As I had two whole free days together this week and the weather was going to be good for at least one of them I decided to head off on a road trip to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach in the south-east of Iceland. I had been very briefly months ago but I wanted to spend some time exploring the area properly and with the added bonus of snow to make everything extra pretty.
Driving in Iceland
When I saw the weather was going to be good I should clarify that even though there was a lot of snow and ice on the roads with temperatures of -3º, and the day I was due to come back there was torrential rain, strong gusts and a lot of fog, one of the days was mostly sunny. So with this in mind, I threw a snowboarding jacket and trousers, blankets, deicer, a sub-zero sleeping bag and food into the car just in case. One thing to bear in mind on a road trip, especially in more areas and in the winter is that road conditions are often poor so four-wheel drive is best, days are short and if you start in the bright you won’t get to spend much time anywhere, petrol stations (gas stations, filling stations – whatever you want to call them) are not always that frequent and you will use more fuel with four-wheel drive and having the heater on, and if conditions are really bad you might have to spend a night in the car so be prepared. Also quite a few of the places I would have liked to see on the way had impassable roads when I checked the road conditions online, it always pays to play it safe so I stuck to main (and ploughed) routes.
Skógafoss and Kvernufoss
First stop was Skógar but not to Skógafoss. It’s a beautiful waterfall but usually has about twenty million people there so I went to the other side of town to see Kvernufoss (or Kvarnarhólsárfoss) where after a short and easy walk I found the prettiest waterfall and best of all I had it all to myself. Check out Something about Iceland’s blog to get directions and while you can walk behind it everything was very icy so to avoid breaking my face I didn’t.
Reynisfjara, Dyrhólaey and Vík
I had a brief stop in Vík over the summer when I changed buses but this time I headed to the beach from the other side at Reynisfjara where you can get very close to the sea stacks and see the arches at Dyrhólaey. A word of warning, this beach is extremely dangerous with strong currents and freak waves which are unpredictable. There have been deaths on Reynisfjara beach (check out the other links at the bottom of this page). There are warning signs everywhere. An American girl started freaking out that the life ring is far away from the beach. Well, this is because you really shouldn’t go so close to the sea. Yet, loads of people were walking right at the water’s edge, lying down to take pictures, putting children at the edge of rocks… it goes on.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
After filling up in Vík town I headed on to Jökulsárlón. The journey is supposed to take four hours but with fuel stops, road conditions, driving in the dark and never mind photo stops you can add a couple of hours. The roads after Hof were especially icy and care is definitely needed. But getting to see the aurora over the glacier alone was definitely worth the journey. It didn’t last too long but it was magical. This part of Iceland is less busy in general than the south-west but everyone stops here so don’t be surprised to see crowds at any time of the day or night as everyone was out to take photos. One poor guy lost his car keys and then couldn’t switch off the car lights. This prompted some very rude tourists to start shouting and screaming “Turn off your fucking lights!” Coupled with the overuse of full headlights and blinding me, or not using lights at all – can’t see you, driving onto a one-way bridge when there’s a car already on it and refusing to move or just stopping in random places – I was starting to lose patience with people. Anyway thank you Ty because I got cool pictures of icebergs floating in the dark.
I was up early and back the next morning to catch the dawn and it was truly magical. The pinks, gold and blues creeping around the hill with the snow made the hours fly by. If you stop here don’t forget to cross the road (carefully!) to the beach and see blocks of ice washed ashore. There are glacier tours here where you can go into the water but really you can get close enough to the ice without them. But do be careful. No climbing onto iceflows. Do not walk on marked off areas (you could be walking on thin ice). And put your handbrake on.
Núpstaður, Hof and Skaftafell
Around lunchtime (yes I spent that long there) I decided to head to Núpstaður, a turfed roof farm which is on private property but you can take a look from the road and to Hof another turfed roof church. Of course I got sidetracked by glaciers, waterfalls and mountains along the way too. But it was a gorgeous day, even though I should have brought a boat for the return journey of five hours of rain!