Thursday, April 20
“Are we going somewhere?” — our phones buzz with a notification at dawn. It’s sumardagurinn fyrsti, or the first day of summer, a public holiday celebrated annually on the first Thursday after April 18. Staying home on a day like this means willfully increasing our chances of FOMO. Travelling somewhere usually calls for planning — a trait none of us can confidently claim to possess.
Should we do a picnic in Heiðmörk? Is there a pool like in Akranes, but different? How dangerous is Glymur this time of the year?
We take our time enjoying a few cups of coffee and playing a round of “whose car is better suited for an adventure?” As soon as we leave Reykjavík, our stomachs remind us it’s time to eat. Used to the abundance of food halls in the capital, we make a stop at Mjólkurbúið Mathöll in Selfoss. While the surrounding area feels like being in a cardboard version of Disneyland, the food hits the spot and we even catch a glimpse of local Scouts marching around town to celebrate the start of summer.
We continue our way south, but instead of sticking to Route 1, we veer inland towards the Highlands. The air is crisp and fresh. For the first time in a while, it feels like spring — ahem, summer — is truly here. Snowy fields start to transform into green grasslands and birds, like us, making their first journey in a long time, begin to sing. There is no sign of wind — a truly rare occurrence. Charmed by the idyllic landscape and calmness all around us, we agree that spring is the season to take risks and decide to cross a river in a car that is not meant for it. (Disclaimer: Some facts in the story are exaggerated; in this case, that “river” was a trickling spring.)
Located in Fossárdalur, the innermost part of Þjórsárdalur Valley, Háifoss is the country’s third highest waterfall. The unoriginality of its name says it all: Háifoss literally means “high waterfall.” At 122 metres, Háifoss is shorter than Morsárfoss (240 metres) and Glymur (198 metres). Glymur was our first choice, but the recent news of a tourist death there and unpredictability of weather conditions made us opt for a safer option.
The hike from the parking lot to the waterfall is not a difficult one. The trail is steep and narrow, making good shoes a necessity, but it’s otherwise perfect for lazy trekking.
It takes us less than an hour to reach the base of the falls — or at least as close as we were willing to get. The snow and slippery rocks prevent us from going any further. But we aren’t one bit disappointed — we stop at the perfect observation spot where the magnitude of the waterfall pairs with the reflection of sunbeams and voilà, a perfect rainbow, in better resolution than any Bíó Paradís screen could ever offer, appears in front of our eyes.
We instantly regret not bringing a disposable grill, or any picnic food, but decide not to worry too much. We lay on soft moss that feels almost like jumping into a bed full of plush cushions and listen to the silence: snow-capped mountains, rolling hills, the distant hum of wildlife and sun kisses on our cheeks. How little do the city kids need?!
With energy to spare, we continue our journey further into the Þjórsárdalur Valley, named after Iceland’s longest river Þjórsá. The place is supposed to look like it’s been ripped straight out of a fairytale. You know, like a movie scene where you’re driving down winding roads and are greeted by the sight of lush green hills and cascading waterfalls.
However, as we make our way through the valley, we notice that the scenery isn’t quite as magical as we were led to believe. The once-beautiful trees are now withered, and the branches are bare. But we’re still mesmerised by our surroundings and, as we make the turn onto the dirt road, our car begins to bounce around like a wild animal. This isn’t a well-maintained route — in fact, we soon discovered the road had recently been closed for weeks due to the severe weather conditions. Finally, our car comes to a halt in the middle of nowhere, leaving us stranded in an empty parking lot with no phone coverage. Despite the sense of isolation, we can’t help but feel a little uplifted when we notice a heart drawn in the gravel by previous visitors as a sign of hope.
The next turn had more beautiful surprises in store for us. Despite not being surrounded by a lush abundance of greenery, we were greeted by waterfalls hiding behind tall rocks and cliffs — all that was missing was a melodic tune.
One of the waterfalls was located in a part of the valley that we could have easily skipped, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of the day. Or should we say, the most humbling moment, because we found ourselves standing at the base of a waterfall that was four times our height. As we gazed up at the powerful cascade of water, we were reminded of just how forceful nature can be. In a moment of curiosity, we attempted to poke a stick through the rushing, but we were quickly jolted back to reality as it was yanked out of our hands and pulled into the deep pool of water below.
After navigating yet another winding path, we come across a shallow river and decide to brave it by jumping over the scattered stones jutting above the surface. We’re in search of even more natural beauty and we’re not disappointed. As we make our way across the river, we encounter a lost branch, which we affectionately name Evan. Together, we continue on our journey through the endless waterfalls, feeling like we saved a character straight out of Ruth B’s song “Lost Boy.”
By the time we reach the car, the day has already begun its descent towards night. We carefully give Evan an honourable place in the trunk, knowing that he’ll have a better home in Reykjavík. With tired but satisfied smiles, we begin the 1.5-hour drive back home on the same road we drove in on. Despite the long day and a couple unexpected mishaps, we feel grateful for the experiences we’ve had and the memories we’ve made. As the sun dips below the horizon, we know that this adventure will be one for the books — or at least, our journals and this magazine.
We cross the bridge out of Selfoss, watching a small island and its solitary tree in the rapids below, as the fog begins to thicken, making it difficult to see the road ahead. We turn on our headlights and slow down. Despite the challenges, the ethereal landscape is breathtaking.
So, if you’re wanting to venture out of the city on a day trip, look no further than Þjórsárdalur. With its otherworldly beauty and calm serenity, a one-day trip to this lesser-travelled valley is sure to leave you feeling awestruck — just don’t forget to pack a picnic…
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