The second day of our road trip, after a fantastic breakfast at Hotel Ranga, we got on the road, heading for Skaftafell. We followed Route 1, in view of Eyjafjallajökull (the volcano that erupted in 2010, causing massive issues with flight paths across Europe), and made our first stop at Seljalandsfoss.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi
Seljalandsfoss is a picturesque waterfall just off the Ring Road that is a popular stop for tourists and photographers. There’s a great viewing point (or selfie point, if you like) in front of the waterfall. The waterfall falls over a large cavernous area, where you can walk behind it and out the other side – while getting a little wet in the process.
You can then follow the path to another smaller waterfall, Gljúfrabúi. Gljúfrabúi is quite cool, as it is a little hidden in the mountain, with only a small gap for entry to view the waterfall up close. The formations of the rocky entry look like large faces, and gives the waterfall an ethereal feel – it feels like you’re in a scene from a book or movie. The name Gljúfrabúi means ‘Dweller in the Gorge’, and you can see how it got its name. You can also view the waterfall from higher up, climbing the hill beside the entrance. This section is tricky and slippery, so be very careful, and always pay attention to any signage giving warnings or directions.
Skógafoss and Seljavallalaug
Our next stop was Skógafoss, another incredibly picturesque waterfall (let’s face it, I could describe pretty much everything in Iceland as picturesque). Skógafoss is quite a bit larger than Seljalandsfoss, and sits on its own, next to a farm with gorgeous little Icelandic horses, and a view of Eyjafjallajökull in the background. The ground-level view of Skógafoss is impressive, as the sun catching the mist throws large rainbows, adding to the beautiful combination of the mossy green surrounds, black soil, and snow-capped mountains. You can also take a path to view the waterfall from the top, which is again a magnificent view and worth the climb.
At this stop, we backtracked a little to visit Seljavallalaug, one of Iceland’s oldest swimming pools. At first we drove past, knowing it was in the area, but concerned about damaging our rental car on the uneven roads. However, I persuaded Pete to take a chance, so we turned off Route 1 onto Route 242, driving carefully along until we found the car park. We then parked the car and made the walk (it will take you around 10 minutes, from memory) to reach the pool. It’s a fantastic experience, walking alone through a valley surrounded by volcanoes, with a river of icy water next to you, searching for an outdoor pool.
We reached the pool, got changed and hopped in. There were around 10 other people in the pool with us, so it’s not a secret spot, but might night have been hugely well-known. The pool is unattended, with no lifeguards or staff, so it is free to enter, but you need to be self-sufficient. There are changing rooms, but these are very basic. The pool itself is lovely, not quite hot, but warm enough, with some spots warmer than others such as where the pool sits against the mountain, and the geothermally-heated water runs into the pool. It’s a great place to relax and take in the quiet majesty of your surroundings – I highly recommend making the stop to swim.
Our last visit for the day was Vík and the black sand beach. Firstly, we made an error, and followed our GPS to Vík rather than Reynisfjara beach specifically, so missed out on seeing the famous basalt columns and caves. Don’t make our mistake, make sure you type ‘Reynisfjara into your GPS. That said, it was still nice to stop and have a coffee and walk along the beach. We hadn’t seen a beach with black sand before, so was quite a novelty. Coupled with the black sand, the ocean mist surrounding the nearby cliffs, and the pounding waves gave the beach a dramatic look.
We then made our way to Skaftafell for the night. It was very exciting to drive toward the mountains, and made for a very beautiful afternoon drive. I love Iceland’s dramatic landscapes, and this drive in particular has stuck in my memory. There is black, flat land for kilometers, which turns quite suddenly into snowy mountains and a huge glacier (Svínafellsjökull glacier). This contrast was quite beautiful and demonstrative of the power of nature. The reason why there is an expanse of flat, empty land below the glacier is because past landslides and volcanic eruptions decimated what farmland was there previously, so now no one lives below the glacier.
We checked in to Hótel Skaftafell, which sits on its own just in front of Svínafellsjökull glacier. We had a beer in the bar, and spent some time chatting with the Romanian bartender, whose dry humour we loved. The bartender informed us that we could take a 10 minute walk behind the hotel to reach the glacier, if we wished, and so we did. In the afternoon light, Pete and I took the short walk from our hotel to the glacier and stood in awe that this beautiful landmark was in such close reach. Later that night, we came back to the same spot for the most incredible aurora show of our lives, but more on that in another post. While the hotel itself is quite simple, with decent food, and lovely staff, the location alone is worth booking – I cannot recommend it enough.