I love a good road trip. There are usually good tunes, great views and loads of new things to see and after spending the previous afternoon exploring the Golden Circle we were keen to get out and see a lot more of what Iceland had to offer and maybe something a little less touristy.
We were up before dark (not hard when it’s dark until 10am) and on the road to Iceland’s southernmost village – Vik or Vík í Mýrdal. A round trip from Reykjavik on Highway 1 (the Ring Road) is roughly 370 km (approx. 4 hours) but add in some icy roads, a stop for lunch and some picture-taking and it quickly became a 6 hour journey. The longest part (especially since it was snowing) was the trip over the Hellisheidi volcanic plateau. Formed over 1,000 years ago, the lava fields are set 380 m above sea level and are one of the most geothermally active parts of the country (home to the second largest geothermal power station in the world). It’s an eerie kind of landscape. Large plumes of steam billow up from frozen plains of ice and snow-covered rocks. We were lucky enough to experience the first part of the days sunrise which cast a beautiful pinkish glow over the snowy landscape.
On the other side of the plateau is Hveragerdi, home to some of Iceland’s richest farmlands. Aside from the usual paddocks and pastures there are acres of geothermally heated greenhouses. The village is also home to many artists and authors, making it a popular weekend stop for Reykjavik dwellers – think the Matakana of Iceland (if you’re familiar with Auckland).
Next up are two other famous Icelandic waterfalls – Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Both have formed as a result of the coastline receding seaward and are more than 60 m high. In summer it’s possible to walk the trails up to Seljalandsfoss and stand behind the waterfall itself. If you’re feeling particularly fit you can walk inland towards Porsmork. In late November the car park was covered in ice and the pathways to the falls were frozen solid (it had been a particularly cold few weeks). For fear of breaking a leg (or worse!) I opted for photos from the car window instead. Like Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss is also a popular starting point for hikes into the pass between two glaciers – Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. If you’re not into hiking you can visit the Eyjafjallajökull Visitor Centre and check out samples of that famous ash that halted some 100,000 flights across Europe during an 8 day period, accounting for almost half of the world’s total air traffic and affecting roughly 10 million passengers.
Roughly half an hour and several mountain passes later the small settlement of Vik reveals itself. Home to almost 300 people and a seasonal population of puffins, it’s a beautiful piece of rugged coastline. The black basalt sand beach reminded me of the wild west coast beaches north of Auckland where there’s nothing but you, miles of beach and the big bad ocean. Offshore lies a collection of basalt rock stacks called Reynisdranger. Legend states that the stacks occurred when two trolls dragged their three-masted ship out to sea only to become stone when caught by the rising dawn.
Fun Fact: If you watched Lost you might remember that Vik is also home to The Vik Institute – a mental research facility run by the Hanso Foundation.