Dyrhólaey

Iceland is surely on the hit list of every landscape photographer, and it has long been in my thoughts as a potential subject for a Second Life sim. My dream of recreating some Icelandic scenery on the grid has now been realised with Dyrhólaey, which opens today.

Dyrhólaey is the southernmost point of Iceland. It was once a volcanic island, which explains the distinctive sand of its ‘endless black beach’. The cliffs that make up the narrow promontory tower 120 metres above, giving incredible views of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier to the north and the black lava columns of Reynisdrangar to the east.

In Icelandic, Dyrhólaey – pronounced ‘dir hole ah ay’ – means ‘door hill island’, referring to the arch beneath the cliffs to the east.

My recreation of Dyrhólaey focuses mainly on the promontory itself, but I added a reference to the columns of Reynisdrangar, situated just along the coast. These deep black and oddly gometric basalt formations are among the most visited and photographed tourist hotspots in Iceland.

I have also included a replica of the DC3 US Navy airplane that crashed in 1973 after running out of fuel. It can be seen further along the beach, towards Sólheimasandur.

As with some of the other sims I’ve been involved with – such as the Isle of May, which I designed with Jade Koltai – this ‘reproduction’ is intended mainly to capture the spirit of a place rather than being an exact replica. Of all locations, Iceland is well-nigh impossible to duplicate within the limitatations of Second Life. So while being guided by the overall shape of Dyrhólaey, I’ve taken a few liberties. While Dyrhólaey has its own lighthouse, for example, the one I’ve used at the sim bears a closer resemblance to Skarðsviti Lighthouse, which although situated 350km on the other side of Iceland, is a better fit for the sim. Having said this, both lighthouses are finished in white plaster, with a distinctive red lantern room.

You’ll also find some other interesting buildings on the sim, which I have included as a tribute to some of Iceland’s remarkable architecture. I was especially keen to install a cliffside building – inspired by the ‘cliff retreat’ designed by the ‘architectural visualiser’, Alex Hogrefe. This building doesn’t exist in real life, but the concept is stunning.

There is also a waterfall, which I hope channels the spirit of Svartifoss, which is about 140km along the coast (and a little more inland) to the east. Iceland has many stunning waterfalls, so it would have been remiss of me not to include a scaled-down example here.

As always with what is essentially a ‘nature’ sim, I spent quite a bit of time checking on which birds actually breed in Iceland – ravens, for example – versus those that merely visit, such as crows. You’ll find both in my version of Dyrhólaey – along with sandpipers, cormorants, gyrfalcons, gulls, osprey, murres, cranes, egrets, starlings, hawks, kestrels, moorhens and sea eagles. There are also a lot of puffins. Called ‘lundi’ in Icelandic, puffins have become something of a national symbol. They can be found pretty much everywhere during the summer, and certainly in Dyrhólaey. They do make quite a bit of noise, so be ready to adjust your sound controls.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that Iceland also has its own specific and unique kind of chickens, known as Íslenska landnámshænan or “Icelandic chicken of the settlers.” As a tribute to these rather handsome creatures, I’ve included a few roosters and hens around the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, although I’ll be the first to admit that mine don’t quite match up to the splendour of the Icelandic variety.

What you won’t find on the sim are trees, simply because there are very few in Iceland. While it’s a myth that Iceland is completely devoid of trees, there do seem to be none at all on the clifftops at Dyrhólaey. This made the landscaping quite a challenge, indeed it’s the first time I’ve designed a sim without being able to dip into my collection of trees. I made up for this by mixing up a variety of wild grasses and flowers which adorn the clifftops and give a nice contrast to the stark black sand below. It’s now spring in Iceland, after all, and believe or not, the Dyrhólaey clifftops are incredibly lush in the warmer months.

You’ll also find some typical wildlife – most notably seals,

some wild ponies (which, although closely related to the Shetland, Icelanders insist on calling horses),

a few sheep,

and a dolphin swimming and doing tricks in the surrounding sea.

I love being immersed when designing a sim – looking at pictures, watching videos, and trying to make a real place ‘fit’ on the grid. On this occasion I was especially interested in light, which always comes up in accounts of Iceland by those who go there, especially photographers. The ‘default’ EEP setting for the sim is a full day/night cycle, which I hope visitors will switch to using shared environment. If you’re patient, you’ll see the aurora borealis lighting up the skies.

Quite apart from Iceland’s natural wonders, one thing I noticed – and really liked – when researching the sim is the way Icelandic architects utlise artificial light, and I’ve done a little bit of this on the sim. Given the spectacular location of many of Iceland’s most iconic buildings, special lighting renders them quite extraordinary to see and – of course – to photograph. On the sim, the cafe lighting was inspired by the Ion Hotel in Nesjavellir.

Finally, there is one more feature of the sim that I should perhaps explain: the piano on the beach. Here I was inspired by a music video by Hania Rani, the Polish pianist, composer and singer. Athough it was filmed at Vestrahorn more than 250km away, I couldn’t resist the imagery.

Incidentally, the piano used in that video is still there, suitably distressed.

I hope you enjoy visiting this sim. Do catch it while you can, and post your pictures in the Flickr group. As usual, I’ll be closing it in a few short weeks.

[Special thanks to Harry Cover (aka impossibleisnotfrench) for meshing the DC3, and Mara Telling for making the bar in the cliffside building.]

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