A trip to Iceland is not complete if you don’t do the South Coast route. While Golden Circle is a classic tour serves as introduction to Iceland beauty, the real beauty of Iceland actually lies along the The South Coast. The South Coast of Iceland is one of the most popular parts of the country for travellers. South Iceland is lined with countless natural wonders including cascading waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers and black sand beaches. This incredible South Shore of Iceland stretches from the greater Reykjavík area in the west to the magnificent Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the east.
The whole area is geologically very young, formed during the last Ice Age by the lava flows from numerous volcanoes in the area. The lowlands are surrounded by volcanically active mountains, notably Eyjafjallajökull and Hekla. If you stop at Hveragerði, you can visit the Quake 2008 exhibition where you can witness the split in the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Our goal today is driving up to Hali where our accommodation is and stop by at the wonderful attractions along the south shore.
The first major features of South Coast are the two great waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. These falls sit beneath the notorious subglacial volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. On clear days, the Westman Islands can be seen across the ocean from these beautiful cascades.
Our first destination is Seljalandsfoss, 1.5 hours drive from our guesthouse. You can see Seljalandsfoss from the road and it is one most famous waterfall where you can walk behind it in the summer. And less than a kilometre from Seljalandsfoss you can find the hidden gem of Gljúfrabúi waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss is a short walk from the parking area and is accessible. However in winter the path is slippery and wet. That is why wearing waterproof walking boots is a necessary if you travel in Iceland. We also put on our ice cleats/spikes to our boots to avoid slipping.
Skogafoss is 30 minutes drive from Seljalandsfoss and it is another Iceland famous waterfall where you can frequently see rainbows. There is also a staircase next to the waterfall so you can see the waterfall from above. We didn’t climb the stairs because it was too slippery and some of were already starving. Besides I have also promised our drivers that we would have fish and chips for lunch. The walk to the waterfall was more slippery than in Seljalandsfoss so we had to wear our crampons.
Skógar, which is home to Skogafoss waterfall, has a very interesting museum that discusses some of the nation’s history and culture. One of Iceland’s most famous hiking trails, Fímmvörðuháls, cuts through the area and is worth the walk if you have time.
If you reach Skogasfoss in the afternoon you can have fish and chips lunch at Mia’s Van not far down the road as you exit the waterfall. Mia’s Van is only open in the afternoon and close by 4pm.
DC-3 Plane Wreck and Dyrholae
A little further down the route is the glacier Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers one of Iceland’s most explosive volcanoes, Katla. Many glacier hikes are taken here upon the glacier tongue, Sólheimajökull. This landscape has also been shaped by volcanic eruptions, although these were much more recent. Vast expanses of the black sand stretch from the Highlands to the sea, part of several glacial outwash plains that flood during a volcanic eruption.
One such sandplain, Sólheimasandur, is home to a crashed DC-3 Plane Wreck. In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived. Later it turned out that the pilot had simply switched over to the wrong fuel tank. The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea. To see the plane wreck you need to walk as vehicle is forbidden to pass thru and the walk from the main road is about one hour, one way. It is not recommend to visit by yourself during winter time when there’s a lot of snow and avoid going there in bad weather or strong wind either because the wind will be even stronger there with probably massive sandstorm as well.
The Dyrhólaey cliffs are next, a 120-metre promenade famed for its staggering views of Iceland’s South Coast, as well as its historic lighthouse and wealth of birdlife. It is home to a rock arch of the same name. The promenade’s massive rock arch is a result of centuries of erosion. As a result, its name is in direct reference to this enormous arch. In fact, this natural feature is so large and dramatic that one daredevil pilot even flew through it, back in 1993. Boats can easily cruise through its opening.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Our next stop is Reynisfjara black sand beach. Remember the first scene in Frozen 2 trailer where Elsa is standing before crashing waves on a black sand beach? It was said that the scene was inspired by Iceland black sandy beach. Reynisfjara beach is widely considered to be the most beautiful example of Iceland’s black sand beaches. In 1991, national geographic voted Reynisfjara as one of the top non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet. Though beautiful, this beach is notorious for its dangerous sneaker waves. Even on seemingly calm and still days, visitors should keep a distance from the shoreline. There are no landmasses between Reynisfjara beach and the continent of Antarctica, so you can imagine how the waves can build momentum.
See the rocky sea stacks sitting off the shoreline in the above picture? It is called a Reynisdrangar. According to local Icelandic folklore, these large basalt columns were once trolls trying to pull ships from the ocean to shore. However those trolls were dim and went out too late in the night; dawn broke on the horizon and turning the trolls into solid stone. Another legend tells of a Husband whose wife was kidnapped and killed by two trolls. The man followed the trolls down to Reynisfjara where he froze them, ensuring that they would never kill again.
This stunning basalt column is also used in Game of Thrones season 7 as the filming location for Eastwatch-by-the-sea
Another Town to visit in Iceland’s south coast is the town of ,Vík í Mýrdal located 11km away from Reynijsfara Beach. Vik is a small town with 300 inhabitants and a popular stop in the South Coast Tour. It is a favourite by many travellers to stay the night and break the journey before continuing their journey to the East. So book your accommodation in advance as they get can get booked up.
Apart from the amazing panorama of the village and beyond, the first thing that pops into sight as you round the corner into Vik is the beautiful Reyniskirkja white church up on the hill which was built in 1929. The church is extremely photogenic, as are the views all around it.
We had to skip Vik on this journey and decided to stop by later on our way back because we needed to to reach Hali and the weather forecast for Hali was not looking good. The reason why we chose accommodation in Hali is because we had booked morning Ice Caving Tour in Vatnajokull for the next day and from Hali it is only 20 minutes drive.
Driving to our accommodation in Hali
As we progressed to Hali, the weather started to turn worse from raining until snowing and then the next thing we know we were hit by a snow blizzard. We had to drive very slow as the road was very slippery with low visibility.
We arrived safely to Skyrhusid Guesthouse around 9pm. Much later than planned because we had to drive very slow. I forgot to take picture of the house as we were just glad that we made it safely. We stayed in triple room with shared bathroom but each room has its own small sink which we can use to wash our hands and brush our teeth.
Our guesthouse has a small kitchen and eating area for cooking breakfast and dinner. They also provide tea, coffee, milk, juice and skyr for their guests. The only downside is frying not allowed so we have to make do with boiling and using microwave. Skyrhusid Guesthouse is a sister company of Hali Country Hotel. They are located next to each other and it has a Restaurant. It is one alternative if you prefer to stay at a Hotel.