the lagoon to get up close and personal with the icebergs.  The bergs weren’t as big as what we saw in Antarctica but still impressive none the less.

Climbing on the Vatnajökull Glacier

Our next stop on the ice tour in Iceland was to do some ice climbing on the Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park with Icelandic Mountain Guides.  We were booked to do ice climbing but the eruption of Grimsvotn volcano in May, 2011 rained ash down all over the glacier.  The ash made the glacier very dirty and would have gunked up the climbing gear possibly ruining it or at worst making it unsafe.  So, we did the Full Day Adventure Tour instead which turned out to be a great tour.

I was initially pretty disappointed that we couldn’t go ice climbing and that the glacier was dirty.  I really like taking photos of the vivid blue colors glaciers have.  However, the dirty glacier had an interesting look and I got some unique pictures.

A Dirty Vatnajökull Glacier

While we didn’t get to go ice climbing we did get to use crampons and ice axes on our glacier hike which at least made us look cool.

All geared up on the Vatnajökull glacier

We also had a brief chance to rappel down into a in moulin.  This may not look dangerous but moulins are holes that go straight down to the bottom of the glacier.  The depth of the glacier around here is over 400 meters.  Good thing the guides at Icelandic Mountain Guides know what they are doing because that is my wife on the end of the rope.

Rappelling into a Moulin

After a hard day of seeking out ice in Iceland a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon was a welcomed treat.  It’s a little pricey to get in but it’s one of things you must do if you visit iceland.  Don’t forget to smear the silica mud on your face.  It’s suppose to have healing powers for various skin ailments… even if you don’t have a skin problem it still feels pretty good and looks even funnier.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

Rule #1 of portrait photography. Don't use a wide angle lens up close to your subject. Sorry Miki :)

Lastly, need to give a shout out to our trusty little Toyota Yaris that got us around in our search for Icelandic ice in style… well… maybe not in style but at least it got us around.

Toyota Yaris in Iceland

 

Scuba Diving the Silfra Rift in Iceland

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Diving in between the mid atlantic ridge

Scuba diving in Iceland is very unique place to scuba dive.  One of the best dive sights and by far the most famous is Silfra.  Silfra is formed by the north american plate and the eurasian place slowing drifting apart a couple of centimeters per year.  As the plates have drifted apart it has filled with water feed from the nearby Langjökull glacier.  Because it is fed by glacier water it is very, very cold.  2 degrees celsius cold.  It also has an amazing 100+ meter visibility because the glacier water is filtered by the volcanic rock before it enters the rift.  I’ve dived in some places with great visibility before but this was spectacular.  It’s almost like you are flying in mid air because you can’t see the water around you.  A very cool sensation.

Diving in Silfra, Iceland

This cold water necessitates the use of a dry suit so I took the opportunity to get my Padi dry suit certification.  AJ, from Dive.is was our excellent dive instructor for the day.  If you ever want to go diving in Iceland look no further than the guys on Dive.is.

Check out a short video I made from our dives.  I used a gopro video camera strapped to my wrist but the quality was off for some reason. I found out later you need to have a special lens on it in order for it to focus properly underwater.  You can buy them here.  You still get a good idea of what diving the Silfra rift is like its just not national geographic quality footage.

This was definitely the most unique place I’ve dived.  It was also the most northern at 64 degrees north.

AJ also showed us a neat trick you can do with dry suits… turn Miki into a sumo wrestler :)

Where did all the Puffins go???

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Photographers waiting around for the Puffins

Iceland is famous for puffins.  It is home to the largest colony of puffins in the world.  My hopes were pretty high to walk away with some spectacular puffin photos… it was strange then (and very disappointing) that we only saw a handful on what was supposed to be a fantastic puffin photography experience.

We chose to go to the Ingólfshöfði nature reserve which is in the southeast corner of Iceland.  It’s an isolated bluff a couple kilometers from land but it’s accesible by tractor.

Ingólfshöfði Nature Reserve (photo from top of the bluff)

The guide we hired was very knowledgable about the area and was a good photographer and just a plain nice guy.  You can book the tour with him here.

Now to the puffins.  First, there weren’t many of them and the ones that were there were all out at sea fishing.  I did get a few decent shots but I was hoping for much better.  I suppose it is a nature reserve and not a zoo so good sightings aren’t guaranteed.  Plus it was overcast and raining on and off so nothing was really working in our favor that night.

Puffins

Puffin

Puffin

Puffed up Puffin

This is also a nesting spot for other birds like the Razorbills here…

Razorbills

and some pretty nasty Skuas

Nasty Skua

you can’t really blame him for being nasty though because he was only protecting his chick…

Skua chick

 

 

Iceland tours with GoEcco

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

We used GoEcco, a local tour company, for a couple of the day tours we took from Reykjavik.  Their White Night Hiking tour which is currently ranked as the number 1 thing to do on Tripadvisor in Iceland was one of the highlights of our trip.  The landscape was amazing.  It reminded me a lot of New Zealand and our guide mentioned that it was scouted as a possible location for Lord of the Rings but the weather was too unpredictable so it was ruled out.  Luckily, we had great weather for our hike.

The hike itself is pretty easy so anybody can do it.  You walk past steam vents, bubbling pools of mud, and some amazing landscapes as you can see below.  The highlight of the trip is a dip in a natural hot spring.

White Night Hiking - iceland lanscape

White Night Hiking - Iceland Landscape

We also had some small snacks along the way.  Hot dogs boiled in the hot spring.

Hot dogs cooked in hot spring

White Night Hiking - Iceland natural hotspring

Another tour we did with GoEcco was the Snæfellsnes tour.  This was another good tour so do both if you have time but if you only have time to do one tour do the White Night Hiking.

The Snæfellsnes tour visits a natural hotspring, a nice pebble beach (with trolls), a few other sights on the peninsula and a local farm.  A visit to the local farm was the highlight because it’s was the location of a unique and very tasty gourmet dinner.

Snæfellsnes - hidden natural hotspring

Snæfellsnes landscape

Snæfellsnes landscape

Check out this location for our gourmet dinner.  This isn’t staged for tourists.  This is an honest working farm and that is a real tractor with a real busted truck on the left with all kinds of junk laying around.  This isn’t the kind of stuff you can’t get with the large tour companies or do by yourself.  Only small tour companies like GoEcco can pull something like this off.

GoEcco's gourmet dinner table in Snæfellsnes