Day 3: hot springs and the road to Skógafoss
This turned out to be an action packed day and our longest on the road. We arrived at the harbour for our whale watching tour to find it was cancelled due to the unsettled weather following the storm that had delayed out plane. They were supposed to have emailed in advance if it was cancelled. Grrrr. So we found ourselves awake and dressed in waterproofs needlessly early with nothing to do on Reykjavik’s harbour.
Our Blue Lagoon slot wasn’t until mid afternoon so we had to find something to entertain us. Luckily we were in Iceland where there’s something amazing around every corner. Since we were packed and ready to go, we decided to leave Reykjavik and explore the Reykjanes Peninsula which surrounds the Blue Lagoon.
Nothing quite prepares you for the sheer diversity of the landscape in Iceland, changing completely every 10 minutes that you drive along, with a waterfall around every corner. I was pretty much speechless all day every day once we were on the road. Sometimes driving is boring, but here the scenery is a hazard of anything, it’s almost a shame I had to concentrate on the road.
I had been on fly drive holidays with my parents around the West coast of America as a kid, and the landscape there is unbelievably changeable and dramatic, but it doesn’t change with anything like the frequency of the Icelandic landscape.
We had quickly cobbled together an itinerary for today from the guidebook, which was pretty exciting as we now had a free day to do things we had never planned to see. The route would take us back past the airport, down the West coast of the Reykjanes peninsular to the Gunnuhver geothermal area, up to the Blue Lagoon and then off out East on our planned route to our hotel in Skógafoss.
Our route for the day
First stop was Miðlína, the ‘mid point’ between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. A kind of black sandy crevasse with a small foot bridge across, it’s not the most exciting of Iceland locations, but it has some beautiful sweeping views out towards the coast. There’s also something wonderfully intriguing about standing between two tectonic plates, especially where you can see such an obvious rift. We spent a bit of time climbing around on the rocks and drawing things in the sand before we had to seek shelter from the still icy wind in the car.
We were off again. The Reykjanes peninsula really does look volcanic, its landscape almost moon-like in appearance, barren and flat. As you travel further south, the black rocky landscape gives way to a still flat, but more colourful area where the geothermal activity has created colourful rock formations as well as more lush, grassy ground.
Gunnuhver was more or less deserted and we walked the boardwalks between geothermal attractions mostly alone. Every site is obviously accompanied by the smell of rotten eggs from all the sulphur, and while small, is a dramatic and attractive place to visit full of steam vents and mud pools. The area takes its name from a troublesome ghost who had been laid to rest there after a priest trapped her in a hot spring. That spring is now called Gunna hot spring after the ghost and is the largest mud pool in Iceland.
Driving further along the South coast we came to Grindavik, a reasonably large town although spread out and barren like the landscape that surrounds it. We found a charming little place to eat lunch on the harbour in Grindavik, called Bryggjan. We had sandwiches and a delicious lobster soup from a big steaming cauldron. Exactly what you want after a day out sightseeing in the icy winds.
With time still to spare before we were due at the Blue Lagoon, we headed off to Krýsuvík Geothermal Area to see more beautiful rock formations and steaming springs. This was even more dramatic than Gunnuhver, including a huge blue pool of striking milky blue water similar to the Blue Lagoon which is opposite the car park to the main mud pools and steam vents of Krýsuvík. The landscape here is really striking, framed by some larger hills in contrast to the much flatter land to the West.
Soon it was time to make our way to the Blue Lagoon, one of our major Iceland bucketlist items. The Blue Lagoon really doesn’t disappoint. It’s a very surreal experience to be in bright blue but opaque water, choked with the silica, algae and other minerals. The water itself is apparently white, only appearing blue due to the sun. The water is a mix of seawater and freshwater, originating from 2,000 meters below the surface and emerging into the pool at around 37 – 40 °C (98-104°F).
The whole place is set up for visitors so you can buy towels, food, drink, hair conditioner- everything you need (you definitely need conditioner, by the way) there. It’s not cheap at about £40 for a standard ticket, but you You can also buy spa treatments like massages floating in the Lagoon if you so wish.
After spending a couple of hours there it was time to hit the road again. Once night fell it began to pour with rain and we spent the next 3 hours in the car desperately trying to navigate through the dark and driving rain while keeping the car on the road.
I definitely don’t recommend driving in Iceland at night (especially if you’re not used to driving on the right!) as the roads tend to be built up on mounds of earth, meaning after the white line on the outside you have about 6 inches for a margin of error and then you’re in a ditch.
Convinced we should have arrived already (and racing against the clock to make check in before 10pm!) we were relieved to see Seljalandsfoss waterfall illuminated against the night. I knew from my trip planning research that this was before Skógafoss but extremely close (meaning we’d have to drive back to it in the morning). About 20 minutes later we finally pulled into the rocky road leading up to our hotel.
We would not discover until the morning that the huge Skógafoss waterfall was right behind the hotel, and that we in fact had a lovely view of it from our window! After availing briefly of the hotels outside sauna and hot tube to destress from the drive, it was a well earned rest ahead of another action packed day in Iceland.