With all the tectonic activity taking place directly below, it’s no wonder Iceland’s landscape is diverse and epic in proportion. Our mountains, while not the largest in the world, certainly rival any other country’s in beauty. In every area of the country, there are geological features of all shapes and sizes, waiting to be photographed. One of the most sought-after sights in the country, renowned for its wonderful shape, is Vestrahorn, or ‘West Horn’.
The Vestrahorn Mountain
So named because of its horned appearance, Vestrahorn in Iceland stands at 454 meters (1490 feet) tall. It’s found in the south-east of Iceland and is mostly composed of gabbro and granophyre rocks. This is a very intriguing site, with several features adding up to make the Vestrahorn scene especially enticing. The site itself is also called Stokksnes, which is the name of the peninsula where the mountain is located. The peninsula itself stretches west and blocks in seawater to cream an almost lake-like calmness, depending on the tide. If you do catch the view on a calm weather day, you can see the mountain reflected in the water. On top of that, a black sand beach frames the mountain, adding another layer to the volcanic landscape vibe. The fine black sand along with bumpy scrubs of vegetation gives this area an ‘other-world’ feel. To top it off, seals occasionally lounge around on the beach in front of the mountain.
Vestrahorn Mountain Location
The Stokksnes peninsula in Iceland is only 20 minutes from the town of Höfn, a 16km (10 miles) drive. Iceland’s ring road, Route 1, will take you close to Vestrahorn, then you’ll need to turn onto a gravel road. Since the area has become popular in recent years, a small fee is now charged to use the access road. Look for signs to Stokksnes and drive along the gravel road until you reach the Viking Café. That’s where you pay the Vestrahorn entrance fee, then continue along the road from there until you reach the beach. There’s also a horse farm near the café, Horn Hestar, where you can book a riding tour along the sand.
Behind Vestrahorn, or depending on the angle, next to it, is Brunnhorn Mountain (‘Well Horn’), Iceland’s second ‘Horn’. It’s also known as ‘Batman Mountain’ due to its similarity to the superhero’s logo. You can view this as you drive further east along the ring road, behind Vestrahorn. The third ‘Horn’ is Eystrahorn or ‘East Horn’. This is even further east along the ring road and sits within the Hvalnes Peninsula. This mountain is just as impressive as Vestrahorn but doesn’t get as much attention. At the tip of the peninsula is the Hvalnes lighthouse, an orange structure that contrasts with the black sand beach. A close-up view of this mountain can also be accessed via a gravel road off Route 1. Since the three Horns are so close together, it’s definitely worth seeing all of them in one journey.
Photographing the Mountain
Travelers come from all over the world to try and get the perfect shot of the country’s features. Iceland’s Vestrahorn is no exception. One of the best things is that you’ll have completely different photo opportunities depending on the season. In the summer, you’ll catch the birdlife that migrates to Iceland to breed. In the winter, you’ll see how the mountains look when they’re covered with snow. If you head to Stokksnes in winter and you’re really lucky, you’ll see Vestrahorn with northern lights in the background.
So, how best to photograph this feature? If you’re looking for that perfect reflection in the water, pick a day with no wind and clear skies. There’s likely to be at least some cloud cover over Vestrahorn, which only adds to the beauty of the reflection. You’ll of course want to use a wide-angle lens to capture not only the mountain but the surrounding landscape. As I mentioned, the beach and the water are critical parts of what makes the scene so beautiful.
If you’re heading there in winter and trying to shoot the northern lights, here are some tips. Again, use a wide-angle lens, and keep your exposure time to 5-25 seconds, depending on how fast the lights are moving. The slower the lights move, the longer exposure you need. For the summer months, remember that between June and August Iceland has almost 24 hours of daylight. Remember also that your entry is limited by the opening times of the Viking Café: 9:00 am-7:30 pm. Access to the road leading to Vestrahorn is ISK 900 ( USD 6) per person.
Other Sites of Interest close to Vestrahorn
Just after Brunnhorn, on the left-hand side of Route 1, you’ll find a lovely little waterfall known as Skútafoss. Park your car off the road and follow the stream until you reach the fall. Wear decent footwear; most of Iceland’s surface is covered by sharp lava rock. The waterfall is fed by a small stream that passes through the huge valley created by Brunnhorn.
This seaside town is about medium size by Iceland’s standards, with a population of about 2,500 people. Fishing is their main industry, but there are also restaurants and hotels to cater to tourists. Like most Icelandic towns, Höfn also has a swimming pool. Aside from museums to visit, you’ll also have great views of Vatnajökull (Europe’s largest ice cap) on a clear day. See what life in an Iceland town is like by spending some time among the locals in Höfn.
Depending on which direction you’re driving Route 1, you’ll either pass this on the way or on the way back. Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon, famous for the bright blue water and chunks of glacier ice floating in it. Not only that; if you’re lucky you’ll spot some seals in the water too. You can either admire the lagoon from Diamond Beach on the edge, or take a boat tour. It has actually been used in filming for several blockbuster movies, including Batman Begins and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Jökulsárlón is around 80km (50 miles) west of Höfn, a journey of about an hour if you have a rental car in Iceland.
Vesturhorn Íslands (the west horn of Iceland) is one of the most photographed mountains in the country. It’s a brilliant showcase for how beautiful Iceland’s volcanic landscape really is. It’s conveniently close to the ring road, so grab yourself a rental car and take a trip around the edge. How long should you spend exploring the sights along the ring road? That’s up to you. At least a week is needed to do the route justice, but no matter the season, always bring a coat.
Samuel Hogarth, Cars Iceland.