Iceland part 5: South Iceland

From Reykjanes we drive through West, North and East Iceland and now we are in the South! South Iceland has an awful lot to offer. We visit glaciers and glacier lakes, find diamonds on the beach, see seals, visit stunning waterfalls, geysers, hot springs and so much more…

This amazing Iceland road adventure started at the Reykjanes peninsula, continued in West, North and East Iceland. If you want to be up to date before you start reading this blog, then click here to go to part 1; it is a bit like Monopoly 😉 …

Day 9 of 14: from Hallormsstaður to Höfn

We left Hallormsstaður this morning and drove on a misty ring road towards the south. Right now the sun is shining in between the clouds. Late in the afternoon we cross the border between East and South Iceland. Although I am a bit confused as to where exactly the border is. But I go by the map of Visit South Iceland. We stop at Sea Viewpoint to quickly admire the view, stretch our legs and let the sun warm our faces. Behind us we still see the thick layer of clouds, which created the mysterious world we drove through.

We continue our drive; we are close to village Höfn but we keep driving on the ring road. Tonight we stay at Fosshotel Vatnajökull and we reach it after only 10 minutes. But we want to enjoy the daylight as long as we can today, especially since we are no longer stuck in the fog. So we stay in our car and keep on driving. I read about the Hoffellsjökull glacier and it is only 20 minutes away from the hotel, so that is where we are going. We leave the ring road, continue on a dirt road and halfway we see the Hoffell hot tubs. We do not stop, we want to move on and see the glacier before the sun sets. Driving on this Húsberg road needs caution, it is very bumpy and slippery because of the rainfall, so we drive slowly. We reach Hoffellsjökull and park our little 4WD at the parking lot. There are only 2 cars, which means it is going to be very quiet.

Hoffellsjökull is an outlet glacier which flows from the ice cap of Vatnajökull. Its name comes from Hoffell, which is the mountainous area and farmland we just drove through. Both Hoffellsjökull and Hoffell are part of Vatnajökull National Park (one of 3 national parks in Iceland). I will not bore you with details about its history, but due to climate change the glacier has retreated considerably and a deep lake has developed, which will become larger and larger as the glacier retreats.

We read the warning sign at the start of the foot path. I cannot say it often enough, but when visiting Iceland please respect the rules and read the signs before starting your walk/hike/tour/etc. Not only to protect its nature, but for your own safety! Since we are not on a guided tour, we stay on the foot path and have no intentions of going close to the glacier itself. Once we walk up the path and see the amazing view we have over the glacier and its lake, we find ourselves a spot to sit down. We just want to enjoy the silence, the serenity and the beauty of this place! We are both so overwhelmed by what we see and for sure I am speechless (which does not happen very often ;))! The sun is slowly setting, creating a grey / purple scenery and in the lake are blue and black icebergs floating around.

After about half an hour we walk back towards the car. I find it very difficult to leave this place, for it is so beautiful and so serene. There is no wind, no rain and there are no people in sight. Places like this make me realize what life should be about and I feel so blessed to be here. I am seldom able to stop my mind from thinking, worrying, wandering… but right here right now I let go off all thoughts and I just enjoy the moment.

Back at the parking there is only one other car left. Well it actually is not a car, but a truck camper and it has a Dutch license plate; how funny is that? We see the owners and have a chat in our own language. They are lovely people, who are retired and twice a year they make a long trip to a beautiful destination. We get to look inside the truck to see how they live. They bought this truck and converted into a camper and what a way to travel! I will post a photograph, but I have blurred the people and the license plate.

We drive back, have a quick look at the hot tubs of Hoffell, which are very busy this time of day. So we drive to Fosshotel Vatnajökull and check in. We receive a very warm welcome at the reception and the key to a beautiful room with a view. Both the interior and exterior of the hotel blend in with the surrounding landscape. We make a dinner reservation while checking in. We freshen up in our room, get changed and relax for a while before going to the restaurant in the hotel. No more driving today and we really do not need to, because the restaurant in the hotel is just perfect. We order our Boli beers and Astrid a luxurious fish and chips and me… I have the most delicious lobster burger! We take our time and stay in the restaurant for quite a while before going back to our room. Before falling asleep I manage to sort out the photographs I took today. I am taking so many, but why not. This is the most photogenic country I have visited!

Day 10 of 14: from Höfn to Nupar

After a good night sleep and a tasty breakfast (with fresh waffles, yum) we check out and continue exploring the south while going west. I am probably repeating myself when saying I wish I had another night in this hotel, to visit Höfn and spend more time at the Vatnajökull National Park. In the morning we can actually see the glacier from the hotel, reason enough to stay here. And I really like this hotel, comfortable rooms, good food, beautiful surroundings… what more could I wish for.

So far we have been really lucky with the weather during this road trip. Only in West Iceland we experienced a big storm, but we actually enjoyed it. Today it is grey and rain drops are falling, but this is Iceland too and it is not too bad (yet), so we are going to enjoy this day, no matter what!

It takes us about an hour to drive to Diamond Beach. It is probably one of the most famous and photographed beaches in Iceland. It is a strip of black sand, located by Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. The icebergs which fill the lagoon pass Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi and then wash up ashore, having become ice sculptures on their way here. The contrast with the black sandy beach they are resting on is just really pretty. So nature and beach lovers like me can spend hours here, taking photographs and spot seals. I also read that it is one of the best places in Iceland to spot orcas from the shore (next to Snæfellsnes / West Iceland). But it is not the time of year to spot the killer whales. But we do see seals…

We park our car at the east side parking and get out to admire the ice “sculptures” laying on the beach. It is raining, but not too bad. The amount of ice, their shapes and sizes vary during the day. It actually all depends on the amount of ice that breaks off from the glacier. I have seen photographs where the beach is completely covered and the ice laying on the beach is blue. Today the beach is not full with ice, there is no sun, but to me it is still a pretty spectacular sight. I have not edited the photographs. It looks like I have taken them in grey scale, but this is just the way it is today.

We get back in our car and cross the street and park next to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which is just opposite the road. The lagoon is probably just as famous as Diamond Beach and it is another natural wonder in Iceland, although being the result of the climate getting warmer. The lagoon is at sea level, so the sea water actually flows into the lagoon when the tide is high. This means that the lagoon contains a mix of salt and fresh water, which gives it a beautiful blue-green colour. Blocks of ice (believe me… real big blocks of ice) break off the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull (another outlet of the Vatnajökull glacier) constantly, creating spectacular floating icebergs. The lagoon is about 20 km2 and reaches a depth of 250 metres deep, which makes it the deepest lake in Iceland. I think it looks mysterious.

I have booked us tickets at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours for a boat trip on the glacier lagoon. The lagoon is such a special place and a must see. There are 2 trips to choose from: you can either go on an amphibian boat or on a zodiac. I have chosen for the zodiac, because we will be able to cover a bigger part of the lagoon and get closer to the icebergs than on the amphibian boat. The Zodiac goes almost all the way up to the glacier, but keeps a safe distance. We collect our tickets and get changed into a thick flotation suit and a life jacket. It is still raining, but I have a feeling we are going to get wet anyway on the lake.

We have a safety briefing before going on the lagoon and the group is divided over 2 zodiacs. We have the sweetest captain / guide and unfortunately I cannot remember his name, but he takes us on a wonderful trip. When seeing large icebergs he stops, lets us take photographs and explains about what happens here on the lagoon and in the glacier. It is an non stop process about ice breaking off the glacier and growing back on the other side. From what I understand more ice breaks off and less ice grows back on.

The rain is coming down harder, but still we do not care. Although when the zodiac is making speed to get close to the glacier, our faces get soaking wet. And so does my outfit beneath the flotation suit, because my suit has a hole where the crutch is… But hey, I still do not care! Yes, this trip would have been great if there was no rain and maybe even a bit of sun. But seriously: I am in Iceland, so…! When we get closer to the glacier we see an amazing iceberg, which just broke off the glacier. The colour of this iceberg is truly spectacular and it is a bit weird, because although the ice breaking off the glacier is a natural ongoing process, you realize that the glacier does not grow back to the size it was. I see all kinds of forms in the icebergs and funny enough I also see the face of The Grinch. Seriously, have a look at the photograph below, the close up and you can see The Grinch’s face!

The zodiac goes closer to the glacier and at a safe distance our captain stops the engine. There is silence and being so close to the glacier leaves us all in awe. Our captain / guide explains a bit more and answers any questions the group has. Then we hear the glacier making a noise like it has become alive, and we hear a crack and we cannot see it from where we are, but somewhere a big iceberg breaks off the glacier, creating waves on the lagoon. It makes our zodiac rock, but in slow motion. We sit down to be safe and admire the scenery, before our captain takes us back to where we started this boat trip. We really enjoyed the trip!

More rain comes down and by the time we get back it is raining quite hard. We return our suits and Astrid has been smart by putting on her rain gear beneath the suit and I did not, so half of my jogging outfit is wet. I can only laugh. Before going back into the car we quickly have a look at the outlet, where the water leaves the lagoon and where the icebergs gather before they float into the sea. We see a lot of seals today, and from what I heard there are hundreds here in the winter. They are amazing and curious creatures and swim around the icebergs. The lagoon also holds different species of fish like krill, herring, trout and even salmon. I filmed the seals, because in the rain it was difficult to focus with my phone camera and not seeing where they would pop up. After about 10 minutes we walk back to hide in the car, because the rain is pouring down now and I am getting cold.

The parking at the lagoon is really full and we decide to drive to the parking of Diamond Beach, but this time on the west side where it is more quiet. We have a warm noodle soup and have the heating on, so hopefully my jogging pants will dry. After the rain stops pouring down we go out and walk on this part of Diamond Beach for a while. I just love the natural ice sculptures on the beach. We are close to the outlet and see the icebergs coming out and the seals going in and out. It is funny how they play with us visitors, putting on a show now and then and disappearing once you are ready to film them with your camera.

After about 15 minutes we go back to the car, when it starts raining heavy again. Astrid will drive so I can take off my wet pants because it will dry better keeping it in front of the heating instead of keeping it on. No worries, I am not sitting in my underwear. I had a legging in the back of the car which I put on. We are back on the ring road and it takes us about an hour before we reach our next stop. During the drive we see glacier tongs sticking out between the mountains. But since it is wet outside and damp above the glaciers, it is difficult to get a clear photograph.

It is about 3 pm when we reach Svínafellsjökull Glacier. My wonderful clients, for whom I booked a trip to Iceland earlier this summer, gave me this tip. It is really easy to reach by car. From the ring road we turn to road 988 and we can park the car quite close to the glacier. So if you do not have a lot of time to walk, this is just perfect. Svínafellsjökull is also another outlet glacier of Vatnajökull, just like the ones we visited this morning and yesterday afternoon. Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Europe and I hope it will stay that way. This glacier apparently is popular amongst hikers, because of its spectacular formations and stunning views. In my guide I read that Svínafellsjökull was a National Park in its own right, before Vatnajökull National Park was created and absorbed it. Do not go hiking on your own, I mentioned it earlier in this blog. Go on a guided tour, because places like these are unknown territory and can claim lives.

Since we are here in the middle of the afternoon, there are quite a few visitors. We go for a walk, there is a path which leads close to the glacier offering amazing views. It is not that crowded, so I can take photographs as much as I want. I believe Svínafellsjökull once was a background decor in “Game of Thrones”. The crew and cast did quite a bit of filming in Iceland and I can understand why. Iceland has the most perfect scenery which cannot be recreated on any filmset! To me this entire trip feels like being part of movie decors. Every time I think it cannot get any better, Iceland surprises me with more beauty!

After about an hour we leave Svínafellsjökull and drive towards Fosshotel Nupar where we will be staying tonight. The closer we get to Nupar, the more mysterious the scenery gets with beautiful clouds covering the mountains on our right and the road in front of us.

We stop in the area of Núpsstaður to admire a waterfall. I am sorry, but I do not know its name, but we just saw it when driving on the ring road and there was a spot to our car alongside the road. There is a little dirt road that could take us closer to the waterfall, but we cannot go because we see a private property sign and of course we are not going to intrude. But from the parking I take a quick photograph or 2 from a distance before we move on. At Núpsstaður we also see turf houses and I am expecting elves or trolls to show up anytime. This countryside comes straight out of a fairytale.

At the end of the afternoon we arrive at Fosshotel Nupar. We are a bit cold and tired, so enough driving for today. We check in and decide to relax for the evening. This Fosshotel is different from the one we stayed at last night. The rooms are maybe not as modern, but they are just as comfortable and the reception area and restaurant just as cosy. Here also the views from the hotel are amazing, overlooking the glaciers.

We both need a warm shower and have to get changed into something clean and a 100% dry ;). Astrid goes first while I have a cup of tea. We clean our boots and hang up our wet clothes so they can dry. We decide to go for dinner early in the hotel restaurant. We are lucky because it is still happy hour when we sit down at our table and we order our usual Boli beer. Astrid orders a burger and I enjoy a pasta. Just like most during most dinners we sit at our table for quite some time, enjoying our meal and chatting away. Back in the room we watch a movie on TV and I cannot remember watching the end.

Day 11 of 14: from Nupar to Flúðir

When we wake up and look out the window, the world is just as grey as yesterday. Oh well, as long as the rain does not come pouring down we are OK :)! We go for breakfast and are ready for another day in the beautiful south of Iceland. We get back on the ring road and drive further west.

Our first stop is after only 20 minutes, at Skaftareldahraun (try to pronounce that name quickly). I actually did not know about this beautiful area and thankfully we see a sign and people turning with their cars and so we follow. South Iceland is more touristic then the east or north, so when it comes to sight seeing it is handy when seeing other tourists leading the way. At Skaftareldahraun I have to read the signs to understand what it is about. And here it comes: in 1783, a huge lava flow streamed from Lakagígar in what is known now as the “Skaftá Fires.” They say that this has been one of the greatest lava flows in a single eruption in the history of the world. The molten lava filled the gorges through which the Skaftá and Hverfisfljót rivers flowed, and swept down in two branches into inhabited areas, to spread over the lowlands. Well, it created a beautiful and weird landscape. There are a few lava caves in the field and everywhere I look thick moss forms a continuous layer which looks grey when dry, but beautiful green after rain. Today it is green. I am glad we stopped here!

We drive for another hour to reach our next stop: Vík í Mýrdal. The village is the southernmost one in Iceland. Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, has beautiful sandy beaches and usually rough seas. It is the only sea-side village which has no harbour. But it has been an important trading post for farmers along the south coast of Iceland for a long time. The village is not that big and it looks a bit sad with the rain coming down. We drive to the church from where you can see the entire village and surrounding area. We have a quick look and decide to move on. I am sure Vík has more to offer than what we see and I will save it for the next time I visit Iceland.

Only 10 minutes / kilometres from Vík, we are on road 218 that leads to the famous Reynisfjara Beach. The further west we go, the busier it gets and at Reynisfjara Beach the parking lot is full of cars and minivans! It is dry when we get out of the car and although we feel like having a warm drink, we go for a walk instead while it is dry.

The site was named after a Norwegian viking named Reynir, who was the first settler in this area. Reynisfjara basically means “Reynir’s beach.” In 2018 Reynisfjara beach was ranked as one of the best beaches in the world. I have to conclude that Reynisfjara Beach is more famous than Diamond Beach and it has been a filming location for Game of Thrones, Noah and Star Trek (and more). It has beautiful black volcanic sand and pebbles, stunning basalt sea stacks, hexagonal-shaped columns and caves as a backdrop. Now I can explain you all about these stacks and columns, how they were created, etc. but I think you can find all the information you need on this subject on the world wide web.

It is difficult to take photographs without having people in it, but I do my best and manage. This place is so beautiful and photogenic and once more I cannot believe what I see in front of me. Nothing beats mother nature and her creations and this is just one more spot in Iceland that is out of this world. During summer season this location is filled with puffins and other sea birds (which we can still now).

When walking on the beach, you cannot help but notice the rocky sea stacks just off the shoreline, which are known as Reynisdrangar (Reynir’s pillars). Of course there is an Icelandic story to tell here: the odd rock formations were once sea trolls who tried to drag a ship to the shore, not realizing the sun was rising and it turned the trolls into stone when it touched them. The photographs I take are grey, just as the scenery is today (ans yesterday); no filters are used!

Especially when getting close to this part of the beach, visitors have to be aware of the enormous sea currents and waves. We saw the warning sign when walking onto the beach; you really cannot miss it! But many tourists seem to believe that they can ignore the sign and think the waves are exciting and fun to challenge. We see people being really stupid and I know this place has claimed lives. So please just respect the rules and be safe! Make sure you keep your distance from the water, never turn your back on the ocean and supervise your children all the time.

Reynisfjara Beach

We leave the beach and go into Black Beach Restaurant to use the rest rooms and treat ourselves to a warm drink. It is too busy in the restaurant and as soon as we finish our drink we leave. On our way back to the ring road we quickly stop at Reyniskirkja for a photograph.

We drive to Dyrhólaey, which is actually close to Reynisfjara Beach, but we need to drive around to road 218 to get there. Dyrhólaey means hill island and it used to be known as Cape Portland. It is the southernmost point in mainland Iceland and formerly an island of volcanic origin. This peninsula has an elevation of 120 metres and we decide to go up to where the lighthouse and viewing point are.

The road is a bit of a challenge and we are so happy with our little 4WD. We see a lot of normal cars struggling to go up and we keep our safe distance when driving up there in line. The first thing I see is of course the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, which is located on the top facing the sea. There is a strong wind today and we need to be careful when opening the car doors. We put on our rain coats, since it is a bit wet outside. The 360 view from Dyrhólaey is breath taking. When looking north we see the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, east Reynisdrangar and west the entire coastline directing to Selfoss. There is a bride and groom walking around for a photo shoot and I feel sorry for them, because it is wet and very windy and she must be cold. And the photographer makes them pose at dangerous spots; pour couple!

Right in front of the peninsula, there is a gigantic black arch of lava standing in the sea, which gave the peninsula its name. Reynisfjara Beach is a popular place for puffins, but in the summertime here at Dyrhólaey it is packed with Atlantic puffins who are found nesting on the cliffs.

We go back to our car, we have walked around for about 20 minutes and there is still plenty we want to see today, so we move on. Before going back on the ring road we see beautiful black and white sheep and I quickly take a photograph while standing safely on the side of the road.

The good thing about the south is that a lot of sights are close to each other, so you do not have to drive for hours to get to the next stop. After 20 minutes we reach the parking for our visit to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. We need to walk for a while before getting to the famous plane wreck. But then I see a shuttle bus, get out of the car and ask when it leaves. It leaves within 5 minutes, so that is great and we decide to save ourselves some time and get tickets. It does costs you ISK 2.500, but it is either a 4 kilometre walk or a 10 minutes drive.

The shuttle is packed, even this time of year and at the wreck site it is busy as well. Just quickly some information about the plane wreck: on November 21st, 1973 this US Navy aircraft was on a routine flight from Höfn when the Douglas R4D-8 Super DC-3 crash-landed on the black sand desert of Sólheimasandur around 2 pm. All passengers aboard survived the crash, and the Navy basically abandoned the plane. Ever since, the remains of this plane have been lying on the volcanic sands, exposed to the elements and I am sure it does not look any better with the years passing by. When tourism started to boost in Iceland, visitors started pilgrimage to the crash site, just to catch a glimpse of the plane wreck, which now lies in a bizarre landscape. It is a bit like mankind tried to land on a different planet, trying to discover if there is life on this other planet 😉

We really wanted to come here, but to be honest: I do not feel very comfortable. People are climbing inside and on top of the wreck to take photographs and have their photograph taken. To me it seems dangerous and I do not understand this wreck is not fenced off. People for sure should not be climbing on top and sooner or later someone will get hurt. We do have a laugh though when a group of Asian tourists go inside the plane wreck and pretend to sit behind the windows for a photograph. Anyway, we stay for a while and I try to take a photograph without people on it, which is almost impossible. As soon as the shuttle bus comes back, we hop on it and leave the site.

It is time for waterfalls. It has been a while since we visited one ;). Not even 10 minutes away from Solheimasandur is Skógafoss. We park our car and first visit Skógar Street Food; we have not had lunch yet. It is a bit late, but thankfully there is still something left to order. I have an appetite and want a burger with fries while Astrid has soup with bread. Believe or not, but this is the tastiest burger I have in a long time!

We walk to Skógafoss waterfall and although it is dry, we wear our rain coats! There is still a lot of wind and we will get wet from the waterfall for sure! Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country, it has a width of 15 metres and a drop of 60 metres. Because of the amount of spray the waterfall produces, a single or even a double rainbow can be visible on sunny days. But today is not sunny and I just imagine the rainbow! Of course this waterfall has also been a filming location for Game of Thrones! I try to get as close as possible and within 1 minute my face is soaked. The waterfall is impressive and a must see, although very touristic and busy. We miss the quietness of the north and east. It may not always be easy to plan, but a visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon must be more quiet than in the middle of the day.

The waterfall can also be seen from above. We decide to climb the 370 steps to the top of the waterfall (hmm… that burger may not have been such a good idea, although it was worth it). On top we are rewarded with an amazing view over South Iceland’s coastline. And you can walk even further, there are more waterfalls to see. And just as we want to continue our walk, Astrid is worried she has left her wallet in the restaurant. So… we walk back down, because there is no use in feeling uncomfortable (although I am sure she left it in the car). Astrid rushes down, I take my time and enjoy the view a bit longer and take plenty of photographs. If you are visiting and not in a hurry: walk the Fimmvorduhals pass, it is a beautiful and popular hiking route.

It is actually not a bad thing we went back down to the car. We still have places we want to visit today and we also have some driving to do before reaching our overnight address.

About 10 minutes from Skógafoss we see the well known and heard of Bra Fence on our right side, opposite of Holtsós lagoon. There is a safe place to stop alongside the road. I do not think anybody knows why the Bra Fence was created (but if you do know, please leave a comment!). I think it is there for 7 years now. I cannot imagine that the land owners are happy with the fence being decorated this way, especially since it is getting fuller all the time. People also leave more than just a bra, but it does make you laugh when you see it and I heard that there is a plan to create a donation box for breast cancer. Just donate to Pink Ribbon I would say, do not leave money in an unattended box if there should ever be one installed!

We continue driving on the ring road and after 20 minutes we stop at Seljalandsfoss. We have to pay a parking fee and I am sure this is the result of tourism growing in this part of the country. I am OK with it, facilities need to be created and paid for. Again: make sure you have your raincoat on when visiting the waterfall, because you will get wet. It is only a short walk towards the Seljalandsfoss, which drops 65 metres. We can even walk behind it, which makes it possible for me to take some pretty photographs from underneath (although the sky is still grey… grrr… where is that sun and rainbow that comes along with it ;).

When you visit Seljalandsfoss you do not leave before also having a look at Gljufrabui. I did not know about this waterfall, but thankfully there was a sign, so we walked towards it (only 300 metres). Gljúfrabúi is the most exquisite waterfall, because it is hidden inside a gorge and you have to walk through a little stream into a cave to get there (or balance on some big stones while trying to keep your shoes / feet dry). Once inside I feel overwhelmed with its beauty. The waterfalls drops 40 metres down and the “cave” is green and I find myself in the middle of a fairytale. What a precious and beautiful gem!

We walk back to our car. In between the waterfall and the parking lot there is a shop, where you can get sandwiches, cakes and soup. I can imagine sitting here with a snack when the sun is shining, enjoying the beautiful surroundings. Next to the food wagon we see a nice souvenir shop offering woollen sweaters and Icelandic accessories. We have a look, but do not go inside since it is about to close.

From Seljanlandsfoss we drive towards road 30 which leads to Flúðir, where we will be staying for the next 2 nights. It takes us about an hour and 15 minutes. It is dark once we arrive at Flúðir Guesthouse. We check in and get our key at the Farm to Table restaurant and I ask if we can sit down for dinner after leaving our luggage. We quickly do so and go straight back to the restaurant. It is quite late, the restaurant has been busy tonight and we have to settle for a warm chicken salad, all that is left to order from their kitchen. But it is delicious and together with a Boli beer just what we needed. We are drinking beer every night with our meal, but who cares… we are on holiday and here to celebrate my birthday, 35 years of friendship and we are having the best of times!

Back in our room I can hear water running, there is a river behind the guest house, but I cannot see much apart from a bit of light on road 30. We will find out how the view is tomorrow morning. After a warm shower, we relax, I listen to some music and fall asleep. It was a long day and we have seen an awful lot. And there is more to come the next 3 days!

Day 12 of 14: the Golden Circle

We wake up early, we have not set the alarm but we somehow created a rhythm during this trip. Getting up early and staying on Dutch time has helped us get the most out of daylight. Every day of this holiday the sun comes up later and goes down earlier. The difference from day 1 till today is big. The first thing I do is open the curtains and see what the weather is like and of course our view. We are lucky to have a room which offers a wonderful view of the surrounding nature. While standing on the balcony Flúðir (Fludir) looks peaceful and the sun is trying to get through, so it looks promising today. Flúðir is a small growing community, only 25-minutes off the Ring Road and the surrounding are is green and fertile.

We go for breakfast at the restaurant. It may not be as extensive as in the big hotels we stayed in the last few nights, but there is plenty to choose from. The people working at the restaurant are so friendly and the room is spacious and comfortable. It is great we do not have to check out this morning, that we are staying here for another night. At the breakfast table we decide where we will go today. We are actually in the Golden Circle, which is the most visited area of Iceland. It hosts quite a few highlights and the driving distance from one to the other is quite alright.

We first go to Gullfoss, only a 30 minutes drive mostly on road 30 and during the drive dramatic clouds cover the sky. The road is really quiet and I guess most visitors come from the other direction. We park our car and first go to the waterfall. We hear it before we see it and when we do we cannot help but being overwhelmed. It reminds me a little bit of Dettifoss, because of the amount of water coming down. Gullfoss is one of the main attractions in Iceland and gave its name to the Golden Circle. It is said that Gullfoss gets it’s name from the golden hue that shines in its glacial waters, when the sun is out of course. Right now no golden hue, but we are impressed anyway. On the left of the photograph below you can see people standing close to the waterfall on the viewing point, so you can understand the scale of the waterfall; it is massive!

Where does all this water come from? Well… the water in Hvítá river travels from glacier Langjökull, before it goes down 32 metres and it does so in 2 stages. The first, shorter cascade is 11 metres and the second drop is 21 metres. The canyon walls on both sides of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70 metres and descend into the Gullfossgjúfur canyon. Alongside the canyon and waterfall there is a walking path that takes us quite close to the waterfall. There are actually several walking paths, so you can admire this force of nature from different viewing points.

There is a lot of history to tell when it comes to Gullfoss, but instead of treating you to another history lesson, just click here to visit the waterfall’s website, where you can read all about it. We go back up and I want to take another walk on the path above. The sun has come out a bit and it makes the waterfall look completely different, so of course I need to take more photographs. Astrid heads towards the shop and I will meet her there. It is not the water that makes the scenery golden, but the pretty autumn colours which light up with the sun shining.

I find Astrid in the shop, which is huge and has the most beautiful souvenirs, clothes, books, jewellery, art, food items, etc. I have a look around myself and I love buying books and I see beautiful art and am tempted to buy something. But I am trying to contain myself and save a bit of money. We sit down at the cafe/restaurant and treat ourselves to a warm chocolate and something sweet. We take our time today, we are not going to rush, nor do we have a lot of driving to do.

From Gullfoss we drive to the Geysir Hot Spring Area in only 10 minutes. We quickly stop when seeing Icelandic horses. I know, we have seen them before during this trip. But I simply cannot get enough, these animals are so pretty and furry. The sign in front of the fence is pretty funny and it works!

We arrive at Geysir Hot Spring area. The sun has come out, making it the most perfect day. We immediately feel the change in temperature and not because of the sun which is shining. The car measures the temperature outside and on the ground it is warm; we will come back in a heated car!

The Geysir Hot Spring area is still active with boiling mud pits and exploding geysers and it is probably known the most for Strokkur which spouts water 30 metres into the air every few minutes. It is busy today, but somehow nobody gets in each others way. Everybody is here to see Strokkur do its thing and walk around to see the springs bubbling, boiling and fuming.

This area became active more than 1000 years ago and that is a long time! There are more than a dozen hot water blow holes here. This area is known as Geysir, although the big geyser is not so active these days. But it did give its name to hot springs all over the world and next to the geyser in USA’s Yellowstone National Park, this Geysir is the most famous one in the world.

You have to be a bit patient when standing at Strokkur. Many times you feel like it is about to erupt and then… nothing. And sometimes it fails, but the reward usually comes every 8 minutes and it is so incredible to watch. The water starts to come up like a bubble and then you know it is going to erupt. Even better is the sound you hear from the people standing around watching Strokkur when it finally does erupt. I love it when people get so excited seeing wonders of nature like this. It is a beautiful noise. By the way, Strokkur creates the most weird shapes when erupting. Sorry, do not want to make this a dirty story 😉

From Geysir Hot Springs we drive to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. It is only a 50 minutes drive and a beautiful one. Slowly clouds are covering the sky unfortunately, but the sun manages to keep shining in between them. We only stop when seeing a blue and white church in the distance and decide to have a look. It is called Úthlíðarkirkja and it is different from the churches we have seen so far. It is closed, but we can see through the glass.

We pass by Laugarvatn, where about 200 people live by the lake of the same name. It is known for Fontana geothermal springs, another popular place to treat the body and mind to some relaxation. A few minutes further we see a sign that says The Cave People, but we keep on going to Þingvellir. When getting close, the landscape changes again, next to the road there is a carpet of autumn colours. We have left the sun behind us unfortunately and the clouds are covering the sky completely, but it still looks beautiful. When arriving at Þingvellir we park our car at P5, since we are coming from the east side and we have to pay a parking fee.

Þingvellir is one of the National Parks in Iceland and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. This is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, but somehow all they seem to do is slowly drift apart ;-). Iceland is one of the few places in the world where you can see this happening on dry land and it may also be the most impressive place to see it. At Þingvellir you can really see so clearly how the continental plates drift apart.

We go for a walk towards the Visitors Centre, which means walking upwards a bit. From a distance I see Scuba divers going into the water a bit further down the bridge. Diving is permitted in the 2 submerged rifts (Silfra and Davíðsgjá). I heard that Silfra is one of the best spots for diving in Iceland. I used to dive a lot when living in Greece and I do miss it. I can imagine diving between the plates is pretty special. But today I am fine looking at this unique part of nature in a different way. And there are rules stating you need a dry suit certificate to be able to go diving and where I dived, I did not need a dry suit!

We walk around in the Visitor Centre for a while, we pay a small fee to get in and learn more about this unique National Park. The Visitor centre is located near the main viewpoint at Hakid and there is a footpath which leads down into the Almannagjá fault. The entire area is actually great for walking or hiking and apart from diving there are other activities you can do as well, such as angling or horseback riding. We are a bit lazy today. We quickly have a look in the shop and want to sit down for lunch at the cafeteria, but it is crowded and there is not a lot of atmosphere (sorry guys). We can wait for a while longer and have some fruit bars left, so that will do for the moment.

We decide to walk back towards the parking, where we cross the small bridge we drove over and go for a walk alongside the water and visit Þingvallakirkja (Þingvellir church). While standing on the bridge, we see big fish in the water. I take a photograph of a sign which explains what kind of fish is in the water, because I am so bad in remembering names. The view over the water and the church is so pretty. I actually am happy we came in autumn because the colours are just amazing. And considering what the weather can be like in Iceland, we have been blessed so far. The church is open, so we can have a look inside!

Þingvellir is associated with the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland, which was established at this site in 930 AD. There is so much more to learn about Þingvellir National Park, why this place is so important to the Icelandic nation. Just click here to go the official website, to get more information and learn about its history!

It is about 3 pm when we leave Þingvellir. It takes us about an hour to drive back to Flúðir. As we leave we see Öxarárfoss on our left sight, but we decide not to stop. It may seem that we are tired of driving around and visiting places, but we are not! We are just so overwhelmed with all that we have seen up till now… we need to take it in a bit. We do find a safe place to stop so I can take a photograph of the waterfall from a distance.

After an hour we are back at Flúðir and we have a an appetite. Before entering the village, we come across a sign which says Farmers Bistro. We are curious and decide to have a look. It turns out to be a mushroom farm and there is a restaurant as well. They are open for another hour, so we go in. We will have a very late lunch / early dinner. On the menu we see the most delicious dishes, of course a lot of them with mushrooms, but they also grow bell-peppers and other vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, kale and carrots. They also grow fresh herbs, which are used in their dishes as well. They basically serve what they grow!

We both order the Gourmet buffet, it just looks too good! We enjoy the most delicious mushroom soup (I never had a better one and go for a second bowl) with different kinds of home baked bread, bell-pepper jam, various tapenades, marinated mushrooms and various butters. It was actually just what we needed: delicious, fresh, comfort food!

When they are about to close we pay the bill and go back to the guest house. Time is going by so quickly, we only have a few more days left in Iceland. We clean up our rental car, since we return it to the car rental company tomorrow afternoon and we sort our luggage. We relax for a little while, have a warm drink in the room and then… we change into our bathing suits, put on our jogging suits, grab our towels and drive to the Secret Lagoon 🙂 Is is close by, so it just takes a minute or 2 before we reach it. We park our car at the entrance and we already had a meal at the Farmers Bistro, but there is a really good fish & chips at the entrance of the Secret Lagoon. Just so know…

The Secret Lagoon to me is a major asset to this area. It may not really be secret, but for sure it is not as famous and busy as the Blue Lagoon. I read about it before coming here and since we are staying at Flúðir Guesthouse, we get a 20% discount, so that is an extra bonus. The Secret Lagoon has kept it natural and authentic, to make sure their guests can get a true Icelandic experience. It looks nothing like the Blue Lagoon or Mývatn Baths, but I love it! The warm water stays 38-40 Celsius all year round and there are several geothermal spots and a little Geysir which erupts every 5 minutes. We walk around before we get changed and get into the water.

Before getting in I get an alert that there is Northern Lights activity tonight. But the sky is so dark and cloudy that if it is out there, it is behind the clouds. Now that would have been the cherry on the cake. We have a shower before going into the water (you can find them outside or inside at the changing rooms). A lifeguard keeps an eye on the visitors to make sure everyone behaves I guess and to see if everyone is OK. The facilities at the lagoon are great by the way and inside there is also a little bar to get drinks and snacks and next to the bar a cosy sitting area with table and big comfy chairs.

The warms water in the lagoon feels amazing, we have foam sticks to keep us floating, a cool drink in our hands and a green light show would have been great (and a masseur to do my neck). But you know what, we really do not mind. We both have seen the Northern Lights once in Finland and we are at the Secret Lagoon, the water is lovely (and gets warmer when you swim towards the springs), the body and mind relax and life is good! We are both rosy and sleepy after about 2 hours in the lagoon (and our skin wrinkled), but we feel great. We have another shower, get dressed and drive back to the Guesthouse. We treat ourselves to a glass of wine, have some crisps and fall asleep quicker than we thought.

Day 13 of 14: from Flúðir to Reykjavik

Before we have breakfast we pack all our stuff. We have cleaned our car on the inside, load our luggage and over breakfast we have a look at how to drive to Reykjavik. It is only a short drive, about 1,5 hour. Our road trip is almost coming to an end! Time flies by and I wish I could start this trip all over again. But we still have today and and tomorrow. We will return our car this afternoon and go further by foot to explore the amazing city of Reykjavik!

When leaving Flúðir, we take road 35 so we can stop at Kerið (Kerid) Crater. We did not have the opportunity to see a crater from the inside and this one is suppose to be beauitful. After about 40 minutes we reach the crater, park our car and pay a fee to enter the site. They are working really hard to create facilities, walking paths, etc., so I understand entrance and parking fees are introduced here in Iceland.

Kerið crater lake is a 3,000 year old volcanic crater lake. The lake itself is relatively shallow, only between 7 and 14 metres (this depends on rainfall and other factors). Because there are minerals in the surrounding soil, the water has such a unique blue colour; it is actually hard to describe. We walk on the walking path around the crater, see it from above and we also take the steps down, so we can see it from below as well. The views are spectacular from both above and below! The intense red volcanic rock slopes and the blue water are in great contrast, which makes it so amazingly beautiful here.

When we are back in the car and on the road we see the sign for Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River. There is no time to go here any more, you need to hike for a while to get to the river. But I really wish we had time to go. So that goes on the “next time in Iceland” list as well :)! We do stop at a place called Skíðaskálinn í Hveradölum, next to the ring road, thinking we could go for a coffee / tea. But it seems a deserted hotel / restaurant, an old ski resort maybe. We have a look at the hot spring in front and the creek. The locations looks sad, it is quiet, there is nothing left here. We quickly walk around and get back in the car.

We arrive in Reykjavik… and that part I will save for a next blog! South Iceland, you have an awfull lot to offer, we have seen so much that this became a long blog! But I enjoyed our time in the south.

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

September 25, 2019

For more information about South iceland click here!

Author: Travel Planet Lisette

Once a Traveller, Always a Traveller Amateur photographer who loves to travel our beautiful planet

2 thoughts on “Iceland part 5: South Iceland”

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