Land of Wonders (Day 2)

I’m not usually a morning person but at the crack of dawn, I was wide-awake. It was probably the jet lag or better yet, the excitement of waking up on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic kicking in. As the days get longer moving into summer, it’s difficult to sleep in unless you have total darkness. That’s a good thing. No time to sleep.

Breakfast at Kex hostel again this morning. If you stay here, which I highly recommend, do yourself a favor and pay for the breakfast every morning. It may not be as cheap as eating a croissant and some coffee but it’s gets your day started on the right track.

Hyped at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall

We checked out of Kex hostel today and set off for our trip along the southern coast. First stop on our drive was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It’s only about 80 miles from Reykjavik along the Highway 1. It’s massive. Freezing cold water falls from 200 feet above into a little pool directly below, sending a huge spray in the air. The rain started to come down which quickly turned to snow but it didn’t matter. I had my cheap little $3 umbrella that I used to shield myself from the snow, which was blowing into our faces.

The cool part about the Seljalandsfoss waterfall is that you can hike to the back of it and see it from the other side. I also noticed that you could camp in the fields near the waterfall, which would make for an epic breakfast setting should you be able to bear the freezing cold overnight.

Just about 18 miles further east along the southern coast, we came upon the Skógafoss waterfall in the town of Skógar. The waterfall is roughly the same height as the Seljalandsfoss waterfall and provides another dramatic scene to enjoy. Here, you can climb the few hundred steps to the top of the viewing deck that positions you right above the waterfall.

Skógafoss waterfall

If you're not a fan of crowds arriving in tour buses, I'd suggest getting here early in the morning or later in the evening.

Okay, two epic waterfalls seen before lunchtime…check. Where to next? Let’s check out the map. Back to the Ring Road. Otherwise known as ‘Hringvegur’ or Highway 1, the Ring Road is an 830-mile long highway around the country of Iceland that takes about 10 days in total to complete.

We continued on, all 4 of us cramped into this tiny car with all of our bags and luggage overflowing from the open trunk into the backseat. I opened up my little notebook with ideas and numbers jotted down to find our next destination. The ‘hidden pool’ of Seljavallalaug. I saw a picture of this pool a few months after I came home from my first trip to Iceland and I knew I had to find it someday. Today was going to be the day. I punched in the GPS coordinates of where it was supposed to be located (63°33’59”N, 19°36’32”W).

From the Highway 1, you turn off on exit 242 onto Raufarfellsvegur. Stay on this road for about 2 miles. You’ll pass a few stray houses and then you’ll end up in a gravel car park area. That’s as far as your car’s going to get. Not much around except for the epic scenery. As we got out of the car it began to snow. We weren’t really sure exactly where to go from this point. We continued on foot through the canyon for about 15 minutes as the snow picked up. We came across a small stream trickling down from the mountains that we needed to cross. It’s at this point where you have to just stop and look around at your surroundings. I truly felt like I was on a different planet. Simply amazing. Nothing but nature around you for as far as the eyes can see. Anyways, we continued a bit further until the pool came into sight. Just like the pictures I had seen. YES!

Taking in the views at the Seljavallalaug pool

Built into the mountainside in 1923, it is one of the oldest pools in Iceland. Warm water trickles down the mountainside from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier and collects into the pool.

Only 29°F outside and snowing, we jumped into the abandoned changing room at the base of the pool and stripped down to our swim trunks. The water was warm, not jacuzzi temperature, but it felt great against the chilly air around us. We couldn’t help but laugh from the excitement at how cool this was. Swimming in natural geothermal water while it snows in a river valley near to the still-active volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. Something I’ll never forget.

Geothermal pool in the snow

Considering it wasn’t your typical ‘swimming weather,’ getting out proved to be a difficult task. We trekked back to the gravel car park and continued on.  I had read about a plane that had crash-landed on a beach in the south years ago. The story goes that a US Navy DC plane was flying overhead when it ran out of fuel. With no other options, the pilot took the plane down towards the beach and crashed onto the Sólheimasandur black sands. Luckily, everyone on board survived. To this day, the plane has remained there, withering away against the elements, inviting people to come and find it.

Sólheimasandur plane wreckage

Since there are no signs on the road directing you where to go, this trek required GPS coordinates once again (63°29'28.6"N, 19°21'47.3"W)

We continued on the Ring Road past the Skógafoss waterfall until we passed a small bridge. Take note, look for a sign that says: Exit 5-Sólheimajökull 221. Once you pass this, you drive for about 1.25 mi (2 km) while keeping your eyes out for a break in the fence to your right. Once past the turnoff, you drive onto black sand and gravel. Since we didn’t have a 4x4 vehicle, driving on this gravel path was a bit tricky. All part of the adventure. We had to drive very slowly to prevent driving over any of the bigger rocks and potholes that would damage the bottom of the car. I doubt AAA extends coverage out to the desolate beaches of south Iceland.

Battling the wind and snow

With overcast, gray skies overhead and gusty winds, we continued at a snail’s pace for another 3 miles. Aside from the tire tracks of previous adventurers before us, there was nothing around for miles. It was quite eerie. Finally, about a few hundred feet from us, the plane became visible. The sand started to get soft so we opted to park the car. Armed again with my $3 umbrella, we raced towards the crash site against the mix of snow and strong winds.

The plane itself is only a few hundred feet from the shoreline. However, you could hardly see the water due to the weather.

We took shelter inside the fuselage of the plane to hide from the snow. Inside, we explored the remains of this once sturdy military aircraft. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the servicemen who were on this plane in 1973. You survive a plane crash on the barren beaches of Iceland. Where do you possibly go? There’s not a soul around for miles.

The cold started to pierce through our layers of clothing so we took our final pictures and headed back.

Deserted

Back on Highway 1, we ventured on towards the southernmost village in Iceland, Vík. This tiny town houses just a few hundred residents and is one of the wettest places in the country. We passed through the town to grab some food before we arrived at the famous Vík black sand beach. 

Vík Black Sand Beach

What I enjoyed most is that nearly everywhere we went we were alone. We had these places to ourselves. Vík’s black sand beach had this amazing cliff of basalt columns. They were actually pretty easy to climb and we climbed up a few. In the distance, you see these rock stacks sticking out of the ocean. It wasn't until later that I learned Icelanders believe in various troll folklore. Apparently the story here goes that two trolls were out in the ocean trying to drag their ships onto shore when suddenly they were caught by the sun and turned into stone. Thus resulting in the two rocks stacks you see sticking out of the sea.

Small town of Vik, South Iceland

Our day ended with us finding a place to stay at the Vík Hosteling International Hostel. Luckily they had 4 remaining beds for us in this once house turned hostel. With a really cozy atmosphere and super friendly owner, I’d highly recommend anyone stay here should you be passing through.

The entrance has a small living room with floor to ceiling windows, giving you a great view of the mountains. It was nice to kick back and watch the snowfall all around. It gave me a chance to reflect on the epic things I had seen just hours prior. What a day.