It was finally time to venture out from Reykjavik and explore the south coast. We left extremely early in the morning, as had become our custom, to catch the sunrise at the first landmark. This early morning departure was by far the most stressful driving experience we had while we were in Iceland. Driving in the dark, on the wrong side of the road (the right) in early morning rush hour was not an enjoyable experience. We also decided that it would be a good idea to fill up the car on the main duel carriage way leading out of Reykjavik; which I can tell you was not. The road marking made little sense during the day, let alone in torrential rain, they were like gibberish and at one point and I got pushed off an exit without even meaning to.
I’m not sure if I have mentioned it before but my fiancee has a very special sense of direction (or lack of). This regularly gets us lost while we are travelling, as a direction to the next left can easily turn in to the right two streets ago. There was one memorable trip in Manchester trying to find an estate agents where we spent an hour driving in circles. I had thought, however, that as there was only one main road to travel on in Iceland (Route 1) that we wouldn’t get lost. I was very much mistaken. We managed to get on to Route 1 easily but not long after we saw signs for the national park, and realisation hit… we were travelling the wrong way around it.Typical! A small detour through the suburbs and we were finally on the right track, south, towards Seljalandsfoss.
The thing that still surprises me about all the landmarks in Iceland is how close all the parking is to the sight itself. Most were within a minute walk from the main attraction which always seems a little strange because it is such a huge natural spectacle. With the sheer volume of coach trips I guess they have to accommodate easy access for the volume of people, with some people not being able to do a hike up a mountain for each sight. Anyway I digress.
Waterproofs on and a short walk later we were in front of the first majestic waterfall of the day. It was incredible to see the cliff face that had been worn to a point and the huge crater that had been created in the ground from the impact. Also on the cliff face, all around the waterfalls we found, were hundreds of birds that were nesting there and continuously circling. A very mesmirising sight.
Due to the Icelanders respect for their natural environment, as well as the safety of visitors, areas were cordoned off. This would have been great and allowed everyone the opportunity to get the perfect picture, however there were swathes of tourists from tours that completely ignored all the clear signage and set up tripods to try and get a photo. They climbed over rocks to get right to the edge of the waterfall, appearing to be completely oblivious of the danger they put themselves in. I can’t say it impacted on our trip, but I can imagine that in the peak season it would be slightly more intrusive. It was difficult to get a perfect picture without someone standing in the shot.
The special part of this waterfall is that you can walk right around, behind it and enjoy the natural wonder from a completely different angle.I say walk, there is a path of sorts but it’s more like a climb over a rather uneven cliff face. It really is a must-see though, if you are going to Iceland. We got some amazing photos from behind the waterfall and also took quite a few pictures for other people. All the tourists we met were really friendly and everyone offered to take pictures for each other so you could get that perfect shot of yourselves. My favourite place was a small outcrop just behind the waterfall where you can look like you are in the centre of it. A short scramble over the rocky sides took us up to a wooden viewing platform off to the side and stairs back down to the front. It is great for getting photos from every angle, be sure to take waterproofs though as you are guaranteed to get soaked!
We then refueled with a hot chocolate and some Braun (our staple car snack) and headed to the second waterfall of the day; Skogafoss. This time it was a lot simpler than Seljalandsfoss as you could either go in front of it at the base or climb up to a viewing platform over the very top of the waterfall. I am slowly conquering my fear of heights and even managed to get to the edge of the platform to get some great shows of the waterfall and surrounding scenery. The stairway up to the top is very thin and a little wobbly so if you are nervous on stairs or with heights it is something to consider before making the trip. Some people aren’t as polite when cross or walking behind you which could make the amazing spectacle less enjoyable.
When researching our trip we had seen that some people offer a basic photography coach trip where you can see the sights and they teach you to take pictures of everything you see. Organised trips like this aren’t really for us as we like to be very open and free to change at a moments notice but the people doing it seems to be having a great time all lined up with the tripods and new shiny DSLR camera’s that we suspect most had bought brand new for the trip. Once we had dodged past them we managed to sneak round a small cliff edge and come face to face with the very base of the waterfall which I managed to get extremely close to. The photos aren’t very clear due to the volume of water being sprayed on me but it was great fun none-the-less.
By this time we decided it was time to make our way to the hotel and find a restaurant to fill up our rumbling stomachs with. On the way to Dyrhólaey, we happened to see a sign that pointed to glacier walks and decided to have a look before checking in. Another great choice and another reason why hiring a car and not being part of an organisied tour worked for us. As we took the turning it had started hailing quite heavily so all the black sand was now covered in a light dusting of white which made the landscape completely change. Pulling up in the car park we could see the slightest hint of the glacier over the edge but it was still hailing heavily so we took a leaf out of the Icelanders book. I had read somewhere that there is a common phrase among the locals of “Give it 5 minutes” as the weather is so changeable you might as well give it 5 minutes and it will completely change. This couldn’t be truer here. We stopped and enjoyed the scenery out of the car window, and I snuck out to get some pictures and the hail suddenly ended and the sun shot through the clouds. Nothing we say could really be as special as seeing a rainbow appear over a glacier you didn’t even know you would be seeing that day. I didn’t realise at the time but my fiancee told me when I came running back to the car that you could see both ends of the rainbow.
The walk down to the glacier’s edge was longer than we had expected but you got a great view of all the mountains and glacier in all directions. I was a little surprised by the colour of the glacier as we approached. From all the David Attenborough documentaries I have watched I expected the glacier to be pure white and glowing in every direction which wasn’t actually the case here. It was rough and slightly blue with tide lines in different directions where it must have frozen with a thin layer of sand in. As we followed the path we actually managed to get right up to the edge where the glacier just met the sand like a giant wall of ice. The scale of even this little section was a little shocking and just put in to perspective the grand scale of everything that could be seen in this amazing country.
Once we had soaked up all the glacier and mountains we could, as well as getting in lots of photos that a hiking group was trying to take behind us, we finally continued our journey and checked in at the hotel. We dropped our bags and drove 10mins down the road to a little restaurant in Vik for a meal and enjoyed the sunset, over the sea, by the church on the hill. A great end to another fun packed day.
Next on our adventure was hiking to Skaftafell, turf houses and the black sand beaches. I hope you are enjoying reading about our trip and let me know your thoughts below in the comments.
Ciao for now!