Waterfalls are to Iceland as what Old Towns and cathedrals are to the rest of a Europe. I can’t think of a better way to traverse Iceland than by car, a 4WD ideally. Andy and Pete took turns driving and it gave us oh-so-much freedom to see waterfalls and oh-so-much more. We had five nights (six days) on the ring road (approximately 800km) and a huge agenda to fulfil. Let’s get started!
Leaving Reykjavik, we were going to sleep that night in Iceland’s most southern, and wettest town. Our first waterfall was Skogafoss, which involved a bit of an uphill walk for a slightly underwhelming view. The better viewing point was from down below, where it was possible to see the sheer volume of water hurtling itself across the fall. Our second waterfall was the slippery Seljalandsfoss, which we were able to walk behind.
On we drove, past an old plane wreck to Dyrholaey (pronounced ‘deer-lay’ – one of the easiest to pronounce) a huge outreach on the coast with a superb puffin colony nesting as well as a magnificent archway. There is also a lighthouse and amazing views. We spent the night at Black Beach Suites, our first accommodation of many that was to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The view was like nothing I’ve ever seen before: stretching, rugged coastline in front and just a casual glacier out back. WOW.
We were to be blessed with a downpour in Iceland’s rainiest town, so our visit to Reynisfjara was on the shorter side. This astonishingly beautiful black sand beach, backed with black basalt columns echoing organ pipes you might find in a church was truly striking. We also laid eyes on the ‘petrified trolls’, which are peculiar shaped rocks. This beach is notorious for its ‘sneaker waves’ – rogue waves that are notorious for knocking people over and even claiming lives.
Another day, another waterfall. Today’s was Svartifoss (in the Skaftafell region), a 1.8km gradual uphill walk to a beautiful black-backed waterfall and some incredible rock formations. We also visited Fjaðrárgljúfur, a river canyon where Justin Bieber once filmed a music video. We thought this was relatively off the beaten track, so I was again surprised by how busy it was.
The day was mostly spent in Vatnajokull National Park, home to the world’s largest glacier outside of the poles. In winter it accounts for 9% of the country’s land mass. The highlight of our sight-seeing was Jokulsarlon, a lagoon in the middle of glacier meeting ocean. The luminous blue lagoon has icebergs floating which have melted off the glacier and are slowly making their way into the Atlantic Ocean. The bergs can take up to 5 years to actually leave the lagoon – melting and refreezing before they depart. I had a blast scouting for seals: I was not disappointed.
Right next door to the lagoon is a black sand beach, speckled with icebergs that have washed up from the lagoon. It is aptly named Diamond Beach: the glistening icebergs lying on the black sand can easily be likened to sparkling diamonds.
We finished that night in Hofn. We ate dinner at Pakhus, where I did something very unlike me and ordered LANGOUSTINE (lobster/crab) SOUP. It was the local specialty and I was feeling brave. PS. I usually hate seafood soup! But not this one, it was one of those dining experiences that made me question if I’d ever really disliked it in the first place. For dessert, Andy and I shared an amazing parfait in a chocolate globe which melted in front of our eyes as the waiter poured a hot caramel sauce over it – yum!
We had to drive straight past the spiky mountain Vestrahorn, due to it being shrouded in cloud. We briefly stopped in at Djúpivogur, a small but cute fishing village that is locally famed for tis egg sculptures.
Our daily waterfall dosage came from visiting Sveinstekksfoss and Folaldafoss, two smallish waterfalls but were both serene and pretty on this warmer than average day. We were starting to travel beyond the realm of day-trippers now so they were also much quieter than anything we’d visited so far.
We stopped in at Seydisfjurdur for an amble, another waterfall, a delicious lunch at the Nordic Restaurant (two for one salmon wahoo) and a cutesie rainbow street with a pretty church at the end. It was a bit of a crafty, hipster town but instead of staying here we headed back over the hill and down the zig-zag road (known to Ben Stiller fans as his longboard route) to Egilsstadir.
Myvatn is Iceland at its finest. En route we stopped at Dettifoss, Europe’s biggest waterfall by volume, which somewhat incredibly had zero safety barriers except for a small sign. We could literally touch the water, as Andy so aptly put it “two feet away from a certain death”. Our other waterfall for the day was Godafoss.
We visited the geothermal area of Hverir, a series of mud and steam pools that were oozing and spitting to their hearts content. The landscape was jaw-dropping. Swimming was forbidden (I wouldn’t have wanted to) but we could at the Myvatn Nature Baths: ethereal blue pools with stunning views of the region.
We also squeezed in a visit to the Grjótagjá Cave (a filming location in the Game of Thrones) and a climb up the Hverfjall Crater, a kilometre wide volcanic crater.
An extremely early start saw us catching a glimpse of the humpback whales in Husavik. It was a memorable experience, but I wish we’d managed to get closer!
Onwards to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city. After a delicious lunch at Berlin Cafe, we did a self-guided walking tour (with a map from the information centre) through the city centre, past the church, through the botanical gardens and to the Old Town. We took a pit-stop at the Brynja for one of their famous ice-creams, made purely with milk.
After stopping at Kolugljufur canyon, we finished our last night on the ring road at Hvammstangi, a rugged little township which is famous for seals. We didn’t see any, but we did have dinner on top of the seal centre!
Homeward bound, well to Reyjkavik anyway! We stopped off at Stykissholmur, which was cute but slightly oversold by Lonely Planet and then we stopped for a picnic lunch at Kirkjufell. Another Game of Thrones filming spot, the iconic cone shaped mountain and fronting waterfall has made its way into many a photo, but alas, not for us. Once again, cloud got the better of us and in a repeat of the Matterhorn saga, we had to drag a reluctant Andy on from the viewing point.
Budhir was next on our list, which is a charming black church house backing onto a dramatic but beautiful beach. It was an amazing spot for photography and an interesting area to explore.
Our last destination before Reykjavik was the Landbrotalaug hot pots, nothing but natural hot pools which are literally roadside for swimming.
The whole week went so incredibly fast and I couldn’t quite believe that it was over already. Fortunately we still had two nights in Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon to look forward to, as I definitely wasn’t yet able to comprehend the thought of leaving majestic Iceland!