Iceland in Words – Day 3
Day three of my journey was without a doubt the busiest one of the entire trip. Knowing this going in, I was up and going bright and early. It was also the third day of my trip that I learned an important lesson towards sightseeing in Iceland: if you want to see all of the beauty that the country has to offer, you’re going to have to climb.
Already chock full of stops, the day started with a spontaneous detour that I hadn’t even known existed until the night before. Hlíðarendi a farmstead a little north of the Ring Road with a church located a decent ways up a hill, providing a nice overlook of the surrounding area. To the east this view includes Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier/volcano that erupted back in 2010. Looking back through my reading material now I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to go there, or even gave me any indication that any of it was there. Hlíðarendi is actually an important location in one of the Icelandic sagas, as it was the residence of Gunnar Hámundarson, a renowned warrior and one of two prominent characters in Njáls saga. It is also where he made his final stand, and died in battle.
For me however, Hlíðarendi set the tone for the entire day. Facing a steep hill and loose gravel my car refused to make the ascent up to the church. Not to be deterred, I parked at the bottom of the hill and began the short but steep climb up. At the church I met a couple from Colorado who were travelling the opposite direction and were therefore on the final legs of their trip. As such they were able to give me some great advice about Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon I would be visiting the following day. Basically to get there as early as possible so as to beat the tour buses to the untouched volcanic beaches, as well as possibly get some really neat lighting from the sun on the icebergs.
From here I made my way to Seljalandsfoss, though being early in my journey I found myself stopping on several occasions in order to take pictures of mountains, glaciers, and sheep at the side of the road. As my trip went on I felt less compelled to make these stops (at least not as much as those first few days). Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall, different from others in Iceland in that the cliff from which it cascades over allows for visitors to walk behind the waterfall itself.
My day continued through south Iceland towards Skógafoss, with an impromptu stop at the other side of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. It wasn’t actually until I was here that I realized what the mountains earlier in the day truly were. Skógafoss is a massive waterfall which pours over what used to be coastline cliffs. As it stands now however, it now sits several kilometres from the sea. As is common with most Icelandic landmarks, a lack of barriers make Skógafoss very accessible to visitors and you could get very close to the pool at the bottom. There were also a tall set of stairs leading 60 metres up to the top of the waterfall and a ladder over a fence (likely to keep sheep from the cliff edge) that led to a path upriver and a much smaller yet also beautiful second set of falls.
The fifth stop on the route were the town of Vík and nearby Dyrhólaey. Famous for its black volcanic beaches, I did not find that much else of interest in Vík. However, the unique rock formations at Dyrhólaey were something else entirely. The arches of the Dyrhólaey peninsula could be seen in the distance as well as the Reynisdrangar basalt columns further out in the ocean. The landing from which you can park and see these wonders offered neat sights themselves, including a grotto-like archway which the waves would methodically crash into.
As unpredictable as the Icelandic weather is known for, I really lucked out as far as the conditions on my trip. Throughout my time there there weather was basically perfect. In fact the only time it really rained on my entire trip was during the long drive from Vík to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a canyon which offers its own unique rock formations as a result of the river that runs through it. My guide book actually said that Fjaðrárgljúfur was closed in October, however I decided to take a chance on it. The gravel road required to get there was more than a little sketchy (to the point that I thought I may have wandered onto one of Iceland’s Highland “F roads”). Despite this, I was extremely glad my guide book was mistaken as the canyon was an amazing sight. I met two American couples here who despite living on the opposite sides of the US seemed to know each other from before.
After Fjaðrárgljúfur came Dverghamrar, interesting hexagonal basalt column formations that according to legend house the dwarves of Iceland though I didn’t come across any. This landmark was actually somewhat hidden, as a rest stop blocked the view from the road and only after stopping and looking around did I find the small walking path leading down to these small cliffs. There was actually a pair of girls at the rest stop as I arrived, and I’m not sure whether they had seen Dverghamrar prior to my getting there of if they missed out it entirely.
Another somewhat hidden landmark was Núpsstaður. However rather than being out of sight, it was more that Núpsstaður was inaccessible due to it seeming to be on private property. Thanks to my zoom lens, I was still able to get a good look at the remains of these old turf houses though.
One thing that amazed me on my trek along Iceland’s southern coast was just how much the terrain changed over the course of the day. What started out as yellow grasslands, were soon replaced by greener pastures, moss covered volcanic rock, and “plains” of black volcanic sand/stones. Add in the variety of mountains, glaciers, and treed hills and it was sometimes hard to believe I was on the same planet, much less the same country anymore.
For most people taking the tour I went on, this would probably be the end of their third day. Due to the advice I’d been given for day four, I wanted to tackle Skaftafell (the southern section of Vatnajökull National Park) and see Svartifoss on day three thus allowing me to arrive at Jökulsárlón as early as possible the following day. Arriving at Skaftafell around 5:30pm with the sun already beginning to set, what I didn’t know was to reach Svartifoss I would have to overcome a 1.8 kilometre hike (3.6 km round trip) while also ascending 150 metres vertically. Not to be setback, I hustled up my third big climb of the day allowing me to stop and take in a couple of other waterfalls on the way to Svartifoss’ basalt columns and unique black rock colouring. It was definitely worth the trip, and I was fortunate to get back to my car before it got dark (though it was only a matter of minutes before dusk fell on the area). I actually ran into the American couples again as I was making my descent (about halfway down the hill) and have no idea sure whether they were able to finish the hike before it got dark.
By the end of my third day (and second day of driving) I found my car down to a quarter tank of gas. As a result, it was here that I learned how to work a European gas pump. It didn’t help that the “pay at the pump” part was broken (leaving me quite confused about what was going on). It was also here that I found out about Ford’s Gas Cap-less feature.
Highlight of the Day: For the second day in a row, the most impressive sight on my journey was a waterfall. It was difficult to choose between the powerful Skógafoss and the exciting adventure I took journeying to Svartifoss, but the unique rock face of the latter nudged it ahead in my books. The basalt columns were truly incredible, and the journey to get there is one I’ll remember for some time.
Dinner: Lamb shanks with a side of vegetables. Once again the hotel cooking staff knew what they were doing and provided me with a delicious meal.