The southern coast of Iceland is where most of the island’s notable landmarks are located. There is no better way to explore Iceland than by car, so over the week-long Easter break we set off on a road trip through the land of fire and ice. One week is not enough to explore the whole country, so I had to make a selection of what I wanted to see in the limited time that we had, and having a car definitely helped to make the most of our time and cover decent distances in a bunch of days. I should begin by saying that most of the education I got about the beauties of Iceland came from two music videos, both set in the South of the country.
I first heard the song Fjara by Sólstafir when YouTube suggested it based on my music taste. I fell in love with the song immediately (YouTube really knows me) and the video got me hooked on the beauty of Icelandic landscapes. I remember being absolutely intrigued by the plane wreck seen at 3:52, it was such a surreal setting it seemed staged.
In order to reach the plane one has to walk 4 Km from the parking lot towards the sea. The beach is a slight slope, so despite being a totally flat landscape with no obstacles to block the sight, the plane is not visible until you get pretty close to it. This can make the walk there quite frustrating, as you get the feeling you’re walking aimlessly through a flat and desolated landscape with no signs to understand how far you got. The wreckage is quite a popular tourist attraction, so we were walking there together with many other people, and were seeing many coming back during our endless walk. In the end for me it was totally worth it, but it got me questioning why walk a total of 8 Km through a desert beach to go see a plane wreck if you’re not into plane wrecks or Sólstafir?
The other features that dominate the music video for Fjara – and that Iceland is rightfully famous for – are waterfalls. On our trip across the southern coast we managed to see three: Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Svartifoss. The first two are easy to spot from the main road and are directly accessible from the parking lots nearby. Svartifoss is a little bit more hidden and requires a minor hike to be seen. At this time of the year the cold temperature still turns the waterfall mist into frost, which was what prevented us from being able to walk behind Seljalandsfoss.
Those charming basalt columns at Svartifoss, that I have renamed “the giant pencils”, are a recurring feature in the geology of Iceland and can be found in other parts of the country, too. I first learned about them in another music video, this time by an old favourite of mine, Tarja Turunen.
I have to say something unpopular, but up to here I was not overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the black beaches and impressive waterfalls were absolutely beautiful, but the country as a whole was giving me mixed feelings. Beautiful, but not more beautiful than other places I have seen. I had read so much about Iceland being absolutely overwhelming and I was not finding it like that. I started wondering if I had become such a travel snob I was not able to see the beauty anymore. Then I realized that it’s just that I do not find beaches and waterfalls overwhelming. What overwhelms me are mountains, glaciers and icebergs.
Awe struck the following day, when we drove to Jökulsárlón, the easternmost point we reached on our itinerary. Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon filled with icebergs of various sizes that detach from the tongue of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in the backdrop and float in the glacier lake that has formed in front. The current and tides pull some smaller icebergs out of the lake towards the Atlantic Ocean through a short river that connects the lagoon to the sea.
The current of the Atlantic pushes some of the icebergs that make it to the sea onto the black sand beach that runs along the ocean’s shoreline. Many get stranded there and glow bright against the dark sand. This occurrence earned the beach the poetic name of Diamond Beach. We were so awed after visiting the lagoon (we even spotted some seals!) that we almost didn’t notice the beach on the other side of the road. Luckily we double checked and headed there before driving away. We ended up spending even more time at the Diamond Beach than at the lagoon itself.
I had never seen an iceberg before. Witnessing such beauty made me finally get it, now I was finally overwhelmed.
There is this Icelandic proverb that says that if you don’t like the weather you should just wait 5 minutes. I learned this when I was studying in Oslo and the fast changes in the weather were confusing me. Norwegians like to claim this proverb is also true for them. On our first night in Iceland I got to learn something more about this Icelandic saying. The host in our first guesthouse added a line: If you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes… it’ll get worse. So if in Norway the 5-minute wait was somewhat reassuring, because you knew the weather would change and it could always go for the better, in Iceland you know it can only get worse. Not so reassuring.
Giving the moody quality of the weather in Iceland I was prepared to witness any kind of it and I didn’t mind. Also, coming in April I was actually hoping for some episodes of snow. I tried keeping an eye on the forecast days before the trip, as I usually do before travelling somewhere, but to no use, it would constantly change, so I was just prepared for anything and didn’t make any particular wish for shining sun. Except for one day, the one we were scheduled to visit Jökulsárlón. I had seen pictures of the white icebergs floating in the water that reflects a milky white sky. And I had seen pictures of the white icebergs floating in the bluest water on sunny days. I had prayed for that blue and my wish came true. (Don’t worry, I got plenty of storms in the following days to make up for all that luck!)