Every drive in Iceland is spectacular and it’s hard to pick anyone to be better than others. This drive does stand out a bit for the number of known and named attraction it gives access to. Once we ended up at the wrong trailhead and still ended up finding a beautiful glacier at the end. We did do a day trip to Vik and back, but I will say that the place has so much to see that it will make for a very long day if you try it.
The first 30 minutes of the drive follows the golden circle until just before the Kerid crater. Then you go straight instead of taking a left to find the lovely small town of Hella – not sure if it was named after the Goddess of death, but I suspect that it was. Just beyond is the first of 3 stunning waterfalls on the route – Ægissíðufoss. Is it not very high and some may call it a large rapid, but the scenery around is amazing, and very few tourists end up here, making this one serene place to be. I wasn’t even very sure what it would be at the turn-off but then it’s about a mile inside and you can get the first view of the fall even from the parking lot. There is a short, flat hike to get a better view. Considering that we were the only ones at the stop, it was definitely worth it.
Drive a little further and a waterfall can be seen from the main highway. As you get closer you begin to suspect there maybe more than one falls as you see a tall flat plateau and if water can stream down at one place, why not others. Get a little closer and Eureka – there are more than one falls, including a hidden one that need waterproof boots to get to. There is a large parking lot for Seljalandsfoss and even that was nearly at capacity when we got there. The first fall is a short walk from the parking lot and it is stunning. A wet, slippery and steep staircase leads up to a walk behind the falls but it is sure to get you drenched and can be a small human traffic jam in the peak season. I did make my way halfway up but didn’t want to get all wet as I had the whole day ahead. A small trail takes you along the base of the plateau cliff and leads you to other small falls ending in the hidden waterfall about 700 meters away. You can see the point at which water splashes down, but 2 large rocks cover the falls and you need to wade through ankle deep freezing water to get a better view. Not recommended without knee high plastic boots.
A little further is a beautiful view of Eyjafjallajokull. Huge farmland, a closed but stunning museum building behind it, and beyond that the majestic Eyjafjallajokull – the volcano that erupted as recently as 2010 and caused so many flights and other disruptions all around Europe. Something so beautiful can be so dangerous is a life lesson only matched by the government officials who get honey-trapped. We stopped for a bit to soak in the scenery. In Iceland, time is the most valuable asset, we had to be back before dark.
A short drive further is the most famous of them all – Skogafoss. It probably has inspired the designers of many a CGI creations – a wide fall with a perfect silky drop over a straight line ledge and a stunning backdrop. What more can a waterfall ask for? We stopped at this one on the way back when it was starting to get dark. So we did not end up doing the hike up to the top of the fall but it was tempting, to say the least.
Drive a little more and there are 2 attractions very close to each other, Solheimajokull glacier on the left and Solheimasandur on the right. One is a beautiful glacier that is about a 20-minute drive from the highway and then a short walk and the other is a wreckage of a US Navy plane on a black sand beach. We first landed up at the glacier looking for the plane and I would call it a blessing in disguise – the view was worth the detour. We only realized once we got there that the actual plane wreck is about 4 km one-way walk from the parking lot and there is no closer approach by a car. That made us drop the plan – just didn’t seem worth the walk with a frigid breeze over a seemingly endless flat stretch of land, which still was beautiful.
The next stop on the way is the lighthouse at Dyrholaey. It is a little bit of a detour with the last 15 minutes being an uphill drive on a gravel road. The car wasn’t fully up for the ride but it made it quite okay. The view from the top is breathtaking – the southern coast of Iceland opens its arms for you. There are black sand beaches on both sides, there is a top view of the Reynisfjara (more on that soon) and an amazing stone arch carved by the sea like the one that collapsed in Malta in 2017. It is a slight to savor and ingest especially because right behind you are snow-covered mountains in the background and a lighthouse in the foreground that could give any landscape a run for its money. You will also spot in the sea rock jutting out, kind of like the Australian 12 apostles.
A little beyond is the famous black sand beach of Reynisfjara where the apostles are close by and the froth of the sea makes for a beautiful contrast with the jet black sand and deep blue sea. There are basalt columns in the hills which were made by volcanic eruptions and it is quite amazing to think of them as a natural creation. The other famous feature of this beach is the streaker waves where one wave in the sea will come in much further than the others, just as a surprise. Unfortunately, this surprise has consumed a few adventurous tourist lives. We did see one such wave but stayed far away.
After all this adventure you get to the famous town of Vik – and it will defy all your imagination by its size. It is tiny!!! At first, I thought there was just a beautiful red-roofed church overlooking the sea. A little further we did find a few houses and a couple of places to eat, but there wasn’t much. We had lunch at a small self-serve cafe with some food fast food. A small walkway from right behind it led to another beautiful black sand beach, without the surprise waves.
I am not sure if there is any 2.5-hour drive in the world that is as full of adventure as this one. Since the whole day was consumed in all the stops and the trek, on the drive back we were treated to a spectacular sunset where the grass fields turned to gold and the sky an almost unnatural shade of purple. The adventure never ends!