In August 2018, K and I along with a friend decided to finally travel to Iceland. And not just travel, but go on a camping trip! Our itinerary and more details of the first two days can be found here.
Day 3 – kayaking and hiking up a glacier
If day two was about leisurely sightseeing, day three was all about physical activities. Our day started with a drive to the Sólheimajökull glacier – about an hour and fifteen minutes away. Sólheimajökull glacier (home of the Sun Glacier) is located near the town of Vik and is about 10 to 13 kilometers long, starting from the rim of the volcano Katla and about one to two kilometers wide. Sadly, like most glaciers in Iceland, this one too has been melting quite rapidly. So much so that since 2007 a lagoon started to form in front of the glacier. If the ice continues to melt at its current rate, the lagoon will replace all of the glacier in the coming years. We had booked a kayaking trip in this lagoon to be able to see the glacier and the surrounding landscape more closely.
The tour organisers met us at the parking lot where we were equipped with our wet suits and other gear. We then hiked across to the lagoon to where the kayaks were. It was a short 10-15mins walk but our guide told us that as recently as five years ago, the hike would have taken twice the time because the lagoon didn’t extend this far. The sad truth about global warming.
After some quick instructions and some do’s & don’ts our small group of ten was ready and eager to get started. Disclosure: I am sh** at any sort of rowing. So whilst I had eagerly agreed to this adventure, I was hoping it didn’t become a mis-adventure!
The entire experience was surreal. The lagoon was a sea of calm and the water surrounded by the bluish tinge of the glacier, gave the appearance of some alternate reality. There were some large chunks of ice here and there, bits that had broken off from the glacier. Our task was to navigate through these and guide our kayaks to the other side of the lake – a simple enough task but one that my kayak would never complete!
2.5hrs in lake placid and we were just getting started. Our next activity would take us up a glacier! We were going to hike up a part of the Vatnajökull glacier, located in Skaftafell National park. Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Europe, covering 8% of Iceland’s landmass. We met our guide at the hiking company’s office and geared up again – this time with crampons and ice axes. At the base of the glacier, our guide gave us a little background about the glaciers in the area and soon we were on our way up. These hikes usually last about three hours and the visitors are taken up the lower section of the glacier. But even this short hike was enough to take our breath away. The ice was solid and blue – from the trapped oxygen in it. It was so fresh that we could cut away chunks and eat it straight away. Tired but happy we headed to our third camp in Skaftafell.
Day 4 – another lagoon, a beach and a town
The next morning we hiked up from our campsite to see the Svartifoss waterfalls or the Black Falls. So called because of the dark lava columns that surround it. The hike started directly from the camping grounds and was a circular walk, about 5kms long. It was very clearly labelled and took us uphill to a viewing platform and then down to the falls itself. Svartifoss is quite magnificent to look at and has inspired many buildings in Iceland, including the towering church, Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík.
From the falls, we headed to Jökulsárlón, literally ‘glacial river lagoon’. This lagoon is filled with floating icebergs and is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. We were going to take a boat ride in this magical waterbody. With a maximum depth of 248 metres, Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s deepest lake. It started forming in 1934, when Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started retreating, leaving the lagoon in its path. Since the 1970s, the lagoon has increased fourfold in size. The lagoon continues to grow in size, fed by the melting glacial waters of the ever retreating glacier, making the effects of global warming really hard to ignore.
We took one of the amphibian boat tours that took us around the lagoon for about 45 mins, with the guide providing details on the history and background of the glacier and the lagoon itself. Seals are frequent visitors at the lagoon but we didn’t see any on our trip.
Just across from the lagoon is the famed black beach called Breiðamerkursandur, better known as the Diamond Beach. Pieces of ice that break away from the glacier, fall into the lagoon and then drift out into the North Atlantic Ocean. From here the waves wash them ashore, leaving them glistening on the black beach, making them look like pieces of diamonds strewn across. Hence, the name. Pictures don’t do justice to this extraordinary sight.
One of our last stops along the southern coast was the small fishing village of Höfn, about an hour from the lagoon. Höfn means harbour as the village is located in one of the few natural harbours in Iceland. Most people with more time to spare, would have continued on along the east coast and then up north towards Husavik. But for us it was time to start our journey back towards Reykjavík. On our last night, we camped at Kirkjubær II.
Day 5 – Dyrhólaey and back
I really haven’t mentioned the weather so far, and that’s because, as unpredictable as it might be in Iceland, we were lucky to have experienced nothing but bright, clear, sunny days up until the last day. It was as if the island was unhappy as us to be leaving! The day dawned grey and ominous, with nothing but dark clouds all around. By the time we left the campsite, it was chucking buckets. On the one had, we were glad it was on our last day whilst on the other, sad that our last day would not be as pretty as the others.
Anyhow, we had to carry on towards Dyrhólaey, which means Door Hill Island! One can stop here in the beginning of the trip as well. But since we knew we were going to be doubling back, we chose to keep it for the end. This area was once an island but then joined the mainland of Iceland. The most popular sight here is the Dyrhólaey’s arch – a massive rock arch that has resulted from years of erosion. Another reason to visit this place is to see the Atlantic Puffin, which can be found here from May to September. Given the appalling weather, we had no hopes of seeing any puffins. On top of Dyrhólaey stands a beautiful old lighthouse, Dyrhólaeyjarviti. However, we skipped seeing that given the weather.
One thing to remember is that no amount of planning can prepare you for the weather in Iceland. It can change at a drop of a hat going from calm and quiet to windy and really cold. So it’s best to always come prepared for all four seasons!
Our drive back took slightly longer than anticipated as we had to be careful on the wet roads. We only had enough time to drop off the car and head straight to the airport.
While this holiday came to an end, I am sure we will be back again to explore the northern and the western parts of the island.