When we arrive to the BSÍ terminal early in the morning, the air is crisp and clear and it looks like we picked a great day to tour the south shore of Iceland. However, we would soon learn firsthand that the weather in Iceland is fickle to say the least.
On the bus and heading south, our guide begins to tell us all about the mountains around Reykjavík, and how geothermal activity plays an important role in Iceland. In fact, more than 90 percent of all buildings are heated by geothermal energy.
The scenery is ever changing as our bus makes its way along Route 1. When the volcano, Hengill, comes into view in the distance, our guide informs us that it had erupted just recently. “About 2.000 years ago,” he continues, anticipating a laugh from the bus. Although Iceland has experienced two eruptions in the last two years, 2.000 is not a big number, geologically speaking.
We would later see that one of the two more recent eruptions, including the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010, has left its mark on the area with volcanic ash still blocking the riverbeds. This is because, as our guide explains, volcanic ash solidifies when it comes into contact with water and mud.
Driving past Hengill, we descend on a small town called Hveragerði. Small houses stand forlornly in the green landscape against a dark sky. The illuminated greenhouses in the valley look like spaceships that have just landed. Most of Iceland’s vegetables are grown in this area with the help of geothermal heat during the dark winter months.
From a blue glacier to a black beach
The first big highlight of the trip is a stop at Sólheimajökull, an outlet glacier that comes into view after a rather bumpy drive on a gravel road. The glacier tongue provides an extraordinary view from both afar and up close. The compressed ice is an amazing shade of blue, interspersed with black and white, which changes from every angle and change in the weather.
On we go to Vík í Mýrdal, the southernmost town in Iceland. Now, it might be charming in the summer when the weather is a bit more welcoming, but on a cloudy day in February, the only beautiful view is of the waves hitting the shore a few hundred metres away.
This view became even more breathtaking from the beach Reynishverfi, named after Reynir, first settler in the area. Never before had I seen such a magnificent black sand beach. The sea is in uproar and the waves turn parts of the beach into white foam, before receding again. The basalt rock formation at the beach, stemming from volcano eruptions thousands of years ago, remind me of the Giants Causeways in Ireland and are just as fascinating to look at.
The Reynisdrangar sea stacks, which rise from the water a few hundred metres from the coast, were reportedly formed when two trolls tried to drag a ship to the shore, but were caught off guard by the rising sun and turned to stone. At least that’s what the information sign by the parking lot says. The weather is getting rainier and windier and I am becoming colder and wetter, but this is definitely worth a stop.
Waterfalls don’t always obey gravity
Off we are, to the warmth of the Skógar museum, which proves to be a nice escape from the elements. The museum features thousands of artefacts from the last centuries collected by its founder, Þórður Tómasson, who opened the museum in 1949. It is clear that life in Iceland was not easy for settlers, and they had to be especially resourceful to make tools and find use for every part of the animals they killed. Þórður picks up a couple of old instruments and plays some Icelandic tunes for us.
Finally, our last two stops are at the waterfalls, Skógarfoss and Seljalandsfoss. Waterfalls tend to have a calming effect on me due to their steady rhythm of crashing water. Skógarfoss has this effect. It is impressive and soothing to watch, as I stand there thinking how this could go on forever. Nothing can stop a waterfall, it seems.
Seljalandsfoss, though smaller, is equally impressive. It is so windy that the water is derailed from its usual course, and blows away horizontally. Although you can walk behind this waterfall, I decide to enjoy the view from afar, feeling plenty wet already.
This is the end to our day in the south. I’d say that it would have been nicer if we had had better weather, but I suppose this was a typical Icelandic experience. You never know what the day brings here, especially weather-wise.
The South Shore Adventure trip was provided by Reykjavík Excursions. You can book it at www.re.is or by calling +354 580 5400