Europe, Iceland, Waterfalls

Finding Myself at 65°N – The Solo Icelandic Winter Adventure: Day 6 South Coast Adventuring

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Day 6 – January 1, 2020

8am alarm wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be after a 2am bedtime.  I had a big day planned that I was super excited for helped, though I did have some tinges of sadness that I didn’t stay out and party in true NYE Icelandic style.

Shower, breakfast, packing up, hit the road around 9:30am.  Reykjavík was eerily quiet, which I’m sure has something do with that little party known as New Year’s Eve.  I encountered little cars and traffic as I headed east out of the city.  I feel like the stretch of Ring Road from Reykavík to Hella is an old friend by now because of all the times I’ve been on it.  Snowy roads over Hellisheiði gave away to wet conditions once dropping down in Hveragerði, where I made a quick stop to fuel up before continuing on.

Seljalandsfoss was my first major stop for the day, and boy, it was busy!  I kinda scrunched up my face at this, but I paid my parking fee and set off with the crowds.  The pathway that goes behind the falls was closed off (which naturally people ignored).  I snapped some quick photos and headed over to Gljúfrabúi.  It was muddy, so many tourists hopped the ropes and were trampling on the grass so I took to yelling at people *insert eye roll*   Ugh.  South coast crowds…

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Seljalandsfoss
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I liked the birds in this photo, what can I say?
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Hello again Seljalandsfoss!  Not a bad first selfie of 2020!

The entrance to Gljúfrabúi was clogged with people who apparently didn’t realize you could walk in with proper shoes, so I splashed around them with my amazing hiking boots, and joined only one other person actually in the ravine with the falls.  I enjoyed a thorough soaking (though not thanks to rain gear), giving my camera a good bath, and then headed back out, which was suddenly jammed with people trying to make their way inside.

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Gljúfrabúi. I gave my camera a good bath getting this shot!
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Another view of Gljúfrabúi

Enough of the hoards of people, I jumped back in the car, to only stop a short distance later to capture a waterfall blowing backwards in the gorgeous golden “morning” sun.  That would kind of be my memo for the day – lots of stopping for photos of the gorgeous scenery around me!

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Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, off the coast near Seljalandsfoss
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Thanks to Icelandic winds, some waterfalls flow “backwards!”
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“Morning” on the Ring Road
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Just another backyard waterfall in Iceland

The “bra fence” near Brekkukot farm (missed on my first trip somehoww), the Eyjafjallajökull museum (where I filmed a pronunciation video for all my Facebook friends – I practiced hard so when I returned I wouldn’t anger the volcano gods by repeatedly mispronouncing the name!), and all the little churches along the way!

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Need a bra? The fence at Brekkukot can help you out with that!
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My favorite volcano is hiding up there in those clouds, Eyjafjallajökull
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Eyjafjallajökull Eldgos!

I passed my guesthouse for the night, noting the location couldn’t be more perfect, as it’s a stone’s throw away from Skógafoss (and across from Drangshlíð, which is a big rock elves live in).  I opted to skip Skógafoss for now, and continue towards Vík so I could get my fill of black sand beaches.

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These Icelandic road scenes, arghhhh I can’t handle them!
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I took video of a lot of the stretches of driving, as it was so fantastic looking but I couldn’t photograph it while driving

I turned south onto Road 218, which heads to Dyrhólaey.  I had visited this on my first trip, but missed the cave you can hike up to and get a very scenic selfie from, Loftsalahellir.  Loftsalahellir was historically used as a gathering place, and is high up on the mountain Geitafjall.  Naturally, everything in Iceland is a steep upward hike, so I loaded up my camera, tripod, and remote shutter releases and hoofed it up the nearly vertical trail.  Wow – what an amazing view over Dyrhólaey, Reynisfjara, Dyrhólaós, and stormy ocean. I giggled as I set up my camera and took to taking what I am proclaiming are “my selfies are better than your selfies” photos.

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Geitafjall and Loftsalahellir cave
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Dyrhólaós estuary
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Hoofing it uphill for a cool selfie!
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Uphill hike worth it for this shot!!!
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…And a version without me in the way

Loftsalahellir gave me a good view of Road 218 as it continued out towards Dyrhólaey, and I noticed something strange… the ocean was over the road!  I grabbed my camera and used the 200mm zoom to watch as cars drove through the water over the road.  Dyrhólaey was my next destination, but I’m nervous about water so that decided it for me.  Bummer.  I packed up my tripod and started downhill to the car, naturally slipping and sliding on my butt in the mud, which led to me “laundering” my clothes with some sanitizer wipes I had with me.  Sigh.  I just can’t do anything in Iceland without falling on my butt.

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The ocean is on the road! (I’m sure I made this much more dramatic than it really was, haha)

I headed back north on Road 218, and traveled the Ring Road a short distance to Road 215, which would take me to Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach.  I love this angry beach with its killer waves, so I was excited to revisit.  Apparently I wasn’t excited enough, as I drove the speed limit and had an SUV of tourists tailgate me and then fly around me right as we neared some farms and traffic.  Okay cool, bro, you beat me there by five seconds.

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Coastal scenes heading back on Road 218
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Skeiðflatarkirkja, built in 1900. It sits right off the Ring Road near the intersection with Road 218

Unlike my first visit to Reynisfjara, where I went early in the morning, it was later in the day and the parking lot was packed and I got one of the last spots.  The hoards were out strong, and naturally getting surprised by the sneaker waves and standing dangerous close.  I snickered at the idiots and then started walking west along the beach to get away from the crowds.  The Atlantic Ocean was quite angrier that it was on my first visit, so I sat down and admired the power of the waves and salt spray on my face.  I’ll take a beach day like this any day over a tropical, golden sand beach!

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The basalt columns of Reynisfjara
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Reynisfjara, looking towards Dyrhólaey

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Moonscapes of Reynisfjara
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Reynisfjall and Reynisdrangar sea stacks
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Reynisdrangar. Folklore has it that these formations were trolls that were dragging a ship to shore, and they got caught in the sunlight and were frozen forever as stone.
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People have died on Reynisfjara beach, and many more have been rescued after getting swept out by the violent waves, which can build their momentum all the way from Antarctica!

Finally hunger lured me away from Reynisfjara, and the ever present feeling that daylight was a-ticking away (though thankfully since I was at the southern most tip of Iceland, I had a few more minutes to spare than I did up in Snæfellsnes, or even Reykjavík).  I headed towards Vík í Mýrdal, first heading towards the church so I could get photos from a spot I missed on my first trip from the cemetery.

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But first… a quick photo stop in the rain at Reyniskirkja on Road 215. Reyniskirkja was built in 1946

Vík is the rainiest spot in Iceland, so naturally the rain started falling hard when I arrived. Víkurkirkja photos satisfied (well, as much as I could be in the dreary downpour), I headed towards the Krónan/Icewear “mall,” hoping at least a coffee shop would be open. Much to my surprise since it was New Year’s Day, Krónan itself was open!  Woohoo, grocery shopping here I come!

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The hilltop cemetery in Vík
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One of the typical photos of Víkurkirkja, with the village below and Reynisdrangar
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Víkurkirkja, without a lime green forklift in the photo like during my first trip, haha!

I loaded up on some sweets I wanted to bring home with me, and decided that I was quite sick of sandwiches for dinner and that tacos sounded good after I was browsing the meat fridges and saw some prepared chicken fajita meat.  I mean, why not make some Icelandic Mexican food, right?  I found salsa, tortillas, and cheese, and settled for a head of butter lettuce since shredded iceberg apparently doesn’t exist in Iceland.  I was pretty darn excited to cook my dinner!  (I did grab a latte from the coffee shop, too!)

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Nothing like a surprise grocery trip!

I still had a bit of daylight, so I decided to head back towards Dyrhólaey to see if the ocean was still over the road.  I approached the flood portion slowly and watched as other cars crossed, and I realized it was not deep at all.  I turned on video on my phone that was mounted on the dash, and hilariously drove through the ocean, laughing at the fact my rental car agreement said I can’t drive in the ocean with the car (but was this really driving in the ocean?).

I wanted to drive up the “scary” (it’s not that scary) road to the top of Dyrhólaey (Háey, or “high island”), but it was closed (arghhh, I so wanted to watch the sunset up here!).  Because I had not been to the “lower” part (Lágey, “low island”), I decided to go check it out.  This was another “so so so amazing, can’t believe I missed this the first time!” treasures.  Though stupidly windy (I mean WINDY… 70mph gusts against), I spent a good amount of time watching the huge waves hitting the rocks, outcroppings like Háidrangur, Kirkjufjara beach, and the arch that gives Dyrhólaey it’s name (door-hole).  In the opposite direction Reynisfjara beach stretches out in front of you, with Arnardrangur and Reynisdrangar.

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Dyrhólaey formed about 100,000 years ago from an underwater eruption, and was originally an island not connected to the mainland. Over the centuries a land connection formed. The volcanic beginnings are evident in the geology of Dyrhólaey
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Scenes of Lágey
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An arch peaking out from the waves
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Numerous sea stacks are in this area
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Arnardrangur, or “eagle rock,” and the black sands of Reynisfjara
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Reynisfjara
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The public restroom at Dyrhólaey has to be one of the most scenic places to pee and wash your hands in the world!! The sinks face the ocean even.
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Someone on a Facebook travel group for Iceland asked if anybody had a photo of this sign, so I made a point of taking it, and now I can’t find the post. Luckily I love photos of road signs, so nothing was lost!

Daylight ticking away, I sadly left Dyrhólaey, wishing I had more time to spend.  The final stop would be Skógafoss, which I donned the rain gear for and left the DSLR in the car.  Once again, like my first trip, I pushed beyond the crowds and got as close as I could get without standing in deep water and closed my eyes and just let the water from the falls soak my face and hair.  I maintain you haven’t truly lived until you’ve done this.  Try it sometime!

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Skógafoss… my only DSLR photos of this waterfall is from this same spot, I swear!

 

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Skógafoss
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Chasing waterfalls, getting drenched!
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I like a moody Skógafoss!
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I don’t know, haha!
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4:30pm and saying goodnight to the sun

Now it was getting legit dark, so I said goodbye to Skógafoss, eyeing the stairs to the top but deciding I would come back tomorrow to do them.

My guesthouse for the night was practically just around the corner at Hrútafell.  This is a large guesthouse on an active farm in the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull (yeah, I wanted to sleep near my favorite volcano, I’ll admit it).  Ármann, my kind host, was there to greet me.  I eagerly asked him how to get to the church I had spotted near the coast as I was driving earlier in the day, and he seemed surprised I’d be so interested, so naturally I blabbered on in my crazy American sense about how I want to photograph every church in Iceland.  I suppose this is like when people visiting Wyoming get excited about seeing antelope, and I’m just like “those things?  They’re everywhere.  No biggie.”  But he told me which road to take (and explained it would be locked), which is all I needed!

I moved my belongings all into my room (score, another queen bed!) and took to fixing up my taco dinner.  I had come to learn I was once again sharing the guesthouse with Germans (and a few Chinese).  I also came to notice that I eat dinner a lot earlier than Europeans do, but it worked out as I had the kitchen to myself.  The kitchen space at Hrútafell is quite large and very well equipped, so in no time I heated up my chicken fajita strips and was sitting down for my tacos (or were they fajitas at this point?).

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My room at Hrútafell for the night. My windows looked towards the ocean!!
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Fixing up some tacos! Urm… fajitas?

What a day to kick off 2020!  The next day would be my final full day in Iceland, and I was nervous as a storm would be rolling in.  Luckily I’d be able to sleep in since I was so close to my glacier hike location, and was in comfortable accommodations.  Fingers crossed!

3 thoughts on “Finding Myself at 65°N – The Solo Icelandic Winter Adventure: Day 6 South Coast Adventuring”

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