South Coast Scenes in Iceland

Travel along Highway 1 (aka, the Ring Road) yields bucolic and natural scenes.

IcelandTravel-tiny logo.-jpgGuðmundur Trlyingsson driver-guide Jakob Narfi Hjaltason piloted our small group along the South Coast of Iceland before the official start of the Society of American Travel Writers convention in Reykjavik. Our four-day itinerary started under overcast skies but pleasant weather. As we drove farther east, clouds settled lower and we experienced periodic sprinkles. Any hopes of seeing the Northern Lights diminished with every mile.

When we reached the small port town of Hofn on the southeast coast, the sprinkles escalated to driving through pounding rain and heavy fog. Planes were grounded so instead of flying back to Reykjavik on the southwest coast, Jakob drove us back. We retraced our route in reverse, reinforcing what we had seen. Here are images from some of the sights we saw and experiences we had — and I’m not going to attempt to include all the difficult-to-pronounce and difficult-to-remember names. You need to visit and see for yourself.

From Reykjavik – Day One

Icelandic horses on their pasture. These small, spirited horses are ridden for pleasure by Icelanders and visitors alike, and they also star in indoor and outdoor horse shows.
Icelandic horses on their pasture. These small, spirited horses are ridden for pleasure by Icelanders and visitors alike, and they also star in indoor and outdoor horse shows.
The Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur interprets the Njals Saga. I've written a separate post about it.
The Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur interprets the Njals Saga. I’ve written a separate post about it.
A short trail leads behind this waterfall -- an unusual experience, even in waterfall-rich Iceland.
A short trail leads behind this waterfall — an unusual experience, even in waterfall-rich Iceland.

Day Two

This higher waterfall can conventionally be viewed only from the front.
This higher waterfall can conventionally be viewed only from the front.
We hiked up a trail in Katla Geopark for a mile or more. The park was created in 2010 to protect the area of the Katla Volcano, which is under glacial ice and had been predicted be "the next" volcano to erupt. The prediction was off Bardarbunga to the north has been erupting since August.
We hiked up a trail in Katla Geopark for a mile or more. The park was created in 2010 to protect the area of the Katla Volcano, which is under glacial ice and had been predicted be “the next” volcano to erupt. The prediction was off Bardarbunga to the north has been erupting since August.
We put on crampons but didn't have to rope up as we crossed a lateral moraine for a short circuit on glacial ice.
We put on crampons but didn’t have to rope up as we crossed a lateral moraine for a short circuit on glacial ice. Helmets were also provided, but unlike in the US, we didn’t have to sign any liability waiver.
An easily avoided crevasse, like the rest of the exposed ice, carrying debris and therefore not pure winter-white.
An easily avoided crevasse, like the rest of the exposed ice, carrying debris and therefore not pure winter-white.
With Arnkell "Keli" Aronson, a young guide with Arcanum, a guide service (www.arcanum.is).
With Arnkell “Keli” Aronson, a young guide with Arcanum, a guide service (www.arcanum.is).

The beautiful black beach at Vik and the pounding North Atlantic surf beyond.
The beautiful black beach at Vik and the pounding North Atlantic surf beyond.
Red-roofed buildings like this small church are lovely against green grass and positively uplifting soon when the days get shorter and darker.
Red-roofed buildings like this small church are lovely against green grass and will appear positively uplifting soon when the days get shorter and darker.
Not far off Highway 1 is 2-million-year-old Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, nicknamed "the Grand Canyon of Iceland." It may not be as grand as Arizona's, but it a lot greener. A walking trail along the rim provides a succession of lovely views.
Not far off Highway 1 is 2-million-year-old Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, nicknamed “the Grand Canyon of Iceland.” It may not be as grand as Arizona’s, but it a lot greener. A walking trail along the rim provides a succession of lovely views. Sheep graze along the road to the site and even down in the canyon.
And so Day 2 is ending.
And so Day 2 is ending.

Day 3

Getting set for an ATV tour on private land.
Getting set for an ATV tour on private land.
The destination was a "pseudo-crater," an indentation in the earth that had revegetated. It might be of geologic interest, but on a gray, misty day,, it was (to me) an underwhelming attraction.
The destination was a “pseudo-crater,” an indentation in the earth, that had revegetated. It might be of geologic interest, but on a gray, misty day, it was (to me) an underwhelming attraction.
Another plunging cascade and in the foreground, more sheep grazing on the improbably green grass.
Another plunging cascade and in the foreground, more sheep grazing on the improbably green grass.
The day continued being misty as we continued eastward across lava fields and wetlands.
The day continued being misty as we continued eastward across lava fields and wetlands.
In 1996, the sub-glacial 6 eruption of the subglacial Grimsvotn volcano, the hot lava melted an enormous amount of ice and sent torrent of water to Lake Grímsvötn below. Eventually, massive amounts of water rushed across an alluvial plain and destroyed the Skeidará River Bridge , the longest on Highway 1. It has been rebuilt, but some of the twisted metal has been left as a memorial, along with interpretive signage, to commemorate the power of nature and Icelanders' remarkable ability to cope with such disasters without loss of life.
In 1996, the eruption of the subglacial Grimsvotn volcano, the hot lava melted an enormous amount of ice and sent torrent of water to Lake Grímsvötn below. Eventually, massive amounts of water rushed across an alluvial plain and destroyed the Skeidará River Bridge , the longest on Highway 1. It has been rebuilt, but some of the twisted metal from the original has been left as a memorial, along with interpretive signage, to commemorate the power of nature and Icelanders’ remarkable ability to cope with such disasters without loss of life.
A stop at the Vatnajökull National Park visitors' center was not especially enlightening. The weather was not improving, the visibility was diminishing and the displays and short film were interesting -- as far as they went. But there was equivalent to ranger interpretation. Alas.
A stop at the Vatnajökull National Park visitors’ center was not especially enlightening. The weather was not improving, the visibility was diminishing and the displays and short film were interesting — as far as they went. But there was no equivalent to ranger interpretation as far as we could tell.
A visit to the spectacular ice-berg-filled Jökulsárlón Lagoon is a dramatic highpoint of a south coast itinerary. The lagoon was temporarily dammed and frozen for the car chase scene in the James Bond movie, "Die Another Day." Normally, it is a tidal lagoon where seals and seabirds are often seen.
A visit to the spectacular iceberg-filled Jökulsárlón Lagoon is a dramatic highpoint of a south coast itinerary. The lagoon was temporarily dammed and frozen for the car chase scene in the James Bond movie, “Die Another Day.” Normally, it is a tidal lagoon where seals and seabirds are often seen.
We took an amphibian trip down the shore and into the water, flirting with the bergs..
We took an amphibian trip down the shore and into the water, flirting with the bergs.
The mandatory lifejackets are bright orange, easy to spot in a gray sea, but to me, they seemed like a covey of Denver Broncos fans. I'm THAT brainwashed.
The mandatory lifejackets are bright orange, easy to spot in a gray sea, but to me, they seemed like a covey of Denver Broncos fans. I’m THAT brainwashed.
With wetter cooler weather, I'm glad I brought GoreTex, and my husband is glad he brought a waterproof down jacket.
With wetter cooler weather, I’m glad I brought GoreTex, and my husband is glad he brought a waterproof down jacket.
The view from our room in Hopf did not inspire confidence for flying back to Reykjavik in the morning.
The view from our room in Hofn did not inspire confidence for flying back to Reykjavik in the morning.

Return to Reykjavik  – Day 4

Day 4 dawned worse than Day 3 had ended, with wind added to the rain. So patient Jakob fired up the van and drove us back to Reykjavik.
Day 4 dawned worse than Day 3 had ended, with wind added to the rain. So patient Jakob fired up the van and drove us back to Reykjavik from Hofn.

No glorious sunshine. No Northern Lights. But a low-key road trip with enough interesting stops to be memorable.