Day 4: waterfalls and aurora
After a massive breakfast at Hotel Skogar (who supplied pickled herring, one of my favourites), it was a short drive up the road to the amazing Skógafoss. As we rounded the corner leading up to it, the sun caught the spray from the falls and lit up a rainbow across the river. The surroundings are beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop and the odd red-roofed farm house breaking up the greenery.
We climbed to the top of the fall where you could watch the water pour over the edge to the river below. As our first waterfall sighting in Iceland, it was breathtaking, although they have a tendency to just get more and more spectacular as your journey continues.
After an hour or so enjoying the falls we were back in the car to see Seljalandsfoss, the illuminated waterfall we had passed the night before on our treacherous drive from the Blue Lagoon.
As one of Iceland’s major attractions, the car park was full of tour buses and other cars, and for once we had to find a parking space, rather than just abandoning the car in an empty lot. After pulling on my waterproof trousers (and realising I had an audience as I performed some serious gymnastics in the driver’s seat to complete the manoeuvre), we hopped out the car to explore.
The waterfall itself is not as high or wide as Skógafoss, but Seljalandsfoss’s USP is that it’s possible to climb behind the falls, providing an amazing
There are plenty of safety notices up and ropes to keep you out as the rocks are icy, wet and slick from the falls and the general weather. We saw more than one person slip and almost end up in the water. Not to be deterred, I followed my much bolder friend over the ropes and gingerly across the rocks which led behind the falls. I was a bit concerned about how we’d get back afterwards, but it was definitely worth the treacherous climb.
DC-3 plane crash
Back on the road we carried on to the East, passing Skógafoss where we’d started our day and on to the open road beyond. One of the ‘hidden’ sights on Iceland’s south coast (and I put that in quote marks as it’s made it on to TripAdvisor’s top list of things to do in Iceland, so everyone know it’s there), is a crashed DC-3 plane on Sólheimasandur beach. The US Navy plane crashed in 1974 and the whole crew survived, but the fuselage has never been recovered and now it sits on Sólheimasandur black sand beach.
It’s not longer possible to drive out to the beach from the road, so you need to walk the 4km from the road. This excellent blog post gives you the directions to follow the path to the plane wreck, which we successfully found using these instructions. We easily found the turning as there were a number of other cars by the gate. It takes about 45 minutes to walk each way and we were helpfully guided by the stream of people coming back from the plane on the way out- on our way back we aimed for the mountains behind where we’d parked the car.
It’s a nice walk over barren black sand and gravel all the way, like a lunar landscape. The plane itself is such a strange sight, perched alone on the black sand. Luckily when we made it everyone else had walked back and we had the site to ourselves to take pictures until we had to turn back to the car.
Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara
The next stop on the journey was Dyrhólaey to see the coastal rock formations. From up on the cliffs you look down on the waves breaking onto the black sand beach and thrashing against the jagged rocks. Everything is volcanic and formed in the most spectacular shapes.
Reynisfjara beach is another black sand beach, just slightly further around the coast from Dyrhólaey. Towering basalt columns shoot up from the Eastern end of the beach, looking like hundreds of giants’ bar stools. The sun finally made an appearance as we stepped out onto the beach, giving the black rocks a striking blue backdrop.
After enjoying the scenery we were on our way to our stop for the night in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull national park ready to explore the glacier in the morning.
We thought that would be the end of the story for the day, but our obsessive online tracking of the Northern Lights forecast had told us that tonight was our best shot. After a heavy and not so delicious dinner in our hotel (outside of Reykjavik it gets harder and harder to find good food) we headed to bed in our clothes with the alarm set for midnight, ready to pounce on any aurora activity.
When the alarm woke us up we looked eagerly out the window over the mountains of Vatnajökull national park behind our little room. At first we saw nothing, until our eyes adjusted in the darkness and we saw some slowly dancing clouds in the sky in the unmistakable pattern of the Northern Lights.
The lights often appear like white cloud, not like the striking green colours you see in photographs, due to the difficulty our eyes have in detecting colour properly in darkness. We watched them for a while from the window of our room then decided to hit the road in the hope of some clear sky and some stronger lights.
We jumped in the car and hit the road again (me rather more reluctantly than my friend) travelling another 40 minutes East looking for clear sky. At various points in the journey we saw the lights from the car, still the same faint, milky clouds dancing in the sky.
When they suddenly appeared stronger we quickly pulled into a gateway, turned off our lights and jumped out the car. Just as I stepped out, rummaging for my camera, a bright green streak flicked quickly across the sky directly ahead. We had finally seen the ‘proper’ Northern Lights. After sitting in the car for another half an hour to watch the amazing, but much less spectacular white lights, it was finally time for bed, ready to tackle some glacier walking the next day.