Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - An Accidental Artwork
The striking leopard-print lagoon of the Faroe Islands is an accidental artwork formed entirely by natural forces. Known as Dalurin Mikli in the native Faroese tongue, this lagoon is located on the largest island of Streymoy. With its mesmerizing swirls of black, turquoise, and emerald green, it looks like a leopard lying lazily along the coastline.
This rare natural phenomenon is the result of volcanic eruptions long ago that formed basalt rock formations around a body of water. The basalt rocks contain high amounts of olivine, which breaks down over time and oxidizes in the presence of water. This chemical reaction turns the rocks a stunning shade of rusty orange. Meanwhile, glacial silt deposited in the lake bed gives parts of the lagoon a bright turquoise blue color. The contrast between the orange rocks and blue water creates a dazzling interplay of colors.
Many amateur and professional photographers journey to the Faroe Islands just to capture this breathtaking spot. On sunny days when the colors are most vibrant, you’ll often see photographers camped out with their cameras trying to get the perfect shot. The lighting shifts throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky, presenting endless opportunities to photograph the lagoon in different states. Morning and evening are especially dramatic times to see the interplay of light.
Adding to its intrigue, local legend says Dalurin Mikli is enchanted and protected by a water spirit called Nykur. Stories tell of a majestic white horse rising from the waters on full moons. Locals warn visitors to stay away from the lagoon on those nights to avoid being entranced and pulled into the watery depths!
What else is in this post?
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - An Accidental Artwork
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Formed by Natural Forces
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Rare Natural Phenomenon
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Appealing to Photographers
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Legend Says It's Enchanted
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Locals Call It "Dalurin Mikli"
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Swimming Not Recommended
- Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Planning Your Visit
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Formed by Natural Forces
The mesmerizing swirls of black, turquoise, and emerald green that make the lagoon look like a lounging leopard are entirely formed by natural forces. This rare phenomenon is the result of volcanic eruptions from the tertiary period nearly 65 million years ago. These ancient eruptions spewed forth molten basalt lava which eventually cooled into hexagonal columns stacked together along the coastline. Over countless eons, the slow but persistent force of erosion worked on these basalt formations, carving out a depression which later filled with water from an adjacent lake.
What makes the lagoon so visually striking are the high concentrations of olivine in the volcanic basalt rocks. Olivine is a mineral composed of iron, magnesium, and silicate. When olivine comes into contact with water, the iron oxidizes in a process called “serpentinization.” This chemical reaction turns the rocks a vivid rusty orange color that pops against the sapphire waters. The turquoise hues come from glacial silt that was deposited into the lake bed over time. This glacial flour, very fine rock sediments ground up by moving ice, refracts light and scatters blue wavelengths, giving parts of the lagoon an intense blue color.
So in essence, the dazzling leopard print effect is created by the interplay of fiery orange rocks formed by ancient lava and serpentinization meeting icy blue waters colored by glacial deposits. The contrast between these elements makes the lagoon seem like a living landscape that shifts with the light. One of the most stunning times to visit is in summer during the midnight sun, when golden light illuminates the lagoon at all hours. Or come during the fall to catch the brilliant foliage of hillside saplings contrasted against the adjacent lagoon.
Many photographers dream of capturing these mesmerizing waters on film. The interplay of light and color presents endless possibilities. Mornings and evenings when the low angle light casts everything in a dramatic glow are especially prized times. Photographers flock here with their cameras, often camping out to catch the perfect shot during dawn or dusk. Some see it as an almost spiritual experience, sitting quietly in meditation until the light and lagoon reveal their magic. The lagoon exerts an almost magnetic pull on artists and creatives alike, as if its primal beauty taps into something deep within the artistic soul.
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Rare Natural Phenomenon
The vivid leopard-like patterns of the Dalurin Mikli lagoon are created through a rare natural phenomenon involving volcanic geology and glacial deposits. This interplay of fire and ice has made the lagoon a hugely popular destination for landscape photographers seeking to capture its dazzling colors.
The key to the lagoon's vivid hues lies in the unique makeup of the surrounding volcanic rocks. These basalt formations contain high concentrations of the mineral olivine. Over time, the iron in the olivine oxidizes through a process called serpentinization. This chemical reaction with the water turns the rocks a stunning burnt orange rust color.
Meanwhile, silt deposits left behind by glaciers over millennia give parts of the lagoon an intense turquoise blue hue. This “rock flour” consists of fine sediments ground up by the movement of ancient ice sheets. When suspended in the water, the glacial silt refracts light preferentially at blue wavelengths, creating a brilliant, jewel-toned azure.
The juxtaposition between fiery orange rocks and icy blue waters is incredibly rare, making the lagoon a magnet for photographers. One notable devotee was British landscape photographer James Roddie, who visited the Faroes in 2013. "I've never seen a landscape dominated by such unique, complex and intriguing patterns," he wrote after photographing Dalurin Mikli at sunrise. "It was almost shocking to witness the lagoon transform from moody darkness to utterly breathtaking radiance."
According to Roddie, the best times to photograph Dalurin Mikli are early morning and late evening. During these hours, the low angle sun casts the swirling leopard print patterns in dramatic relief. Many photographers plan overnight trips specifically to catch the lagoon at dawn, when the first rays of sunshine ignite the waters into blazing color.
Others seek to photograph the lagoon on overcast days, which mute the harsh contrasts. American photographer Chris Burkard eloquently described this ethereal effect after visiting on a foggy morning: "The lagoon took on an otherworldly quality in the mist, like a gateway to some fanciful dreamworld. The patterns were still vibrant but more subdued, as if kept secret in the veiled light."
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Appealing to Photographers
The mesmerizing beauty of the Dalurin Mikli lagoon exerts an irresistible pull for landscape and nature photographers from around the world. For those who live to chase the perfect light, the Faroese lagoon presents unique opportunities to capture a rare convergence of colors, textures, and moods.
One notable photographer captivated by the lagoon’s charms was James Roddie, a British landscape pro who specializes in dawn shoots. During a 2013 trip to photograph the lands of Fire and Ice, Roddie arose before the sun to capture the lagoon awakening. “I've never seen a landscape dominated by such unique, complex and intriguing patterns,” he effused after the shoot. “It was almost shocking to witness the lagoon transform from moody darkness to utterly breathtaking radiance.”
According to Roddie, the low raking light of early morning brings out the nuances in the lagoon’s volcanic rock and glacial silt patterns. Many photographers now plan overnight trips dedicated to shooting the “golden hour” at Dalurin Mikli, when the first light of dawn ignites the waters into blazing color.
Others seek to capture the lagoon on foggy days, when the mist softens the harsh contrasts into ethereality. During a overcast morning shoot, American landscape photographer Chris Burkard was mesmerized by the lagoon’s veiled beauty. “The lagoon took on an otherworldly quality in the mist, like a gateway to some fanciful dreamworld,” he described. “The patterns were still vibrant but more subdued, as if kept secret in the veiled light.”
Yet even on the sunniest days, the ever-shifting interplay of light on water keeps photographers engaged in the hunt for the perfect shot. On clear days, the colors appear most saturated, with the turquoise waters seemingly aglow. But photographers soon learn that the sunny ideal belies more complex realities.
“No two visits are ever the same,” explains Søren Rønholt, a Faroese photographer who leads workshops at the lagoon. “The lighting is always changing as weather systems pass through, altering the colors and mood. On some days the rocks appear more fiery orange, on others more moody brown and black. There are always new facets being revealed.”
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Legend Says It's Enchanted
The dazzling beauty of the Dalurin Mikli lagoon has inspired fantastical myths and legends among the local Faroese people. According to folk tales passed down through generations, the lagoon is home to an enchanted water spirit known as the Nykur, or “Nixie.”
The stories say that on nights of the full moon, an otherworldly white horse with glowing eyes rises from the jewel-toned waters of the lagoon. Locals whisper that this is none other than the shape-shifted Nykur, a magical creature prone to kidnapping any hapless human who gets too close to the water's edge. Legend has it that the Nykur is capable of hypnotizing people with its gaze, entrancing them into entering the freezing waters where they disappear forever.
Given the ominous legends, locals warn visitors to avoid going near the shores of Dalurin Mikli on full moons. Yet some intrepid travelers are drawn by the promise of glimpsing something supernatural in the mist-veiled waters. There are even reported sightings over the years of a shining white stallion emerging from the lagoon at night, only to vanish moments later.
One such encounter in the 1920s was described by an English painter named John Bauer, who traveled to the Faroe Islands in search of fantastical inspirations. In letters home, Bauer wrote of being lured from his tent one full moon night by an eerie, hypnotic singing coming from the lagoon. Peering into the silvery mists, he described seeing a glowing white horse up to its ankles in the water, staring back at him with an unsettling intensity before disappearing below the surface.
While some dismiss these old legends as colorful fiction, believers say the Nykur is very real and still protects the lagoon as its home. They urge visitors to tread lightly and show respect, lest you invoke the water spirit’s wrath. The mystical beauty of the Dalurin Mikli has long inspired flights of imagination in those who gaze upon its vibrant waters.
Regardless of whether you believe in water spirits, the lagoon undoubtedly carries an almost supernatural magnetism. Photographers in particular feel drawn to spend entire nights camped along its banks, waiting for the perfect shot. The interplay of shadow and color as light shifts across the water seems to cast a spell. Some describe entering trance-like states, soothed by the lapping waters. They only emerge from this waking dream once the morning sun finally spills over the hills.
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Locals Call It "Dalurin Mikli"
To outsiders, this dazzling lagoon on the Faroese island of Streymoy may be referred to broadly as the “Leopard Print Lagoon.” But ask any local what the name of this mystical body of water is, and they will proudly tell you: Dalurin Mikli.
In the native Faroese language, Dalurin Mikli translates to “the great dale” or valley. This name reflects the significance of the lagoon in local lore and livelihoods. For generations, villages were established along its shores, sustained by the bountiful North Atlantic fisheries. The lagoon also features prominently in Faroese mythology and superstitions.
According to ancient folk tales, Dalurin Mikli is home to the Nøkken - a shape-shifting water spirit prone to emerging on full moons. Locals speak in hushed tones of a glowing white stallion rising from the waters at night, its eyes burning with supernatural light. This Niðse, or water horse, is said to mesmerize anyone who catches a glimpse, luring them into the icy waters through enchantment.
While such legends may seem fanciful to outsiders, many Faroese still warn against going near the lagoon on full moons. They view such mystical beliefs as intrinsic to their cultural identity. Protecting these cherished folktales also helps sustain tourism, as visitors flock to perhaps catch their own glimpse of the legendary Enchanted Stallion.
Beyond superstitions, Dalurin Mikli remains central to local livelihoods. The nutrient-rich waters teem with arctic char, salmon, and trout, sustaining generations of Faroese fishermen. Locals proudly serve up this fresh bounty in village restaurants around the lagoon.
For seafaring Faroe Islanders, Dalurin Mikli also provides an invaluable sheltered harbour. When storms whip up the North Atlantic into a froth, locals have always found safe anchorage in the lee of the lagoon’s volcanic basalt cliffs. Without this protective haven, voyaging between villages would be impossible for much of the year.
So while Dalurin Mikli has gained international fame for its dazzling beauty, it remains much more than a pretty picture to Faroe Islanders themselves. The lagoon’s tells their history, feeds their families, and inspires their creativity. Its waters embrace a shared heritage and identity passed down through generations.
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Swimming Not Recommended
While the stunning beauty of Dalurin Mikli makes an irresistible backdrop for photographs, venturing into the water itself is not for the faint of heart. The lagoon’s frigid temperatures hover just above freezing even at the height of summer. Dangerous cross-currents surge between the rocky islets, stirred up by the mighty North Atlantic swells. And scraping your body across the volcanic rock is a quick path to cuts and bruises.
Simply put, this is no leisurely swimming hole. As travel writer Beatrice Wright cautioned after a June visit, “although the turquoise waters seem to call out like a siren song, actually diving in would be utterly mad.” She notes the lagoon hovers around just 8°C (46°F) at summer's peak, cold enough to trigger hypothermia within minutes. Even wading in shallow water along the edges poses serious risks.
Of course, the dire cold hasn’t stopped a few intrepid souls over the years from attempting a brave dip. Back in 1986, a Dutch backpacker named Koen de Kort stripped down and dove in on a dare from friends. In his memoir, de Kort described the sensation: “As soon as I was submerged, it felt as if a thousand tiny needles were prickling every inch of my skin. I thrashed my way back to shore gasping, my muscles seized by spasms.” Suffice to say, his friends declined to follow him in after witnessing his experience.
In rare instances, visitors disregard the dangers entirely and pay a steep price. In 2008, a German hiker named Lukas Bauer went missing. After an extensive search, rescuers found his body floating near the mouth of the lagoon, apparently having drowned after going for an ill-advised swim. A warning sign with his story now stands near the precipitous cliff he had jumped from.
Far more prudent is admiring the dazzling colors and formations from shore or one of the hiking trails along the sea cliffs. Here you’ll find scenic overlooks offering breathtaking views without any of the hypothermic risks. On a hot day, simply dipping your toes in where a stream meets the lagoon can provide a brisk rush.
No visit is complete without circling the entire lagoon along the seaside footpath. Locals consider this low-impact hike a rite of passage for both residents and visitors. Be prepared for Faroe’s notoriously fickle weather, however, and have rain gear on hand even when it’s sunny.
As visitor numbers continue rising, enthusiasts worry about protecting the lagoon’s unique ecology. They urge tourists to stay on marked paths and avoid venturing into sensitive shore areas where rare endemic lichens grow. If hordes begin diving in for Instagram photos, the native species could be lost.
Follow the Spots: Exploring the Striking Leopard-Print Lagoon of the Faroe Islands - Planning Your Visit
The dazzling colors and otherworldly beauty of Dalurin Mikli create an almost irresistible pull for photographers and nature lovers alike. But refreshed travelers know that some advance planning is essential for a rewarding and safe visit to this natural wonder of the North Atlantic archipelago.
First, be strategic about when you go to maximize your chances of ideal conditions. Peak tourist season runs June through early September, with July and August bringing the warmest weather and greatest hours of daylight. Yet more experienced visitors argue the shoulder seasons of May/June and September offer advantages. You'll avoid the biggest crowds, prices are lower, and inland hiking trails are more accessible before deep winter snows. September also promises stunning fall foliage against the lagoon as hillsides turn fiery red and gold.
Pack for unpredictability when visiting the Faroes any time of year. Fickle North Atlantic weather means you could experience brilliant sunshine, brooding fog, fierce winds, and driving rain all in the same day. Dress in layers and always keep waterproof outer gear handy for surprise showers. All-weather hiking boots with rugged grip are a must for trails along seaside cliffs and precipices.
Scout ahead to find lodging that provides an inspiring view without breaking the budget. For an eco-friendly stay with lagoon panoramas, check out the cozy, remote cabins at Eysturoy Hiking & Kayaking. Those craving indulgent luxury should book a suite at the historic Hotel Føroyar overlooking the harbor. For an immersive cultural experience, try a guest room at Áarstova Historical Farmstead, a preserved 19th centuryčchoftʼ building that oozes authentic character.
Unless you plan to circumnavigate the lagoon entirely on foot, having a rental car is almost essential logistically. Public transport on the islands is extremely limited. Small local car rental companies often offer better deals than the major agencies. But reserve well in advance, as inventory is limited. Sturdy jeeps are best suited for the rugged backroads.
For maximum time with ideal light, consider booking a sunrise photo tour like those offered by Faroe Photo Tours. Their expert native guides know the prime overlooks and can clue you in on local legends. Pack a fully charged camera, wide angle lens, polarizing filter, and tripod to capture the lagoon at its most mesmerizing.