Iceland South Shore Day 3: Jökulsárlón to Vik

The day started with a trip to the tiniest petrol station (particularly one on the busiest road of an entire country!) to fill up.

I decided to go a little further east before heading back west, so my first port of call (sorry!)  was the south Höfn (pronounced somewhere between “hep” and “hup”, with a glottal stop) and pick up a picnic.

There was very little to see beyond the harbour and tiny museum, but it could easily be a good base for an explore of the south east corner if you were that way inclined. I always am of the exploring inclination so soon decide to head back west, stopping off for a bit of rally driving practice (left foot braking and drifting the corners!) on the dirt tracks towards another glacier, which I think is called Hoffelsjokull (it was too remote for signage!).

As I had to drive back past Jökulsárlón (which, along with the Breidarmerkurlon glacier which flows into it, were locations for ‘A View To A Kill’ and ‘Die Another Day’, Bond fans), it seemed rude not to stop and take more photos in the glorious late morning sunshine:

I stopped off at most glaciers and smaller glacier lagoons along the road, taking lots of walks and having immense fun doing ice scrambling (hey, you can’t do this sitting at your desk in central London!). The longest walk of the day was to and on the Skaftafellsjökull:

It was about halfway across the remote expanse of the Skeiðarársandur when I realise that, despite filling up that morning, I was running very low. Running out somewhere across Skeiðará as Katla and Grimsvotn erupted simultaneously and the resulting flood swept me out to sea in the tiny Hyundai crossed my mind, but made it back to Klaustur on fumes.

Driving across the lava fields back across to Vik it was clear to see where the troll rumours come from… just screw your eyes up a bit and look at this:

I spent the late afternoon taking photos of waves crashing onto the rocks at Dyrhólaey:

…followed by some more rock scrambling, a beautiful sunset and wave chasing (with a busload of tourists who turned up out of nowhere) on the Reynisfjara peninsular just west of Vik.

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Iceland South Shore Day 2: Vik to Jökulsárlón

There was beautiful early morning sunshine whilst I had breakfast, but the weather turned nasty approximately two minutes after I started a walk on the beach in Vik, and stayed ridiculously (Icelandically!) changeable all day.

I received an element-battering whilst I took a few photos of the Reynisdrangar rock stacks   (legend has it that three trolls out causing mischief one night were turned to stone once dawn broke), before continuing my drive east across the Mýrdalssandur (below).

The next stop on my journey along the south shore was the 120-person village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (meaning something like ‘church farm cloister’, but more commonly known as “Klaustur” to its friends!). I walked up the steep path on the west side of Systrafoss waterfall (seen below from the top, looking over the glacial run-off plain below), around the Systravatn (Sisters’ Lake) that it flows from, and round the rest of a steep and boggy loop back down into the village.

Continuing east, I took a quick stop at Foss á Siðu, as it looked like a great waterfall for a scramble over rocks at the left hand side. Of course, the combination of wet rocks and a clumsy ginger kid led to the clumsy ginger kid almost falling in, but it was fun!

The Skeiðarársandur glacial outwash plain is much larger and more spectacular than the Myrdalssandur (apparently covering a massive 320,000 acres), with long, narrow bridges to carry Route 1 across the many drainage channels.

Halfway across I stopped to look at the photo boards of the worst flooding, caused by the  jökulhlaup after the 1996 eruption of Grímsvötn (the volcano which caused the smaller ash cloud in May 2011). There’s also a twisted girder of the Skeiðará old bridge by the information signs, giving just a little indication of the destructive power of nature.

Further east, beyond the Skaftafell National Park visitor centre, I decided to go it alone on a glacier hike (I’ve done organised ones on past trips), and spent a merry hour sliding and scrambling around in the moraine at the end of the Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue.

The last big driving stretch of the day – from Svínafellsjökull to Jökulsárlón – was the best of an amazing amount of beautiful scenery.  I had phenomenal views of glaciers and mountains both in front of me and behind, and felt extremely lucky both to be there and that the road was almost deserted so I could keep stopping for photos.

Jökulsárlón (the glacier lagoon) is simply as stunning as I was expecting it to be, and a whole lot more. Despite the bitter cold my friends and I spent a good couple of hours taking photos and watching the seals

…also looking for the Great Skua (not the British Sea Power record!). And then someone set the sky on fire.

I can cram a lot into these days.

After I’d found my hostel and had dinner it got even better, as the clear night and open skies, I finally got to see some bright flashing greens and purples of the northern lights. Only a little “show”, but absolutely stunning and leaving me wanting to make another trip to see the Aurora in its wider beauty again soon.

Iceland South Shore Day 1: Keflavik to Vik

My plane was only delayed for a few minutes at Heathrow, but I admit I checked to see if Katla had done it at the worst possible time for me (see below). Thankfully not.
Anyway I picked up my hire car at Keflavik, did a few manoeuvres to re-acquaint myself with a left hand drive, then got on my way (OK I might have “changed” the driver’s door pocket a couple of times before Hveragerði, but we’ll keep that to ourselves, eh?!).

Time and daylight hours were against me, so it was foot down towards Vik. But I still managed a couple of detours off Route 1 once past Selfoss and well on my way:
1) Bakki, where the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) ferry leaves from, has beautiful black lava beaches. In a Force 4 gale after dark it was a true ginger kid seaside paradise!

2) Seljalandsfoss, where the waterfall was heavily backlit and looked beautiful. Of course, just after I arrived a couple of the bulbs blew and it got creepy, but there you go.

A slightly spooky place to be alone after dark

The stops meant I had to drive the last few miles into Vik in extreme dark (not many street lights here), heavy winds and driving rain. Fun. It was only when I parked in Vik that I discovered the handbrake in the Hyundai I3 was a little “traumatised” by a summer of American rental drivers, and could no longer hold the car’s own weight in a Force 4 gale (NB. if anyone finds the CCTV footage from the Vindbudin car park you may see me running after the car Keystone Cops-style!).

Vik is the southernmost village in Iceland, and currently preparing itself as the volcano Katla is tipped to erupt “soon” (that’s geographically soon, not necessarily next week).

Looking down into Vik from the HI Hostel on the hillside

Home to a population of c. 300 people, on Saturday the population of Vik increased by a temporary impromptu Yorkshire convention (Elly and Jamie had found others from ‘God’s Own County’ in the HI hostel on arrival). Further excitement was provided by the local cultural festival, “headlined” by an ageing covers band providing a disco in the bar adjoining the local petrol station (and still people were going outside to smoke?!) featuring ALL of the village and, possibly, me attempting to samba dance in hiking boots. Erm… skilz!

A pick-up AND an SUV? Damn, we got visitors... best start ourselves a party!