Taking on the south was, for me, a well researched road trip yet I was still caught off guard by some of the experiences I had while there. Daily, I was shrieking with excitement. My mind left racing and my skin crawling. No matter how well I thought I had researched nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. Reaching the south, after everything the north provided, was an adventure in itself. How was Iceland?… I still cant answer that question if you don’t have at least 30 minutes to spare. However there was a few stand out escapades that I continue to play through my thoughts.
Stokksnes, speaking of glory, was the location for one of the first settlement farms in Iceland. Apparently founded by an Earl from Norway. This area is a large mountainous structure that reaches all but into the ocean. East of the Farm in a strange outcrop of land, which is mostly black sand, stretches its arms out into the ocean. Walking out to the end of the outcrop you can feel the full wrath of the Atlantic Ocean. A constant lean into the wind necessary for all those wishing to stay on their feet, the sniffles were inescapable and damn it was cold. Looking back towards Stokksnes, a crazy view of the mountains swiftly leaving the beach. The crazy thing about a black beach is that when it is wet you’re given a strange reflection – dark but crisp.
During the section of the trip headed across the south coast back to Reykjavik, you see the landscape transform again. Just outside of Stokksnes you start to see a multitude of glacial tongues perturbing into the valleys between mountains and ridge lines. Vatnajökull ice cap is the source of these beautiful and captivating tongues, providing outlet for around 30 glaciers (terminal faces) from the central region. Vatnajökull takes up just shy on 10% of Icelands ice mass and is the largest, by volume, glacier in the European region.
It is about now I started to realise that the south was much more than a road trip. It is more like an adult adventure fun park. So much to see, all the activities and a lot of which is very close to the side of the road. This is why everyone goes south.
Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón: Literally on the side of the highway, the lake a connection between the glacier and the ocean. In the distance you can see this massive glacier ploughing all the way into the lake where the terminal face lie. This place holds such crazy contrast, amazing natural sculptures ride up out of the water and they’re glorious. But this also stands as a reminder of the ever calving glacier face with a receding tongue, the product of global scale climate change. The unfortunate demise of such beauty. For now we flock and squeal and enjoy its unique look by the side of the lake… or, for one young gentlemen, walk around topless getting females to take photos of him flexing with a little icicle. Fruitless endeavours I am sure.
Jökulsárlón has an ever changing face, with new ice degrading and the tidal sweep moving the smaller pieces on day by day. Chances are the lagoon that I witnessed will not be alike to that which others see in a few months time. A wonderful idea to think that everyone will view slightly different shapes and structures floating in the lagoon.
Right across the highway from this lagoon is diamond beach, otherwise known as ice cube beach. Waves and wind chopped swell relentlessly bashing into the lost little pieces of ice displaces by tidal flows out of the lagoon. Black and grey pebbles cover the beach and the ice rest atop. A strange sight to see, the ocean as a back drop to large chunks of glacial melt.
The drive out of glacier lagoon headed west is one littered with glacial tongues. You can drive or hike to many of them and if your smart walk all the way to the terminal face of some of them. A couple of the better known glacial faces – Skaftafell and Sólheimajökull (sun house) are both reaches of the same glacier that births the glacier lagoon. A little less popular and I personally found myself being able to get much closer to the monster sized structures. Sólheimajökull is an easy drive off the main highway and with a set of cramp ons strapped tightly you can take a cautions walk onto the glacier. Or with brash stupidity I decided it looked safe enough to walk on in my hiking boots (I do not condone others copying my actions). 3 points of contact and a few slip slides before a retreat, wishing I had brought cramp ons.
Vik: A small coastal town best known for a church of the hill and a large headland that protrudes out into the ocean. The little iconic church lights up at night and makes for a great place to eat some dinner as the land and ocean meet darkness. This quant township set in some beautiful country side and the surrounding area has a real feel for adventure. If you plan to spend a day or two you will ind a few hiking trails jut out the back of Vik. About 10 minutes from out and you can stumble across black sand beach and a few sea caves. Reynisfara is eccentrically beautiful, the headland that separates it from the town ship of Vik home to basalt columns reaching into the air. Sand, by old stories, to be trolls that turned to stone trying to make it to shore.
Looking to the west, in the distance you can see a lighthouse perched atop some sea cliffs. This peninsula is a protected area due to the diverse species of seabirds that flock to the area. But is also home to Dyrhólaey – a well known natural formed archway in the cliffs. This vantage point allows you to see in all directions, on a clear day you can see as far as Vestmannaeyjar (a small island just off the coast of Iceland).
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck: I have to admit, i wasn’t fussed about going to see this plane. there was no anticipation for me. If it came to it I would have passed it by but for the hike out the the actually beach. Yes, you cannot simply get out of your car and see this crash (in contrast to a lot of the south coast features). About 4km’s each way. The crash itself was in 1973, the plane ploughed into the black sand believed to have run out of fuel. The wings and tail piece are said to have been pillaged by a local man to try sell them on, legend and true entrepreneur – although I don’t know successful he was!
Once I reached the crash site, face wind burnt and lips cracked. Breathing heavily, I was running out of light, I couldn’t believe the eerie feeling that surrounded the site. Black sand with a smashed up and broken down DC aircraft, bullet holes littered the belly of the plane. Aside from this, in all directions, nothingness. You can not see a road or civilisation and only land formations are in sight. Beauty in destruction is the only thing on my mind. A formidable sight, although all you do is stand and stare at this misplaced object, it was more than enough.
Skógafoss: The one the almighty beauty, possibly the most photographed location in all of Iceland. It is literally right next to the road, even if for some ridiculous reason it wasn’t on your list of things to see… you’re going to see it anyways. This Guy, 60 meters tall and about 15 meters wide, is something to marvel at. The waterfall itself an outlet from the mountains and glaciers behind Skoga, streaming with so much water it is almost like its being pumped from somewhere or there is an off switch. No, it doesn’t get turned off in the dark – trust me I waited.
During the summer months you cans tart a hike at the waterfall. It leads you up into the mountains between two glaciers and down to Þórsmörk on the other side of the pass. During the winter months, dominated by ice and snow it isn’t possible to do this hike and the trail remains closed. A morning sitting at the waterfall in admiration was a morning well spent, I was able to explore the area around and above the fall. Best of all, first light, I was able to enjoy the view people free. This is something calming when in the south of Iceland and nature comes alive so much more than it ever could before. Skógafoss = raw beauty.
Skógafoss is just one of many waterfalls in the south. There are a few other noteworthy waterfalls on the south coast. Seljalandsfoss – is a large fall which you can walk behind and experience everyones childhood dream of going behind the waterfall. Svartifoss – the back waterfall. Svartifoss is in an amazing location as apart of some well directed hiking trails. These trails also send you to see another glacial tongue and the area of Skaftafell nature reserve. These two aside, it is almost as though everyone who bought land was given a waterfall. So many singular houses in front of a waterfall, every corner open a view to another cheeky line of water following gravity from cliff tops to the ground below. Some be massive and some are small, but all are just as worth a stare. This section of Iceland requires your time.
The Golden Circle: With its close proximity to Reykjavik, the golden circle makes for a popular destination. With an easily accessible road from the highway 1 at Selfoss, the most common route has a few attractions all easy to see in a day trip. The winners of the glider circle are Gullfoss waterfall and the Geyser at the top end of the circle. Gullfoss is a waterfall with a rather large cascade at the top of it, the area also offers some short walks for those who want to get closer. The Geysers are a rare occurrence on earth, with specific hydrothermal conditions needed in order to create the discharge of water from the heated pools. As water is boiled in close proximity to magma the area needs a release hence the explosion of water followed quickly by steam. The Strokkur geyser erupts fairly regularly at about every 5 to 10 minutes, making it possible to see on even the briefest visit. I was in the pouring rain for about 10 minutes, once i got back to the car i may as well have been swimming. All worth it for watch the process of the geyser boiling to fill intensity. There is some deviations from the traditional golden circle route. These can take you to more waterfalls and through some beautiful mountain roads. I heart Reykjavik has more information on the youths here, or google maps is always a goodie.
On your own trip to Iceland, if nothing else, take to time to see everything you wish to see. Do not rush through each ‘attraction’ like it is a game you want to win. The true winners are those whom take the time to be present in their adventure, able to fully breathe in and comprehend the beauty they around them at that one point. et out of the car overtime you wish too. Park the car and take a walk. Do not leave until you feel you are ready. The photographers amongst us, lay down your camera and get out from behind the lens. You have two lenses of your own, so use them. Above all enjoy the experiences that you make for yourself and find something to take from them.
And stop to visit some Icelandic horses, they are welcoming and full of character. Incredible creatures.