On our second day in Iceland, we rose at 7.30am to find the streets of Reykjavik shrouded in pitch darkness. After a pit stop for supplies, we hit the road, taking Route 1 south.
On my previous trip, it was the South Coast that really stole my heart, with its towering volcanoes and glaciers, black sand beaches, sea stacks and stunning waterfalls. Unfortunately on my last visit we arrived too late in the season to visit Jökulsárlón – one of the world’s only glacial lagoons. The journey from Reykjavik takes 4 hours each way, and in the depths of winter there simply isn’t enough daylight to get there and see enough of it to justify the journey.
But the weekend we visited in November 2015 was the final one during which you could find a tour to take you there, so we figured that meant it was doable, even if it would still mean a long drive.
As far as sights on the roads went, this day was by far my favourite. Some of the mountains and lava fields we saw on the road to Jökulsárlón will stay with me forever. One particular set of peaks almost reduced me to tears with its beauty – something that, while I’m definitely more of a mountains than beach kind of girl,has never happened to me ever before.
Itinerary: Reykjavik > Vìk > Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon > Fjorubordid Lobster Restaurant, Stokkseyri > Vatnsholt Guesthouse & B&B, Vatnsholt
Route 1: Heading South East from Reykjavik
An hour or so after setting off, the landscape turned white with snow. After two days of driving we became accustomed to the way the temperature, weather and landscapes would suddenly and dramatically change within a matter of an hour – but this was our first experience of this, and the sun had started to rise, so we made a stop on the side of the road to drink it all in.
It was so cold that morning that after 10 minutes outside my feet went numb, despite my two pairs of socks (including thick walking socks.) If you look closely you can actually see the body heat radiating off Rick and Olivia in the cold.
As we had such a long day of driving ahead of us, and the coastal road is so full of wonderful things to see, we allowed ourselves the luxury of occasionally stopping to see some wonder or other as we passed.
One of these included the Seljalandsfoss waterfall – one of the biggest and best of the waterfalls which tumble down over the cliffs that stand sentry above this stretch of coastal road. Ordinarily it is possible to walk behind this waterfall, but such was the cold that the lava gravel path leading up behind it was solid ice – and even the rope fence that marks the pathway was shrouded in an inch of it.
What was truly amazing to see was the extent of the reach of spray coming off it – about 20 meters at least – which was visible in the ice-encased blades of apricot-coloured grass. Coming from England, I’d seen the ground crunchy with frost, or heaped in snow, but never so thickly frozen like that before.
One of the best things about the waterfalls on this coastal road is the views of the surrounding land they afford. Although Route 1 is the southern most road on this part of the South coast, the land is so flat and the distance so great, you can’t actually see the sea or the beaches from these points, but the vivid colours of the fields, the resting volcanoes and the occasional desolate timber hut or barn make for pretty amazing landscapes.
Icelandic Horses and Views of Iceland’s most famous volcano, Eyafjallajökull
Probably one of the most amazing landscapes on the trip, this herd of horses grazing beneath the peaks of Eyafjalljökull and its glacier took my breath away. I had brought carrots to feed them, but they were too shy and couldn’t be tempted close enough to pet.
Eyafjallajökull is the volcano that sent international airspace into a frenzy back in April 2010, when it violently erupted, sending ash several kilometres into the atmosphere and resulting in the closure of airspace in North West Europe. 800 local residents were evacuated.
Incredibly, while the fields and land looked fairly unscathed, the cliffs and peaks surrounding Eyafjallajökull were visibly scorched black with lava.
Driving East from Vìk through Skaftafell and on to Vatnajökull
The town of Vìk is the last major landmark for around 190 kilometres West on Route 1. I’ve never in my life seen such a great expanse of uninhabited land. Thankfully, we had filled up the car before leaving Vìk – otherwise the sheer distance we covered would’ve definitely defeated our petrol tank.
The road takes you through the lushest, greenest, most fairytale-like, moss-covered lava fields, and past what have become the most beautiful mountain ridges I’ve ever seen. If I thought the landscapes earlier on had been beautiful, they had nothing on this.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
We finally arrived at Jökulsárlón shortly before sunset. The temperature had seriously dropped, and winds were whipping along the surface of the lagoon, so we lingered by the water for as long as we could bear it. It was amazing to see the chunks of ice drifting out along the shallow glacial river which headed out under the bridge, to the sea. And we even saw a sea lion bobbing about in the freezing water.
The serious magic happened on the beach opposite, however. The black lava beach was littered with huge, gleaming pieces of ice. Some were smudged with lava sand, but were mostly still translucent.
The shore line was absolutely breathtaking. Large chunks of ice bobbed about in the water for at least half a mile out to sea. Sea foam soared over and around them as the waves crashed in, the setting sunlight was so strong that the foam from the waves further up the shore line looked like golden smoke that evaporated as the waves met the beach. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this sight as long as I live.
And then just when it couldn’t get more awe-inspiring, that incredible Icelandic light decided to put on another show. As we headed back to the visitor center, the snowcapped black mountain range hanging in the horizon north east behind the center turned bronze.
As the light faded, I gave off-roading in the Land Cruiser on the beach a go – before watching the sunset turn the hills and mountains pink, the light bouncing off the bridge over the glacial river that carries the ice out to sea.
Fjorubordid Lobster Restaurant, Stokkseyri
Finally, after a long drive back West (during which we realised the full beam on the land cruiser didn’t work unless the lever was constantly held down), we arrived at Fjorubordid, a lobster restaurant we’d been recommended by an Icelandic contact, in a small coastal town of Stokkseyri.
It was a relief to discover that the prices weren’t too extortionate, as in some Icelandic restaurants – a mouthwatering 250g lobster, served in a mindblowing broth with trimmings (including cucumbers in dill, tomato basil salad, cous cous, fresh greens and baby potatoes) was 5,050 Icelandic kronor (around £30) – which isn’t bad considering lobster in the UK can cost around this much.
The restaurant itself was twee – a wood panelled room with nicely spaced tables and the loveliest, most attentive (and to be honest – attractive!) staff. I’d really recommend it to anyone heading along the coastal road.
Vatnsholt Guesthouse & B&B, Vatnsholt
A quick call to our hostel cut our visit short, however, as the girl on reception told me the Northern Lights were making an appearance. We drove as fast as we possibly could in order to get there before the show was over.
I don’t have many pictures from his night as the lights were quite faint.
Needless to say, we had the entire guesthouse to ourselves. I will confess that it was a little creepy – and did feel slightly like a SAW film when we noticed the receptionist abandoning us for the night – but even a tiny glimpse of the lights was worth it, and we kept warm by sitting out in the Land Cruiser in the car park, swigging the cough syrup-y but surprisingly warming and satisfying Icelandic flavoured vodka, Opal, and listening to shockingly cheesy music on Spotify.
Spoiler: Day 3 of our trip I can safely say was one of the best of my entire life so far, so do look out for the details of the penultimate day of our trip next week.
Photo Credits: Fjorubordid image by the restaurant management, everything else by me.