We began our journey by driving the same route as we did for the Golden Circle tour, passing Hveragerði. Instead of turning north toward the interior of the island, we continued on the Ring Road staying along the coast. The land along the south coast is extremely flat because it was carved by a glacier; the south coast is also the warmest part of Iceland. We ate lunch in Vík (which means bay – Reykjavík means smoky bay).
After lunch we drove to the black beach, Reynisfjara, right next to Vík. It was gorgeous with black lava as fine as sand down by the water while further back on the beach were black stones polished smooth due to the continuous waves of the ocean washing over them.
The bright green, grass-covered mountains led right up to the ocean with a cliff of hexagonal basalt columns facing the ocean. At the base of the mountain/cliff were caves carved out from the incessant beating of the ocean. This beach is rated one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world.
From Reynisfjara we drove to the glacier, Sólheimajökull. The ice was streaked with black in some places while other areas were completely covered in black volcanic ash from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. (This was the volcano that stopped air traffic in Europe for a week due to the amount of volcanic ash caught in the jet stream.)
We then drove to the waterfall, Skógafoss, and climbed more than 200 steps to get to the overlook at the top;
we continued our drive until we reached Seljalandsfoss which is a waterfall we could walk behind. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of spray making us a bit damp.
We drove back to Reykjavík along the Ring Road, the same route we drove this morning. We stopped along the way to take pictures of a turf house and a mountain cave. When the settlers from Norway and Sweden arrived in Iceland in 874 AD, they lived in mountain caves and turf huts. The last family in Iceland to live in a mountain cave moved into a modern house in 1950! Our guide is probably 55 years old and his grandparents lived in a turf house until 1957. Turf houses and mountain caves were heated by the animals who lived with the people in these homes. An average of 24 animals lived with a family and initially the people and the animals lived on the same level of the house. Over time however, the settlers built a second level where the people would reside; therefore the heat from the animals would rise and keep the people warm. This is such a great example of necessity being the mother of invention!
We could see the Westman Islands off the South coast. In 1973 a volcano in the Westman Islands erupted and the entire island population of 5000 people was evacuated to the main island (Iceland) where they stayed with family or friends. 317 homes were destroyed either directly by the magma or due to the weight of the ash on the rooftops which caused them to cave in. Homeowner’s insurance wasn’t really used in Iceland at that time, but eventually the government offered to pay each family to replace their home. Some families however, remained on the main island, never returning to the Westman Islands.
There are digital signs along the Ring Road stating the speed and direction of the wind as well as the air temperature – important information in this environment. There are frequent summertime sandstorms along the southern Ring Road and in summer 2013 the sandstorms were so bad that they severely damaged rental cars, blowing out all the windows and scratching the paint – a rather unpleasant experience for tourists! Since then, the Lupine wildflower has been planted to anchor the dirt/lava and reduce the potential damage of sandstorms. Thankfully, we avoided the sandstorm experience! 🙂 In wintertime, the winds on the south coast are strong enough to blow a car off the road. Experienced tour bus drivers steer directly into the wind, which can still cause them to blow off the road and into a farmer’s pasture, but at least they remain upright! Often, they can drive back onto the road but if not, they telephone the farmer and ask to be towed out.
All the driving today along the south coast was beautiful. On one side of the road were the bright green mountains which seem impossibly steep while the other side of the road was so flat that there was no visible delineation between farmland, ocean and the horizon beyond. All the scenery: green mountains, black beach, lava fields, etc. was simply breathtaking.