Icelandic Diaries Day 5 – Stacking stones, hiking to waterfalls and basalt columns.

This was the longest single stretch of driving that we had planned for the whole trip. As it was the first road trip abroad we had ever done, and we were unsure how stressful I would find the driving, we had been quite reserved with how far we would travel to ensure that we enjoyed the whole holiday. It actually turned out to be a lot easier that we had expected. Along every road we found lots of stopping points with benches where we could get fresh air and take a break from the road which meant it didn’t feel like a drag. It also meant we could stop whenever we saw something that looked interesting which made it a very personal trip. It almost feels like you have found your own private corner of the island to enjoy without another soul in sight.

One such stopping place was the field of stacked stones that we found. Nothing else anywhere on the horizon but a single stretch of all the stones stacked neatly on top of each other. Whether it is because of trolls, fairies or locals, it is pretty impressive considering there are 70-80 mph winds on the south coast in the winter.

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As we continued further on route 1, in the right direction this time, we became more aware of how much the landscape can change within the blink of an eye and how flat everywhere was. With all the mountains around you expect there to be lots of hills that gradually build in to the peak but that isn’t the case here. It is a flat plain all the way to the sea and then it suddenly hits a mountain or cliff face which shoots straight up in to the sky.

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The destination of this excursion was the national park where you could hike up to Skaftafell. From all the pictures I had seen, this was the one waterfall I really wanted to see. From the car park and visitors centre there was a helpful map, which I took a snap of on my phone, directing us towards the numerous waterfalls on the way, culminating at Skaftafell. This was the first point in the trip where I realised how unfit I have become over recent years. When we started on the first slope, which wasn’t even that steep, I was completely out of breath but it was worth the effort when we reached the first fall. The path that we were following was well laid so there wasn’t a risk of slipping and sliding, as I am accustomed to do, and was very easy to follow. As we reached the top this particular route was being taped off due to the weather and a guide had kindly allowed us to continue on at our own pace even though he had closed the entrance and went past us, around half an hour before.

At the base of Skaftafell was the first place I could truly appreciate the scale and construction of the basalt columns that were supporting this particular waterfall. The cliff faces bent around the cove, looking like the huge organic hull of a ship. The floor was littered with the strange hexaginal columns that just don’t seem to be something that has come out of nature. The water coats all the basalt, creating a rainbow of colour when the sun hits it. Something magnificent to behold.

Next stop on the hike was the traditional turf houses. From the information on the tour that we took in Reykjavik I know that these houses were constructed mainly from drift wood as the Vikings had cleared the natural forest that circled the coast of Iceland within 100 years of settling. I also believe that the turf being naturally occurring is abundant but also great as insulation. Thinking back to when Vikings lived here you can’t help think that they were made this way to seamlessly blend in to the surrounding landscape and make the houses a lot harder to find and pillage. This may not be the case but a nice thought all the same.

Making our way back to the car, the clouds parted and the weather turned a lot brighter which was a nice change for the drive back. I also decided to test out the time-lapse feature on the GoPro while driving back which was great to watch back and see all the beauty while not being in the driving seat. I don’t think it was captured but we actually drove through a rainbow which was pretty special.

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We then headed straight for the black sand beach by Vik. We wanted to enjoy the basalt column cliffs and jet black sand before these completely set. As was to be expected, there were a number of coaches that had just arrived and there were crowds of people standing on the beach taking pictures of the water and the sunset. This turned out to be highly amusing, to us anyway, when the tide came in quickly and a lot faster than expected and it soaked almost all of them. Clearly these individuals weren’t reminded to respect the power of the sea on every outing to the beach as children like me and my twin brother were. At least they will know for the future.

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The basalt columns were more grand in scale than I had ever expected, which seems to be a recurring theme with this trip, I know, and the cave of sorts that was on the beach was just incredible. I would have spent a lot more time observing it if I hadn’t been so worried about whether the countless birds overhead would decide to poo on me. I always find that sort of thing a little distracting for some reason…strange right?

The evening was a much more relaxed affair with a small meal in Vik and then back to the hotel to rest. When I had checked the Aurora forecast it had finally showed there to be clear skies and activity so I woke myself up every hour through the night to check whether anything was visible but unfortunately we were out of luck on this trip. I think it was because the moon was so bright that everything else was kind of hidden but even this view with the lighthouse in the distance and completely clear skies with all the stars sparkling away was special too.

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Getting close to the end of the trip now with our journey back to Reykjavik and our stay in the Viking hotel which was an interesting experience.

Ciao for now!

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