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Iceland Part II: The South Coast, Reykjavík to Vík

  • By Austin Chow
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Iceland Part II: The South Coast, Reykjavik to Vik

After walking the rim of the Kerið Crater, you’ll continue heading south on Route 35 to reunite with the Ring Road. You’ll quickly cross the Ölfusá river and bank a left through the quiet town of Selfoss. This is a great pit stop to fuel up, stock some groceries, and grab a quick bite before venturing down the South Coast. Buckle up, this is where your road trip really heats up.

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss at Sunset

As you leave the city, the landscape will become noticeably greener as the glacial mountains on your left level into the sea on your right. Though you’ll be gripping the steering wheel with ample anticipation, enjoy the mellow drive through the southern countryside, enjoying hundreds of Icelandic horses and thousands of sheep along the way. The domesticated animals freely graze the land, including the roads, so a quick side note: “Count to 3” is a local rule you should definitely be aware of pertaining to sheep. The sheep most commonly breed two offspring that will roam and travel with their mother so if you only see one or two, be aware that a third is likely in the area and may dart across the road in front of you. You’ve been warned. 

70km south of Selfoss, take a left at Road 249. You won’t miss it because the towering waterfall of Seljalandsfoss is visible from Route 1. Our first pass at this was in the middle of the day and it was quite crowded. We opted to keep heading south and set up camp at Skógafoss before backtracking to enjoy this beauty at midnight, and we had the whole place to ourselves! The main path will take you right up the fall, and even allows you to walk behind the fall itself. Note: wear your rain jacket or shell and make sure your camera gear is weather resistant because you will get wet.

Seljalandsfoss

When you force your fiancée to put your jacket on and weather the super soaker for the shot.

Seljalandsfoss from the Inside

You can walk behind the falls of Seljalandsfoss, just prepare to get wet (and protect your gear) especially if it's a windy day.

Drangshlíð 2

Drangshlid 2 Barns Iceland

Continuing south down Route 1 roughly 25km, you’ll come across a peculiar rock formation that houses farm sheds built directly into the rocky caverns. Aside from being particularly unique and picturesque, these structures below the Eyjafjöll mountains carry heavy ties to elf-lore. Legend has it that this was one of the many mystical spots in Iceland inhabited by elves. The elves in this rock were particularly responsible for taking care of the farmer's cows during birth as humans were not allowed to be present for the occasion. When the farmer disappeared never to be seen again, nobody searched for him, for they knew he had fallen in love with an elf and retreated to the rock to live with her forever. These barns are unmarked so be sure to watch your odometer, and keep an eye out on the left side of the road or you might blow right by them. 

Drangshlid 2 Rock Barn

Just your typical mountain house in Iceland.

Drangshlid 2 Turf Hut

This gives a whole new meaning to mowing the lawn.

Skógafoss

Skogafoss Morning Shower

Only 4 clicks further lies one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls: Skógafoss. Skógar is also an awesome place to set up home base for the day/night with a designated campsite right at the base of the mega-waterfall. Talk about an amazing place to rest your head and fall asleep to the forceful-but-somehow-very-peaceful-rushing water. There is also a bomb café that has fresh coffee, a mean leg of lamb and clean bathrooms for paying patrons. Make sure to hike the fall to enjoy different perspectives and unique views of the fall from above. You’re also sure to see horses and sheep dotting the hillside, making for a storybook landscape experience.

Skogafoss Perch

I love it when other wild tourists play model for the day.

Leg of Lamb in Iceland

Mmmmmmm...fresh home-made lamb.

Sólheimasandur’s Famous Plane Crash

Iceland Plane Crash Jump

On November 24, 1973, A US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 plane crashes on Iceland's southern shore. What’s even more shocking is that everyone survived and they just left the plane where it came to rest. Seriously…what? Famous for creating a unique background for Instagrams around the world (including some Justin Bieber album art), this unique site has purposely been made harder to find. Local landowners and authorities have banned vehicle access to the beach and have removed all signs from the road. So, here’s how you find it from Skógafoss: head southeast down Route 1 for 9km and look for a small parking lot on the right. Most likely, you will see other cars parked and/or people walking out towards the ocean. It will look like they are walking aimlessly towards nothing because the plane crash is not visible from the road. After parking, you will need to head out on foot for 4km one way to reach the plane (about 5 miles roundtrip). Again, we opted to come here in the middle of the night to avoid the crowds. A couple other people had the same idea but relatively speaking, we got to enjoy the site in a very ominous peace. The downside to going in the middle of the night: we battled extremely strong winds and colder temperatures for our 5 miles of walking. Less than ideal, but nothing a little chocolate can’t fix.

Sólheimasandur’s Plane Crash Fuselage

There is nothing here but the harsh weather and this completely gutted plane skeleton. Can you even imagine being in this on its final descent?

Plane Fuselage Iceland

Despite the expected vandalism - from carved initials to gunshot holes - the body remains mostly in tact from the crash. Spooky, iconic, haunting and beautiful...this is something you don't see everyday.

Dyrhólaey Arch and Viewpoint

Dyrholaey Arch Iceland

After packing up the tent, bid adieu to the raging waters of Skógafoss and continue on your journey towards Vík. Vík’s surrounding areas offer some different and amazing landscapes to behold, but directions can be a little confusing and there is an efficient way to hit everything in order and minimize backtracking on dead end roads. Approximately 22km south of Skógar, take a right on Dyrhólavegur (Road 218), taking another right at the last fork (both left and right are Road 218) to head up the dirt road to the Dyrhólaey Viewpoint. 4x4’s are recommended but you can make it up in a regular car with careful navigation of the road that is heavily deteriorated in some spots. At the top, you will get an amazing 360-degree view of the glacial mountains seemingly melting into the black sands of the southern coastline. This is also where you will get the best view of the Dyrhólaey Arch, which is almost impossible to see from down on the neighboring beaches.  

Dyrholaey View

The amazing westward view of the Southern Coast from the Dyrhólaey Viewpoint.

View of Reynisfjara from Dyrholaey

From Dyrhólaey to the needle stacks of Reynisdrangar, you will find plenty of troll folklore, the "Eagle Rock" Arnardrangur seen here, and black sand for days. Best if walked at low tide.

Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar

Reynisfjara Beach Caves Iceland

Carefully descend the potholes and retrace your steps back to Route 1, taking a right to head further east. Make a quick right on Road 215 (~7.5km after entering Route 1), and keep driving until it dead ends at the beach. Although only 4km as the crow flies from the Dyrhólaey Viewpoint, it is a 20km drive in total. Depending on the tide, it is possible to walk the entire distance of Reynisfjara but you risk getting cut off from your car and having to make a 5hr walk around the lagoon via the road. Don’t risk it – if you want to walk the beaches of Reynisfjara, do it from this car park. Here you can explore the mind-blowing natural black sand, unique cave formations, and the best views of Reynisdrangar, the iconic basalt sea stacks rising out of the ocean on the horizon. Not as good of a view is afforded from the Vík side.

Reynisfjara Basalt Columns Iceland

The wild basalt sea stack thrones of Reynisfjara.

Black Sand Beaches Iceland

The mesmerizing black sand beaches of Iceland.

Vík 

Vik Church Iceland

The last stop in this section is the municipality of Vík that has roots back to the Viking Age. A charming little town, it will be the largest town you come across until you reach Höfn in another 275km. Soak in the views of the iconic church (it was locked/closed when we tried to visit), take another walk on the black sand beaches if you fancy, and take a seat at the Halldorskaffi restaurant for a casual, local bite. Depending on where you are in your sleep cycle, Vík offers a surprisingly wide array of accommodation options including high end hotels, hostels and campgrounds. It’s also a great spot to refuel and restock before continuing on your journey of the Southern coast. Pictured above, the church of Vík sits perched upon a hilltop basking in lupine love. The epitome of Iceland's complex geography, the coastal town sits just below the Mýrdalsjökull glacier which currently covers an active volcano. It is feared that an eruption would cause a serious glacier-melt flood, and the church is believed to be the only building that would survive the runout to the ocean.

Black Sands of Iceland in Vik

The black sand is really black.

Sunset View in Vik of Reynisdrangur

The stacks of Reynisdrangar rising through the ocean mists against the late-night sun.

Pro Tips: 

What We Missed And Are Sure To Hit Next Time: This section of Iceland’s southern coast is also a major gateway to the Highlands region. We did not have the proper 4x4 outfit at the time, but next time we will enjoy a trek into the volcano huts of Þórsmörk, explore the geothermal wilderness of Landmannalaugar, and take a dip in Seljavallalaug, one of Iceland’s oldest pools.

What To Eat: Leg of lamb! Most likely the freshest lamb you will ever eat, this is a must try on your trip. Most of Iceland has great lamb dishes, but we felt a healthy portion could be found here at the Hotel Skogafoss Bistro Bar for a great price.

What You Can Miss: On a time constraint or traveling solo by passenger car (non 4x4), it’s okay to miss the more remote highlands. Plenty more accessible hiking, hot springs and geothermal landscapes lay ahead on the Ring Road. With more time and knowledge, we will explore this area in the future and report back.

Best Place to Camp: Right underneath Skógafoss. Take me back!

Continue the road trip with Part III: The South Coast, Vík to Höfn

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