Approaching Stokksnes the scree on the mountain plunging from over 400metres to the calm lagoon below is a rainbow of colours. Hidden in the lea of the headland it is a calm and sunny day, but as the small cafe and causeway come into view the landscape changes.
A storm is blowing in and the road across the causeway to the lighthouse is exposed. Black sand is blowing across the road, blinding your vision momentarily as the wind gusts and sand devils spiral around the car.
As the end of the causeway is neared, sand dunes have escaped and are building up across the road, trapping those who dare to stop for a photograph. The instructions were clear when we collected our pass for the causeway - “don’t stop until you reach the lighthouse car park”. It’s not a difficult instruction to follow.
At the end of the causeway is Stokksnes Lighthouse. A white tower with a red lantern it stands on the rocks at the end of the headland. Once a military base this is now an automated lighthouse with the H3 Radar Station adjacent to the lighthouse monitoring Iceland’s airspace. Originally built in 1922 and standing 15 metres tall it was renovated in 1958 and heightened to its current 19.5 metres. A complicated flash sequence of 3 flashes in white, red and green every 30 seconds protects the coastline.
Looking back across the causeway, Vestrahorn Mountain stands proud. Part of the same chain of mountains as Brunnhorn Mountain and Eystrahorn Mountain, these spiky peaks are unique and distinctive. Vestrahorn is 454 metres high and is flanked on the west side by a lagoon. Sand dunes of black sand and grasses line the causeway, changing with the winds and seasons.
Stokksnes and Vestrahorn Mountain are becoming iconic landscapes within Iceland. In good weather the shape of the mountain reflected in the calm bay is perfect. Waiting for the water to go out a little leaving a shallow amount of water soaking into the black sand is ideal for a reflection. Getting low to the ground enhances the reflection. On less than calm day using the lagoon for reflections is possible but gives a different appearance to the mountains.
Vestrahorn Mountain is perfect at sunset when a golden light will bring out the details in the rock. In the summer months the midnight sun allows photography at any time of the day or night and in winter the golden hour lasts through much of the day as the sun just skims the horizon.
When the weather is rough the sand dunes and intimate landscapes are great for photographers. The patterns in the sand ripple and change and the grassses blow and create interesting patterns. In winter when there is ice and snow the landscape changes again and the contrast of black and white makes for stunning landscapes.
If there is low cloud, Vestrahorn will disappear into the mist. At this point there is nothing you can do. Take time to photograph the sand dunes, the lighthouse or the rocks.
The lighthouse is best photographed at sunset. The orientation of the tower to the sun and access makes morning light difficult to capture. Whilst the lighthouse can be seen from the car park, walking a short distance along the numerous paths and across the rocks will give some lovely compositions.
From the lighthouse the view of Vestrahorn mountain gives perspective of its place in the landscape with Vatnajökull Ice Cap visible across the lagoon and bay in the distance. This is especially impressive when the northern lights are in the sky. A small mountain with a big illuminated sky cannot be beaten.
On the beach under the mountain is a reconstructed Viking Village. This has a number of photographic opportunities although it is totally different to the rest of the landscape!
Getting to Vestrahorn Mountain and Stokksnes
Vestrahorn and Stokksnes are reached from Ring Road 1 about 20 minutes drive from Höfn (over 6 hours drive from Reykjavík). Just before Almannaskard Tunnel there is a small rough road on the right which follows the lagoon towards the peninsula.
At the end of the road there is the Viking Cafe and a parking area. To continue along the causeway towards the lighthouse you will need to pay a small charge. During opening hours a ticket to open the barrier can be purchased in the cafe. Out of hours you will need a credit card to purchase a ticket from a machine in the car park.
This is a single entry ticket to raise the barrier to the beach, lighthouse and the Viking Village. The Viking Village parking is just after the barrier on the left and then the causeway continues to the lighthouse. Take care when crossing the causeway especially when the weather is poor. The sand blows across the road reducing visibility and sand dunes can shift with sand building up across the road.
If you are planning night photography then it is worth visiting in daylight to find paths and composition before dusk arrives. This ensures you have your composition decided and can safely navigate the area in the dark.