Southeast and Southwest Iceland

by Colleen Morrow in


Yeah, that was a long day in the car.  Even though we were on the ring road, parts of it were still gravel and there were some pretty steep climbs and descents through a couple of mountains.  But we got to see some incredible sights so I think the driving was worth it. 

After somewhere around 4 hours in the car, we reached Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon, which was amazing.  It's this huge lake, somewhere around 25 square kilometres where chunks break off of Breiðamerkurjökull, an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull (Iceland's largest glacier and the largest ice cap not on one of the poles.) They move through through the lagoon down to the ocean.  Sadly, the lagoon is growing rather rapidly as the glacier recedes at a rate of nearly 500m per year. But it is really beautiful with all the icebergs floating around in this lake and hanging out. It can take them up to 5 years to make their way from the glacier to the ocean so there's not a whole lot of action going on.  But we did get to see one break up and shift around before the pieces settled again, though, one drifted out to the ocean. We also took some time to wander on the beach, where icebergs are hanging out on the shore, walking amongst them. It is one of the most unique things I've ever seen. Also, it turns out that at least part of Die Another Day takes places there so now I'm interested in seeing my first Bond movie.  

From there, it was over to Skaftafell for a bit of a hike. The day was starting to wind down and the weather wasn't looking awesome so we opted for a 3.7km walk to Skaftafellsjökull, another part of Vatnajökull. This part of the glacier is really dirty from volcanic ash and it just felt so desolate. We also got caught in a downpour in which there was either really painful rain or hail hitting us. It was a good thing it was our last stop for the day because we were so soaked, we couldn't have the heat on in the car because the water just accumulated on the windows and we couldn't see where we were going. Luckily, we found our hotel and got into some warm, dry clothes and then had a glass of wine to make sure everything was okay. 

The next morning, it was off for more beaches and waterfalls. Which makes it sound like a beautiful day but it was really cold and windy. We started at Reynisfjara, which is one of the top 10 non-tropical beaches in the world. The waves were massive, crashing onto the black pebble beach and it felt so gloomy and moody with the dark sky and all the wind. I can't decide if I would rather have seen it on a calm, sunny day because it really was spectacular as we saw it.

From there, we headed on to Skógafoss, a rather high waterfall, whose spray stopped us from getting too close to the foot of the falls, though some brave souls went very close.  There was also a set of stairs that you could climb up to the top of the falls so we took all 450-ish steps to the top and wandered along the river for a short distance until we came to another smaller set of falls that I thought were more beautiful but were definitely smaller.  Then it was off to Seljalandsfoss, another falls that had a path that went in behind it.  Again, the wind was in full force so the spray was going everywhere. But the view from behind the falls was beautiful. We also took the time to wander over to Gljúfrabúi, which is this little waterfall that tumbles into a hidden canyon that you can make your way into. And OMG, it was amazing. This may have actually been my favourite few moments of the trip, which is too bad because with all the spray, it was impossible to get a photo that does it justice. 

From there, we made our way to our last stop for the day, Raufarhólshellir. It's a lava tube that's about 1.3km long. I don't know how far we made it it - we had to turn back because it was getting too steep for me to climb. But what we did see was really cool. The entry is fairly big with a lot of light and it's fairly easy to navigate. There's a "skylight" not too far in, letting lots of light in. And then you start going deeper in and it gets dark very quick. It was really rocky, which wasn't what I expected. I was surprised at how varied the rocks were in colour and how different the walls of the tube could be from one spot to the next. We had headlamps, which was good because I don't know how you'd hold a flashlight and clamour over some of the rocks. 

From there, it was on to our last hotel of the night to get a good night's sleep before heading out to the Golden Circle on our last day in Iceland. The Golden Circle is what most people do if they only do a two or three days in the country. It consists of Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir.

We started at Gullfoss, which is a double cascade and Iceland's most famous waterfall. It was quite sunny when we arrived, which made it a rather warm walk down to the falls and back. It wasn't sunny enough for rainbows to appear but it was still very impressive. Then it was on to Geysir. Or, more specifically Strokkur. Geysir doesn't erupt much anymore - I overhead a guide tell a group that it's only erupted once this year. But Strokkur is very active. It goes every 10 minutes or so. We didn't have to wait long to see it. Interestingly, you can see the steam coming up from the geyser and you can see which way the steam is blowing. And you can see how wet the ground is on one side of the geyser. Yet people still seemed surprised when they got drenched during an eruption. We stood far away from that particular spot and enjoyed two eruptions before wandering on to take a look at Geysir before driving off.

Þingvellir was our last stop for the day. It's the site of the world's first democratic parliament, and it's also on a tectonic plate boundary, so it was a double-whammy of cool stuff. They have a  good guess at the exact spot where the parliament was, which isn't far from a pool they used to drown women found guilty of adultery or infanticide. Our guidebook didn't tell us where they used to drown men guilty of the same crimes and I didn't get a chance to google it before we went so that pool will remain a mystery to me. 

From there, we headed back to the airport for our weekend in Copenhagen. Sadly, the cloudy weather made it impossible to see the Northern Lights again after our night in Mývatn. But we did get to see them once plus Iceland was absolutely beautiful so I think the trip was a success. It was a really wonderful week and I highly recommend it to anyone but strongly encourage you to pack a hat and a good windbreaker. 

Glacier lagoon.  Awesome!

Glacier lagoon.  Awesome!

One of the top 10 non-tropical beaches in the world.  GORGEOUS.

One of the top 10 non-tropical beaches in the world.  GORGEOUS.

It was so windy, the wind literally blew this little waterfall away. 

It was so windy, the wind literally blew this little waterfall away. 

Gljúfrabúi, possibly my favourite thing of the week

Gljúfrabúi, possibly my favourite thing of the week

Gullfoss is so pretty.

Gullfoss is so pretty.