The south of Iceland in a day

Visiting Iceland feels like travelling to another land, a fantasy realm of wild and rare beauty, marooned on the distant edge of the world.

Shaped by ice and fire alike, this sparsely-populated island is famous for its geothermal lagoons, wonderful waterfalls, great glaciers and spectacular geysers. From the vibrant northern lights that accompany dark and long winters, to the midnight sun in summer, the very sky is one of the country’s main attractions.

My posts in the ‘Iceland’ category will follow on our short trip here and will include a guide to the capital Reykjavik, the Golden Triangle, the Blue Lagoon and the complete tour of the south.

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The south of Iceland in a day

We started the road trip by leaving the capital city and heading south-east on the ring road, which is the main road that goes around the entire country. The photo opportunities along the way are unbelievable and we made frequent stops as we passed by active volcanoes, admired wild horses and rainbows and petrified lava fields covered in soft green moss. This rendered all our time-estimates completely useless, the only guess we could make was that we had to basically double everything from that point on.

So if you plan to follow this tour, then be sure to leave early in the morning, pack a few warm clothes, lots of water and double check that your camera is fully charged. You would not want to miss out on anything.

Rainbow at Skógafoss
Rainbow at Skógafoss

About 2 hours after departing from Reykjavik, we reached the beautiful Seljalandsfoss. This majestic waterfall can be seen from the main road and there is a parking area within walking distance. One of the interesting things about it is the fact that visitors can walk behind the falls, into a small cave. Some 20 minutes later, we drove to another waterfall, Skógafoss, one of the biggest in the country, with a drop of 60 m and a width of 25 m. It was clear and sunny when we arrived so we got to see a beautiful rainbow forming in the waterfall spray. We climbed the steps built on the right side of the falls and got to admire the view from above.

We continued towards Vik and made two small stops along the way. One at Dyrhólaeyjarviti and the other close by, at the view point towards Reynisfjara beach. From there we took some amazing photos with the rugged barren coastlines and the Dyrhólaey cliffs. Even at times when a vicious wind whips your face and a weak sun struggles to shine through grey skies , the beauty of the landscape can warm your heart.

After our photo session we stopped for lunch in the village of Vik and ate the best meringue cake I ever tasted here. Vik has a large beach with black sand, so if you have the time, I recommend you walking to the beach. We collected some nice volcanic rocks from there, while listening to the roar of the giant arctic waves.

Us overlooking Reynisfjara beach
Us overlooking Reynisfjara beach

Driving for another hour, we got closer to the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. We had to use the GPS to find it, but managed to do so very quickly. We followed road 206 (gravel) about 1 km further than the junction to road F206 and reached a good parking place at the lower end of the canyon. This road is accessible for all cars. Although not listed as a main attraction on the usual tourism websites, this canyon is absolutely spectacular and well worth a visit.

Returning to the ring road, we passed by another waterfall – Foss á Síðu – and soon arrived at the Dverghamrar rock formations. Translated as the Dwarf Rocks, these are beautiful formations of columnar basalt.

Foss á Síðu,Fjaðrárgljúfur, Svartifoss and Dverghamrar
Foss á Síðu,Fjaðrárgljúfur, Svartifoss and Dverghamrar

Next we drove to the Vatnajökull National Park. This is the starting point for many tourist hikes, especially for those who want to climb on the glacier. One of the most popular sights in the park is the Svartifoss (Black waterfall), which is surrounded by dark columns of basaltic lava that give the falls its unique look. To reach Svartifoss you need to walk for about 30 minutes from the staging area with a moderate ascent. There are maps and signs everywhere so you cannot get lost.

Our stop for the night was close to the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon which we got to photograph at sunset and also the next morning before we left. We walked around the place, breathing in the crisp, clean air and watching the icebergs float on the lagoon, each in a different shade of white, grey or blue. Seals swim in the waters of  Jökulsárlón and we could see their heads pop-up here and there. Since we arrived rather late, we were the only people on the shores of the lagoon, so we simply loved the tranquility of it all.

Morning at Jökulsárlón
Early morning at Jökulsárlón

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Read more about our road trip to Iceland by following the posts in the ‘Iceland’ category.

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