Iceland | The South Coast
The next part of our five day journey around Iceland saw us take in the South Coast which, without a doubt, is one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. In fact, this may just go down as one of my favourite days ever. From horses to hidden waterfalls, plane wrecks to black sand beaches, the Iceland South Coast is truly an adventure everyone needs to have.
Having spent the evening recovering from our Golden Circle expedition in the hot tub under the falling snow, the following morning saw us bid a bittersweet goodbye to our cosy Airbnb and set off for another day of exploration.
Driving to Vik from Selfoss took around 3 hours. It would have been quicker but as the sun rose on the snow covered scenery we found a photo opportunity that was too good to miss. These perfectly snowy (not very white) horses were just waiting to be admired and it was clear the rest of the Icelandic travellers agreed. Now stopping to take in the scenery is somewhat expected but if you’re going to do it, do it safely. Funnily enough, being in a foreign country does not suddenly make stopping on the road safe, especially when there are other off road options in the immediate vicinity. It’s a popular route for coaches and the drivers are less than impressed with sudden blockages in their path and their beeping to demonstrate so only scares the horses which just makes it an official lose lose for everyone.
The mid-morning winter glow is really something else. I don’t even think the photos can do it justice but it made for the most incredible drive through mountains and along rivers to Vik. Like a hazy yet more lasting golden hour, it really does paint the country in a very good light.
Vik is a tiny, tiny village with huge, huge scenery. As the cliffs dip to reveal a scattering of structures, the rugged terrain of the coast is visible and you really do feel like you’ve come to the end of the world. A perfect vantage point can be found at the church which is situated above the town, on the left hand side as you drive in. Not only is the church itself beautifully Scandinavian looking, the views out to sea are incredible. Definitely worth stopping off at.
From here we made our way to Reynisfjara black sand beach which is home to some of the biggest waves I have ever seen. Ever. Turns out it’s a pretty dangerous place and you’re advised to stay alert for sneaker waves (brilliant name) as they can sneak attack in a rather aggressive manner.
Waves aside, more drama can be found in the rock formations which are hugely impressive, especially alongside the juxtaposition between the black sand and blue sky. Along with the rest of Iceland, it’s a photographer’s dream.
Sneaker waves firmly avoided, it was back on the road for 10 minutes to our next stop – my highly anticipated visit to the Sólheimasandur plane wreckage. You used to be able to drive all way down to the site of the crashed DC-3 plane but these days they make you work a bit. But oh is it worth it. Just over 4km of walking across flat, sparse terrain almost makes you feel like you could be on another planet, until you turn around and see the imposing mountain ranges behind you. It feels like there’s nothing ahead except the sound of lightly crunching snow and faint line of ocean on the horizon for around 30 minutes until finally we glimpse the shell that’s become one of Iceland’s most famous cult attractions.
The military plane crash landed on the beach in 1973 and, luckily, no-one was harmed. The weathered fuselage remains and now acts as a fascinating, if somewhat eerie, glimpse into the history of this desolate landscape. Sun lights shines through the windows as visitors take in the crumbling remains and for such an aggressive looking focal point, the atmosphere is impossibly peaceful. The sun dips in and out of the clouds as a rain storm hits the sea and we, like all the others before us, make the most of this opportunity to explore and capture something that would have once been so majestic and soaring now fallen from grace in its resting.
If Lost had been set in Iceland, this is where it would have been filmed.
Also, if anyone wants to make a Lost set in Iceland, I’m here.
And very available.
As far as days go, this was already a pretty magnificent one. So much so that I actively reminded myself to breathe in every little moment because it all just felt so good. And clean. Of course no day in Iceland is truly complete without a waterfall so we made a quick stop at Skogafoss to admire the cascading falls. I’d love to come back in the summer and spend more time around here, there are plenty of hikes around the area that I’m sure would be stunning but we had one more stop to make before the sun set and were determined to fit it in.
I had read that Seljavallaug pool was hidden, warm and in the mountains and that was enough for me to add it to our itinerary for the day. Conveniently, I had missed the bit where the description of said pool included the 35 minute (15 minute on the way back with the correct route) trek from the rocky car park across streams and along boulders. I had also omitted any information about danger of death river crossing and how doing this in ever diminishing light is probably not the one for those short of sight. This resulted in a journey of many things that include but are not limited to: some really polite conversation between Tom and I, drowned boots, socks, feets and an all round great display of character that would have resulted in turning back had it not been for some fellow pool seekers who seemed to be convinced we were actually going the correct way. Turns out they were right. And we made it! And it looked so calm and beautiful that the previous 35 minutes were soon but a memory that trickled away like the warm cascade of mountain water that flowed into the concrete pool below. Yep.
There are some basic changing rooms and some epic mountain views. The water was lukewarm at best but there’s a magic spot right at the back under the cascading stream from above which is hot, hot, hot. There were around four other people when we visited which was a nice number to still feel tranquil without being entirely isolated. Ultimately, the place is incredible and well worth the trek.
Just be a better person than I was and prepare for it. And don’t walk through the deepest part of the stream. Or climb up rocks you can’t get down from. Or liken your very patient boyfriend to Donald Trump because he’s dared to walked several steps ahead of you. Pro tips.
It’s actually dark by the time we make it back to the car and so we set off to our home for the night – Stracta Hotel in Hella. Cue hella jokes. They’re hella fun.
As we’re moving along the road, almost at the comfort of the hotel with another hot tub just asking to be used, I spot something unusual about the clouds ahead of us. I have been on avid Northern light watch since arriving so quickly give myself the gift of vision with my glasses and watch some more. Nothing. And then, something. It’s like the clouds are dancing and then to my right, the unmistakable neon green streaks illuminate the sky.
No what actually happens are very pale green, almost grey, streams of clouds move and brighten repeatedly. It’s so faint, neither of us are sure if it’s “real” but of course I get my camera out to capture this momentous occasion and get that perfect Instagram worthy photo.
Sike again. Although, as if just to spite me, the lights appear much greener on the camera than they did in real life. As they continued to dance away as we passed them by we were hopeful they would continue into the night for us to admire properly when stationery and under the warmth of some hot water. No such luck. Sadly they didn’t make a return but it’s ok because at least I’ve got some quality photos to look back on and cherish…
Stracta Hotel is billed as being a boutique hotel which may well be very true for Iceland but by British standards, it actually comes up as being fairly basic. When you’re only there for one night it’s absolutely fine and the clean, modern, Nordic design is consistent throughout. What the rooms lack in charm the hotel makes up for in outdoor festoon lights, hot tubs and saunas which was always the main appeal anyway.
We ate in their restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed our selections of aubergine “lasagne” and classic beef burger. Overall it’s a good place to stay in a great location for a trip along the Iceland South Coast.
I couldn’t even begin to pick a highlight from the south coast. The plane wreckage would, at a push, be my favourite but every stop we made was memorable in its own right.
There’s something truly magical about this part of the world encased between those mountains and sea.
It’s one of those days that I just know I’ll be reliving in my mind for a long time yet.