Before our Icelandic adventure, I’d researched and researched and…researched some more! The Golden Circle and Northern Lights tours always came up top, along with attractions such as whale watching or extreme snowmobiling over a glacier.
But we wanted to explore by car and fortunately, thanks to Tom from Old England to New England, I was alerted to the South Coast of Iceland route, down towards Vik.
A little more investigation showed this would be possible within a day and was home to some of the most photographed waterfalls in the country. In fact, it’s widely regarded as one of the most scenic drives out of Reykjavik. Oh, and it passes THAT volcano. So off we went!
With only three major routes out of the capital, it’s hard to get lost. Our journey took us high over a lava plateau, Hellisheiði (Hell is Heidi?), on Route 1 – the same area we had crossed on the return leg of our Golden Circle trip.
However, this time the snow had melted and as far as the eye could see, there were monstrous formations of black rocks, interspersed with the contrasting white steam of geothermal funnels. Looked very cool!
We were heading towards the town of Selfoss, where I was convinced there was a major waterfall. So I was a little disappointed to arrive and find a (very nice) river but zero falls. Quick pit stop and a car-park Google revealed there IS a waterfall called Selfoss…it’s just over 500km away in the north of Iceland. Confusing or what?
Clearly I’d not done enough research…
We left the (fake) Selfoss behind with the next destination being what will forever now be called Angelina Jolie Foss! (Seljalandsfoss)
The road stretched ahead of us, with little to look at other than flat farmland and scattered ponies, for the next hour. Was this really regarded as such a spectacular route, in a country known for its unique landscape?
But like the weather, the vistas change frequently in Iceland and as we approached our goal, the flat landscape started sprouting dramatic rocks, cliffs which grew to mountains with cattle clinging to their sides.
This was more like it!
I’ve used the word ‘surreal’ to describe what we’d already seen in Iceland but when you’re at the feet of volcanoes, alive with faces of elves and monsters, it’s hard not to use it again with similar words like ‘mystical’. It was the backdrop to Tolkien, GRRM, Pratchett…every great author of fantasy. A writer’s dream!
Far in the distance, we could see something cascading down the hills of black and green. Was this where we would end up? The closer we got, the more waterfalls we noticed, veins off the backs of trolls…
Pulling into the parking area showed that Seljalandsfoss was pretty huge – a 65m (200ft) straight descent of thundering H20…that you could walk right behind!
Yes, this is the one you see in all the promotional images, looking out through the curtain of water, towards the plains and mountains beyond.
The walk behind it, despite having a pathway, is a little more precarious at one side than the other, which requires you to climb over slippery rocks and fairly fast running water. But there’s a large area under the cliff, directly behind the falls, perfect for taking photos… or shelter. As when the wind changes direction there’s little escaping the deluge heading your way, unless you’re plastered against the wall!
One tourist remarked as she passed me that we must be mad and maybe we were. But a) the views were worth it and b) we weren’t as mad as the woman on top of the waterfall IN A BALLGOWN!
Crazy fashion shoot – or so I thought. Turns out they were filming some romantic drama and kept asking people to wait whilst their drones went zooming in!
Anywho, after the obligatory selfies, we ventured further up the path where we discovered more falls, apparently run-off from a glacier. Gljúfrabúi or ‘Dweller of the Gorge‘ was the best and is hidden away between rock faces so there were few people taking a look.
It was possible to climb between the rocks and walk into a cavern of sorts where the water plummeted downwards. But the river rocks looked pretty unstable and I didn’t fancy the rest of the day with wet feet, so I chickened out. Really wish I’d braved it though!
Continuing along the coast, we passed along the foot of a glacier, very visible as it snaked over the mountainside. The area is also full of active volcanoes, like one of the largest, Katla, which was ominously rumbling right up to us travelling. But a sudden squeal from me and some F1 worthy turning from Sam signalled we’d arrived at the visitor centre of arguably the most famous.
EH-YA-FYAT-LA-YO-KU-KUSH… the rough pronunciation for Eyjafjallajökull, also known as E-15 (for the initial letter + 15 more!) or ‘that one that grounded flights with its bloody big ash cloud in 2010!’
To be fair, there’s not much to see due to the glacier but it was sobering to think of the devastation it caused only a few years ago, especially when you see how close people live to the thing.
After a quick lunch, we carried on along Route 1 to the next major stop – Skógafoss. Another dramatic flow of nature, throwing itself some 60m over the side of a cliff that was formerly the coastline.
Legend has it that treasure is buried behind the falls, left by one of the first Viking settlers. But the constant spray and volume of water doesn’t necessarily make it the easiest area to get to! Spray creates plenty of rainbows though – but the wind and clouds kept them hidden to us when we visited. 😦
You can climb the waterfall and look out across the jet black river bed and down into the deluge but if you’re not great with heights, then the wobbly handrails on a very open cliff side might send you into a tizzy!
We still had some way to go before reaching Vik, our final stop before returning, yet we took ages to get there as we stopped frequently to snap yet another stunning landscape and marvel at nature.
The land opened out into what reminded us as somewhere in Mid-West America (not that we’ve been, but you know, westerns exist to fuel the notion!) One of the things I love about vast open landscapes is being able to see the weather systems changing and we were not disappointed as short showers and an ethereal light meant rainbow after rainbow popped into view!
Finally, we reached Vik, a black volcanic beach with marvellous rock formations jutting out to sea. And the sea was wild! The waves rolling in were huge and as they crashed onto the sand, white lumps of various sizes came spilling out. I got quite excited at this, convinced they were little pieces of iceberg! That was until Sam told me it was just the froth from the surf (I’m such a doofus…)
Still, the contrast of white against the stark black was fabulous and made for excellent photo opportunities. After a short walk along the beach and some timelapses captured by Sam, we realised the tide was coming in and as the light was fading, home time it was.
Cool fact about the area: it’s the southern-most point in Iceland and you can sail straight down to Antarctica without anything between to stop you!
This was easily our favourite day of the trip: Sam was more relaxed driving on the right and the constant change in geology and scenery had us both in awe.
Sadly, there were still plenty of places we didn’t visit, such as the folk museum at Skogofoss and the other end of the beach, Reynisfjara, which gives an even more stunning perspective out to sea. We also missed the aircraft wreckage on the beach further along, from a military jet that crashed some years ago…but apparently many people can’t find where it looms out of the sand. How small is the plane??
As far I’m concerned, it’s just a convenient excuse to go back. 😉
Image Credits: My own or taken by Sam.