Iceland Day 3: The Sublime South Coast
We have all seen Justin Bieber's "I'll Show You" and/or Bollywood's "Gerua" and wondered about the magical locales these videos were shot at and wished we could go there someday. And, if you have not, you need to. Believe it or not, these two videos have quite a big role in the tourism boost that Iceland is experiencing lately. So much so, the guides and operator mention both the videos on their tours. Although, I had to correct our guide when he said Shahrukh Khan was a pop star :P
Iceland's South Coast is probably the only place in the world where one can stand behind a waterfall, walk on a black sand beach, and touch a glacier on the same day. If that is not reason enough for anyone to put Iceland on their list, I am not sure what is.
Like the day before, we were picked up right on time from our accommodation in Reykjavik by our tour company (We stuck to GeoIceland as our pick.) The first 30 minutes on the way out east of Reykjavik you basically retrace your steps from the beginning of the Golden circle tour. We had a quick morning coffee break in the town of Selfoss, and then made our way South on Iceland's Highway 1. Soon after, our driver was nice enough to make a quick pit stop at Eyjafjallajökull, which is the ice-cap that covers the caldera of the volcano that erupted not too long ago in 2010 for some quick photos. It was still pretty much snow covered in late April.
Next up on the busy itinerary for the day was the first major and much anticipated stop at the magnificent Skogafoss. It is one of the most beautiful and biggest waterfalls in Iceland. As soon as you step out you cannot help but be in awe of how beautiful it is. We were in luck as it was a bright sunny day and we could easily spot rainbows because of the amount of spray the falls create. It was so nice to be one of the first ones there and get some good photos. I imagine it would be really hard to get a decent photo with more people there as there were when we were leaving.
What is also nice is that the Skogafoss has two vantage points. You can walk up to the falls or you can hike up the 300 plus steps on the right side of the falls to get a view from the top if you'd like. Only two of us were adventurous enough to do the latter. Any guesses which two? :P I will admit, it was not an easy hike and there were a couple of times I looked up and it felt like I had made no progress.
Thankfully, my 12 year old provided the encouragement I needed to keep going :) And, thankfully for him, I was there to help him when we were at the top and we had to walk on this really narrow curvy edge (he has a slight fear of heights) to actually see the falls. In retrospect, sharing those moments with him, and the gorgeous view from above were worth climbing up each and every one of those steps.
We made our way back down and back to our van to proceed to another quick stop to drop off part of our group who wanted to skip lunch and the next couple of stops to do a 3-4 hour glacier walk where we would meet them again at the end of the glacier. It is nice that you have the to option to choose. With children the glacier walk was not an option for us anyways, but even without the kids I probably would not have skipped lunch and the next two stops that I really wanted to visit.
We had a 45 minute lunch break in the coastal town of Vik- the southernmost town of Iceland. If you have time you can always make this an overnight stop on your Iceland trip. The restaurant had great views, but was nothing fancy and the Icelandic food (soups, stews, sandwiches) was passable. The gastronomic choices outside of Reykjavik in Iceland are pretty limited so it was what it was.
We could see the black sand beach and the infamous basalt sea stacks from our lunch spot and were tempted to go and take some photos, but we used all 45 of those minutes to relax, simply enjoy the sea views, and eat, especially after that hike. Also, we knew Reynisfjara or the black volcanic sand (pebbles) beach was our stop right after lunch, and has lovely views of Reynisdrangar (the basalt sea stacks.)
There are some interesting legends and myths about trolls associated with these dark sea stacks, which coupled with the raging waves and their sounds make this place almost a little eerie, yet so beautiful. We walked up to the beach and we could not help but notice the Gardar or the step pyramid shaped basalt columns that overpowered us with the Reynisdrangar stacks peeking from behind it.
The whole setting is just beautiful beyond words and so powerful, and anybody who visits must take a few moments and just sit there and listen to the waves that are almost tempestuous, it seems. We were warned to stay out of the water because:
- It can be VERY cold, and
- More importantly, how deceivingly strong & unpredictable the waves can be, so we did.
You do not go to a non-tropical beach for the water anyway, you go for its unique character and allure and Reynisfjara coastline does not disappoint.
Since it was such a clear and gorgeous day, our driver made a special stop at Dyrholaey promontory. Spectacular views of the sea, the black beaches, and the arch shaped formations in front as you look out, the recently notorious glacier volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and the monstrous glacier Myrdalsjokull and Katla volcano under it behind you on each side, all from one spot.
Without exaggeration, it is GORGEOUS views all around. This was not in the itinerary for the day and they would never stop in the winter or on a cloudy day, so it was just our luck that we got to visit. Even though it felt like a summer day, it was still too early for the puffins to have arrived. If you are visiting anytime around summertime though, I hear they add even more to marvel of this place.
Our next stop was the Sólheimajökull, the glacier outlet tongue of the mighty Myrdalsjokull glacier. We were able to walk right up to the edge of the glacier, where you could see huge chunks of it breaking away and melting as it was getting warmer. Again, one of those moments where you realize how small your existence is on this planet.
We were able to find a couple of ice caves as well, although it was not exactly safe to go too deep into one with the sun shining so bright and without proper gear. I am not too sure how safe it was for consumption, but the boys enjoyed the ice cubes on a warm day :)
This is when a part of our group who had earlier left us, rejoined us after their glacial walk ended, and man did they look beat up under all that gear or what! According to them, it was a long and exhausting climb and walk, and on a sunny day like it was on that altitude it just drained them. I would think thrice before deciding to take this on if one's not in shape, or if age is not on your side. Nevertheless, it is a very cool experience, and if I was alone or just with adults, and if I was in Iceland longer, it would be something I'd love to do on a separate day perhaps.
As we were headed to our final stop for the day, we had the most adorable encounter with Icelandic horses that we inevitably saw with 80,000 horses in a small country of 300,000 people. Our driver was again nice enough to make a special stop so we could meet them. Icelandic horses are super friendly and love to mingle and all we had to do was stand and be noticed and they walked right up to us.
They were not shy at all and loved the cracker snacks we offered. One even gave us a big wide teethed smile in return <3 The kids and adults seemed to be equally charmed by them. Icelandic horses are distinctly smaller in size, but do not mistake them for ponies or call them one because they get offended :)
By they way, if you are interested in visiting the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck sight (made popular by two music videos mentioned in this blog) it is right in this area between Skogafoss and Sólheimajökull glacier tongue.
Your best bet to find where to stop for it is to look for crazy fans walking off the highway. There are no signs that mark it because there is no real historical significance to this place. You can not drive your car to it and you have to park right on highway 1 and walk for about an hour (4 kms approx.) through black sand to get to the wrecked plane on the coast. Yeah no, I am not that crazy fan, but if you are or if you are into photography, by all means go for the hike.
We finally made it to our final stop on a day that was filled with natural beauty and wonder. Seljalandsfoss, better known as the waterfall that you can walk behind, is the closest to Reykjavik out of all the stops, but they make it the last stop for the day. One wonders why?! Well, maybe because they want to end it with a bang, so they save the best for last.
How amazing can a waterfall be? Seljalandsfoss amazing! Do not bother being extra careful about not getting wet or wearing waterproof stuff because you WILL get wet and that is half the fun. Just try and protect your camera or phone because there is no one who can resist taking photos of this masterpiece.
It was an unbelievable experience walking on that semi-circular pathway that lead us behind Seljalandsfoss and back in front. Needless to say, the kids had a blast. Just be very careful once behind the falls because the pathway is narrow, and for obvious reasons, very slippery. And yes, be prepared to see and capture more rainbows. <3 You have to see it to believe it, really. I do not think pictures do justice to the falls.
After a quick refill of our bottles with the oh, so pure Icelandic spring water directly from the source, it was time to head back. I think our brains were in beauty comma by then. You know when you see more beauty than you can actually take in. What an unforgettable overload of scenic delight!
We were back in Reykjavik a little after 6 pm and resting up before dinner was definitely part of the plan. We had a lovely dinner at this place called Ostabudin. It is a quiet, small, and cozy restaurant with great food and service. We got lucky with a getting a table, as it got filled up fast and then people were at the mercy of others finishing to get a table.
If you want to try the Icelandic delicacy of whale steak, this is a good place to try it as they offer a small plate. The herbed home baked bread, the seafood soup, and the arctic char were just perfect to end a day we will never forget. Highly recommended.
Highly recommended for dinner in Reykjavik, Iceland