iceland waterfalls

Iceland Day 6 by Meredith Washburn

We camped overnight near the Skaftafell visitor center at the foot of the Vatnajökull glacier, the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland. You could feel the cold air flowing off the glacier tongue, but thankfully our sleeping bags kept us toasty! Our plan for the morning was to hike to Svartifoss, a waterfall unique for the basalt columns over which it flows. Of course, it was drizzling and foggy, but we started the hike anyway, loaded with enough photo gear to tire a pack mule. We finally made it to the falls, which were indeed magnificent despite the rain. We explored the area for a short time before heading back. Not long into the return journey, the rain cleared and we were greeted by blue skies. Finally. After some lunch and taking advantage of the nicest shower facilities we had seen in days, we started toward our next destination.

The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is one of those places everyone pictures when they think of Iceland, and for good reason. The crystal clear and aquamarine icebergs floating in a glistening glacier lagoon make for outrageously beautiful photographs. We arrived in time to book the last boat tour onto the lagoon. With a little time to kill before our ride, we explored the area surrounding the lake. Soon it was our time, and we excitedly boarded the boat with the other travelers. Seeing the ice from shore is amazing enough, but floating by within arm-length is truly magnificent. We also got an informative talk about the geology and formation of the glacier, and got to sample some 1,000 year old ice plucked straight from the lagoon.

After returning to shore, we grabbed some coffee and backtracked a bit to the lesser known, but equally beautiful Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon. Due to its less famous status, we were the only ones there, save for an older couple who turned out to be from the Boston area. They regaled us with stories of all their adventures to many different continents and countries. Our list of future destinations grew significantly longer thanks to them (Patagonia, we’re coming for ya). After some chatting and photographing, we decided to head north to the coastal town of Hofn, where we would eat and stay for the night. The evening drive to Hofn was quite beautiful as we passed an old abandoned house and fields full of wild reindeer! One thing is for sure, the driving is never dull in Iceland, as you never know what surprises you'll come upon next.

Hofn is legendary in Iceland as the lobster capital of the country. Technically “langoustine” or Icelandic lobster. There were a few places in the running for dinner, but we settled on Pakkhus. A delicious decision indeed. We shared courses of smoked salmon, sheep tenderloin, delightful seasonal veggies, and of course, lots of langoustine. After the last few days of camp stove cooking, we felt like royalty. It was an added bonus to look out the window of the restaurant and see the very boat they use to catch their seafood each day.

Following dinner we took a stroll along the water, and were caught up by a group of high school aged locals on a scavenger hunt. They needed a photo of one of their group holding a tourist. We were all too happy to oblige. It was an awkward and hilarious moment proving laughter and silliness know no language barriers.

Iceland Day 4 by Meredith Washburn

If today had a theme it would be "Waterfalls". Lots of waterfalls. First up was Seljalandsfoss (the 'ja' pronounced like a soft 'yuh'), a well known tourist stop where you can walk behind the massive wall of cascading water and get soaked in the mist.

After that was a short drive up the road to Gljufrafoss. It was raining pretty hard and quite windy so we decided to cook lunch and coffee inside an old little barn while we waited for the weather to improve. Gljufrafoss didn't look like much from a distance, with most of the water falling and hiding behind a rock face. Upon getting closer, we spotted a climbing route up the face which yielded a stunning view of the full waterfall splashing into a hidden area below. We climbed back down and entered the lower area through a narrow fissure in the rocks, walking to where the water crashed down from above. 

On the road again we passed a good view of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull that was responsible for the recent massive eruptions in 2010 that affected air travel in Europe and elsewhere with the ash cloud. Our next stop was something we had been looking forward to for a while, Seljavallalaug. In a valley several miles off the main road is a geothermal outdoor pool built in 1923. The hike back took about 20 minutes, through unbelievably scenery, surrounded by a valley with over a dozen small waterfalls all traveling downwards to join a small river.

Another waterfall? Yep, why not! Skogafoss. It was getting pretty late at night (hard to tell without the sun setting) so we decided to go ahead and hike up 527 steps to view the top of the waterfall (felt like a LOT of steps). The rain was still coming down, but a bit slower at this point which made this waterfall a bit more enjoyable. The view from the bottom was obviously stunning, but I actually preferred the view mid-way up!

Our final stop for the day was something we had been looking forward to for a long time. We were headed to find the famous crashed DC-3 plane on the black beach at Solheimasandur. The plane was a US Navy aircraft that ran out of fuel crash landed on the beach in 1973. The crew survived but the plane was abandoned and still sits alone on a desolate stretch of the southern coast. Getting to the plane involves finding the turnoff and then walking about 4km to the beach. We arrived fairly late in the day, and began the trek with our photo gear in tow. The walk itself was a unique experience as the path is dead-level and straight into the horizon across a black desert that seems more like an alien planet than Earth. After about an hour we finally arrived. It was such a surreal moment after seeing the plane in so many photos to now be right next to it. After taking plenty of photos, we decided to come back early the next morning to create a certain image I had dreamed about for a long, long time. With that decided, we began the long trek back to the car.

I desperately needed a shower, but the only hiccup was that we forgot to trade in our US dollars for some Icelandic Kronur before hitting the road...therefore leaving me campground-shower-coinless. Ben went into the campground and hustled me three hundred Kronur (about 3 US dollars) from some very kind campers. Although the shower was broken and only the hot water worked (OUCH), I was able to get a 5 minute very-hot-shower. So refreshing!