Firstly, I must begin by saying that this day was completely awe-inspiring. I ended it feeling like the luckiest girl in the world, for having seen and experienced all I had. However I have skipped a couple of bits, to avoid this becoming crazy-long.
Itinerary: Vatnsholt Guesthouse & B&B, Vatnsholt > Skogafoss waterfall > Sólheimasandur plane crash wreckage > Vìk beach > Gulfoss > Geysir > The Secret Lagoon > Selfoss > Reykjavik
Sunrise at Vatnsholt Guesthouse & B&B, Vatnsholt
We managed to catch yet more incredible Icelandic light during sunrise at the guesthouse. I can’t tell you just how unusual the light is in Iceland during that time of year – like the weather, it is constantly shifting and, except for mid-morning, it seems to almost always be on the verge of sunrise or sunset.
Before leaving, the hotel staff showed us where the owners keep several pets, including ravens and arctic foxes. Although they were sweet, and I was glad to have encountered an arctic fox, I couldn’t help but feel disapproving. The arctic fox is the only land mammal native to Iceland, and to me it felt wrong to see them cooped up in a cage.
We headed back down to the Southern coastal road once more, to catch the sights we weren’t able to fit in in the previous day, including my favourite of the Icelandic waterfalls I’ve seen so far – Skogafoss. It is my favourite not only because of the incredible black volcanic beach it sits upon, but also because of the incredible views from the top of it, reached by an exhausting number of stairs. The land stretching out to the coast stretches out, flat and somehow seemingly broken, as far as the eye can see and beyond.
Rainbows also quite often play across the flow of water, and we were lucky enough to see both the beginning and end of one, that morning.
Sólheimasandur plane crash wreckage
In 1973, a US Navy plane crash landed on the black volcanic sand dunes of Sólheimasandur, a short drive from the main coastal road in the South of Iceland. The exact reason for the crash isn’t known, but rumour has it that the pilot accidentally switched over to the wrong fuel tank and then ran out of fuel. Thankfully, everyone on board survived and lived to tell the tale.
The wreckage was abandoned on the beach, and is now a famous site frequented by photographers and tourists alike. It most recently featured in a Justin Beiber video.
Finding it can be interesting – we found a sign on the main road to Vìk alleging that the path through the dunes was 1km away, however the path itself didn’t appear to be sign-posted, so we ended up driving up and down huge, towering dunes whose gradients were so steep that at times we were on three wheels.
The only thing I can liken that landscape to is the lunar surface – the black dunes were piled so high that at some points we weren’t even able to see the tips of the glacier and mountains behind us, which were the only constant in the constantly shifting landscape – and although not far away, we didn’t once see the sea.
Eventually, we spotted a couple of other cars in the otherwise completely bare landscape, and followed them to the crash site.
Reynishverfi beach at Vìk
The beach just before the turn off to Vìk, Reynishverfi, is one of my favourite places in Iceland. The sea crashes violently over the black beach, pooling around the famous sea stacks, which are said to be the remains of trolls who got caught dragging their boat out at dawn.
Another thing I love about this beach is the views it affords of the Westman Islands (see below), an archipelago of islands which are located just off the south coast, and were formed by a series of volcanic eruptions. In 1973, the eruption of the Eldfell volcano destroyed 1/5 of the only inhabited island, Heimaey.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never seen such a fragmented island before, and the views from the beach were quite haunting.
Tip: For anyone headed here, don’t risk trying to get closer to the stacks – the force of the waves here are infamous, and even the Icelanders don’t take them on.
After Vìk, we sped north to Geysir and Gulfoss – both absolutely incredible spectacles of nature and must sees, but which I won’t go into in more detail here for the sake of the word count! However it’s worth noting both are always included in Iceland’s famous Golden Circle, which is an essential tourist trail.
The Secret Lagoon, Fludir
The Secret Lagoon, Fludir, Iceland
As we drove north, I decided I was determined to find one of Iceland’s famous natural hot springs for us to chill out in after our long day of driving. Most of them seem to be located in the south west, but I stumbled across one in Fludir, a small geothermal town just beneath the Golden Circle, which was newly reopened.
Once used by the entire local community for everything from doing laundry to teaching local children to swim, The Secret Lagoon is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, dating back to 1891, but fell out of use for decades in the 20th century. Eventually, its owner, who only then used it to entertain friends in, decided to reopen it for the public in 2014.
Unlike Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, The Secret Lagoon is truly a natural wonder. That night, we stripped off and showered the Icelandic way (read: naked, in open showers) before strolling out into 38c lagoon – a welcome change from the icy temperatures we’d been driving in.
To the left of us was one of Iceland’s many geothermal greenhouses, glowing a hot orange, and to the right, geothermal woodland and a little geysir that went off every five minutes, bubbling furiously and shooting boiling water into the sky. Beneath us, under the water, soothing music which sounded like Sigur Ros without the lyrics, played – which only added to the utterly unreal ambiance.
But the real magic happened when the lights from the greenhouse were switched off for the night.
So far in our trip, we’d only seen Northern Lights that were so faint we required the expert eye of the guesthouse staff to ascertain whether they were actually aurora, or a lighter patch of sky with clouds.
But while we floated in the warm water, listening to the soothing music being played under the water, a horizontal stripe of green appeared above the trees, in the sky over the geothermal woodland. This was my first glimpse of the lights as they appear on photographs – a green tunnel of light.
Although I still haven’t mastered the art of being able to catch them moving, I also spotted patches of green erupting over the silhouettes of fur trees on the horizon, too. It looked like it could’ve been lifted straight from the pages of a Nordic fairytale.
I could’ve stayed in that water watching the sky all night – and we were there for a good 4 hours – but we needed to get back to Reykjavik, a good 1.5 hour drive at least, so we towelled off and hopped back into the Land Cruiser.
The Northern Lights
As we drove back to Reykjavik along a long stretch of country road, something in the top of the windscreen caught my eye. Blood pounding in my ears, I shouted to pull over.
We managed to pull up on the side of the road (nearly driving into a frozen stream in the process) and scrambled out as quick as we could.
The depth of green in the sky was more than I’d ever seen by far, and as I looked up and back, I craned my neck as far as it would go, and the colour just went on and on, overhead. Turning, I realised it was streaming over our heads, across the centre of the sky, for miles in the other direction, too. It was as if someone had smeared a huge, thick, paint brush covered in green paint across the sky.
We stood there in the freezing cold for half an hour, drinking it in. To say it was awe-inspiring is an understatement.
We must’ve looked crazy, just the four of us standing on the side of a country road, near midnight on a Saturday night. In fact, the only car that passed us pulled up to ask if we’d broken down.
To have caught them at such a vibrant intensity on our final night in Iceland, was too wonderful.
Fast food, the Icelandic way
The race to fit as much in as possible meant we hadn’t eaten since leaving Vìk at 2pm that day, and by this point, we were absolutely starving. The Secret Lagoon staff had recommend somewhere we could grab a bite on the drive back to Reykjavik (a godsend as we barely saw anywhere else the entire drive back).
Pylsuvagninn is a late night drive-thru selling two of young Icelanders’ major food groups: hot dogs and Coca Cola. We pulled up, too hungry to even double take the drunk Icelandic guy relieving himself on the traffic island (don’t ask), and immediately ordered what was probably our weights combined in fries, as a bemused, drunk Icelandic student looked on (NB: Iceland is one of the only countries I’ve ever been to where even fast food shop clientele resemble supermodels).
They had Coca Cola in every size and type of packaging I’ve ever seen, lined up in the fridges, and a huge array of hot dog toppings. I opted for onions and Icelandic mustard – which turned out to be an unappetising shade of light brown.
Standing in that greasy drive-thru, hot dog in hand, exhausted and prune-fingered from the lagoon, I felt so overwhelmingly lucky. It was single-handedly one of the most incredible days of my life, and easily my favourite travelling memory to date.
I can’t wait to one day head back to this beautiful, awe-inspiring country, to see it for the first time in summer. That summer road trip has a definite place on my travel bucket list.
Have you ever been to Iceland? If so, which aspects of it did you enjoy the most?
Photo Credits: The Secret Lagoon images courtesy of secretlagoon.is, all other images are by me.