Southern Iceland road trip (day 1 of 2)
Our second morning in Iceland, we hit the road at 7am to begin our 2 day Southern Iceland road trip. Our idea was to drive to the furthest point East all in one shot and spend the next 2 days driving the southern coast road back to Reykjavik. We drove straight to the east side of the island without stopping. It took us 4 1/2 hours to get to our first stop. We arrived at 11:45am at the Jokulsarlon Glacier.
The Jokulsarlon Glacier is a majestic glacier that calves into a lagoon, which flows under the highway bridge and out to into the ocean not 50 yards away. The lagoon is full of icebergs that are so large, they are stuck to the bottom of the lagoon. It’s a magical site. I’d seen glaciers in Alaska, but the scale of the lake and number or icebergs in Jokulsarlon blow those away.
We chose to get up close and personal with a zodiac boat ride through the lagoon. The zodiac takes up to ten passengers at a time (dressed in warm flotation suits) through the iceberg lagoon for closer viewing and can even get up close to the glacier. They describe the different colors seen in the ice, and even help spot seals in the water. There is a less expensive amphibian boat available, however, it carries twice as many people and does not get up close to the glacier itself. I booked our boat tickets online a few days prior to our visit, however, our zodiac boat was not full so I don’t know that it was necessary. You might have to be willing to wait another hour for the next cast off. The tour is about an hour long.
Be sure to take some time to stand near the bridge and watch the icebergs. It is here that the runoff towards the open ocean is creating quite a current. Which gives you a chance to see several icebergs bump, break, and change on their way out to sea. I was surprised at how long we stayed to take pictures and watch the lagoon just in case an iceberg started shifting. I was standing on the shore when an iceberg’s top layer sloughed off into the water, while the bottom jutted up out of the depths creating a loud noise and waves on the shore. The power of nature unleashed for sure. The iceberg that emerged from the water was made of the bluest ice since it had not been exposed to the air yet. I’ll never forget it.
There is a small building with bathrooms and a cafe. We ate lunch in the cafe before our zodiac boat ride. They offered 2 fresh soups, a variety of sandwiches and yogurts. I was surprised at how good my sandwich was in such a remote area. There is one small gravel parking lot, and there were a lot of tourists for Iceland. Immediately after that, we headed back west and stopped at Fjallsarlon Glacier. This Glacier is similar, although it’s runoff is not as closely located to the ocean. There are zodiac boat rides at Fjallsarlon also, with only about 10% of the crowd. Although other than the boats on the shore, it was lacking any amenities.
If you are wanting to get up close an personal to a glacier, our next stop at Svinafellsjokull glacier would be a good stop. About 2 km off of the main road, sits a parking lot for this glacier. You can then follow a hiking path around the left side of the glacier. So unlike the boat rides on the lagoon, which are looking at the front end of the glacier, you can get almost a birdseye view of the the crevasses in the glacier and all of it’s many layers. The path is well marked at the beginning, although with an ominous missing persons marker (since 2007) memorializing two hikers that were never found. As the path began to dwindle and get a little more dangerous, we decided not to go any further. We have 3 boys we’d like to make it home to, so we turned around. Adventure in Iceland is a lot about personal responsability. There aren’t a lot of entrance gates, park rangers, or giant barriers separating you from nature. Of course, that’s part of what I love most about Iceland.
The next stop was Skartafell National Park in order to see Svartifoss Waterfall. The Skartafell National Park area reminded me more of the National Park System in the United States. A paved parking lot with several bathroom facilities and a welcome building with information desks. We ran into a few giant tour buses in the parking lot, but as we hiked past the bathrooms, we came across a flat green area full of tents and people camping out. I have no idea how much a spot costs, but it looked like a great place to camp. There was even a picnic area with a food truck that smelled really good. There were a few small booths advertising guided glacier walks, so that might be the place to go if you feel the need to walk on a glacier. Hubby and I did a glacier walk in New Zealand many years ago, and I’d highly recommend that type of experience.
Our goal was Svartifoss Waterfall, also known as the Black Waterfall. It is reported to be a 2km hike, but it felt like 5km since it was almost entirely uphill. I must note that during this hike was the first time I noticed bugs in Iceland. I wish we’d carried our bug spray on that hike. Mosquitos, gnats, I’m not sure what they were, and there were other small waterfalls to check out along the way. The pay off was amazing and despite the proximity to the welcome center, we only shared our time at the waterfall with about 6 other people. There is a small rope fence prohibiting visitors from getting in the water directly under the waterfall, but it was still very close. Surrounded by walls on 3 sides, it created a very intimate atmosphere. It was evening time by now, so any large bus day trips had long headed back to Reykjavik.
Time seems to go on forever when you’re on a road trip in Iceland. The midnight sun made me think it was earlier than it was. From Skartafell National Park we had a one hour drive to the city of Vik. Our hotel was on the outskirts of Vik and I had promised Hubby dinner at a restaurant in Vik known for it’s pizza. We were lucky that our roadside views consisted mainly of the Eldhraun Lava Fields. These fields are vastly different from the lava fields that we encountered on the way into Reykjavik from the airport. The Eldhraun Lava Fields are covered in moss. I’m not a gardening fan, but for some reason I was mesmorized by these lava fields. It takes almost 100 years for the moss to grow over the jagged lava and make it look like it’s round, green, and smooth. What’s more, they go on for miles in all directions.
The moss covers the lava field that was caused by a volcano in the late 1700s. There are a few spots along the way that make it easier to pull over, but nothing completely official looking. We traversed on a small dirt road that went further into them. Just far enough so we couldn’t see the highway. It was like another world. We had seen people climbing on them a little, but decided against it. I knew the brown paths from people had wiped away 100 years of moss growth with just a few steps. You can even find video on YouTube of people walking on the moss, I just think we shouldn’t. I did gently touch a grouping of moss…I just couldn’t resist. It was soft, and my index finger sunk into the moss as far as it could go without touching the lava rock below.
To sum it up, we drove all the way across Iceland that morning, and spent the afternoon and evening making about 5 stops along the way back. We made it about half way back to Reykjavik and settled near the town of Vik. I was struck by the simplicity of the road, driving, minimal crowds and natural wonders along the way. Stay tuned for day 2 of 2. It’s hard to believe that it gets even better…but it does.
Check out day 2, here.