Day two— Skógar to Vagnsstaðir Hostel = approx. 251 km heading east along Ring Road= 3 hours’ non-stop drive; with stops to explore sights = 8 hours!
Highlights: Solheimajokull, Dyrhólaey, Loftsalahellir, Eldhraun, Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Kirkjugólf, Foss á Síðu-Waterfall, Skeiðarársandur, Bridge over Skeiðará, Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Waking at sunrise at the foot of a waterfall, under the white gaze of a glacier, is a quintessential Icelandic experience.
After a brisk hike to the top of the 62m high Skogafoss, we departed the Skógar HI Hostel, turned east on the Ring Road, and within 20 minutes had turned off Route 1 to slowly bump along route 221 to Solheimajokull. Because it had been a warm winter, the tongue of glacier unfurling from the main Myrdalsjokull ice cap had retreated from the parking area and required a 20 minute brisk hike in—completely worth it. Tip: at breakfast each day, we made & packed lunch & snacks, so we could spend as much time exploring as we could throughout the day, & eat while driving the longer bits.
10:00a.m.–Continuing east along Route 1 for 25km, we came to Dyrholaey, a dramatic promontory nature reserve.
Just before the causeway to Dyrholaey is the Viking Age cave Loftsalahellir, used for council meetings in Saga times—very cool! Tip: Beware of “Sneaker Waves” on these beaches, unexpected waves that surge powerfully way past the high tide line, dragging unsuspecting sightseers out into the tumultuous surf. There’s a billboard here that captures a photo of a tourist right at the point of being dragged out, where she drowned—terrifying stuff.
11:30ish –We bypassed Vik, saving it for our return trip, and continued east on Route 1 toward Kirkjubaejarklaustur, through the black lava sand flats of Myrdalssandur. En-route we passed the stunning Eldhraun—“fire lava field”– a spectacular area covered in elfin green moss. This lava flow was caused by row of craters called Lakagígar, 75 km northwest from here, erupting in 1783-84. At 565 km² it is the largest lava flow on earth.
1:00-ish: We stopped to stretch our legs & eat our lunch at a picturesque roadside waterfall at the end of a quiet meadow.
1:30-ish–Continuing east on Route 1, we headed into Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a small village in a beautiful setting, with our destination being Kirkjugólf (“church floor”). These natural basalt columns, formed by glacial melts, look very much like the floor of a medieval church. In a fresh mid-March snowfall, we spent a good 30 minutes wandering about before discovering the honeycombed slabs! They’re located in a field about 400m northwest of the N1 gas station. We also came across Hildir’s Mound, a burial site purportedly for a pagan, Hildir Eysteinsson, who attempted to move into the area in the 10th century, when the “Papar”, the Icelandic word for travelling Irish monks, were thought to have settled the area long before the Norsemen. Tip: We topped up our fuel tanks at the N1 gas station for the long drive ahead.
3:30-ish: Eleven km east of Kirkjubaejarklaustur, we passed Foss á Síðu, and then entered the sprawling, breathtaking black sand desert of Skeiðarársandur, formed by glacial rivers and catastrophic glacial floods from the Skeiðarárjökull glacier.
In 1996 the bridge crossing Skeiðarársandur was destroyed after volcanic eruptions underneath Vatnajökull caused massive, roiling floods. The 880-metre-long bridge was damaged by floating ice boulders the size of houses. At the peak of this glacier run, 45,000 m³/s of water hammered across this valley.
Crossing the Bridge over Skeiðará is a visual feast of sinuous rivers, black sand, and a backdrop of stunning glaciers.
4:30pm-ish, we reached Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, about 27 minutes from the Vagnsstaðir Hostel that we’d booked for the night. Tip: At that time of day, there was an insane number of vehicles parked along the very potholed, bumpy road. We opted to park about 15 minutes away and hike in, rather than deal with the mess of tour buses and seemingly dazed & confused foreign drivers. This eerie lagoon with its hulking chunks of glacier was an impressive way to wind up a day driving through a captivating, seemingly fairy-touched, landscape.
We chose to leave our exploration of Breiðamerkurjökull and Jökulsárlón for the following day, when we were fresh and energetic, and instead cooked up a thick and hearty vegetable stew with hot garlic toast—which we ended up sharing with several wonderful travellers at the hostel, surrounded by a panoramic view of rolling grass fields from the glass-surrounded hostel dining room.
Tips: This hostel is located in an isolated spot. A bevy of travellers arrived around 10:00pm, hoping for a nearby restaurant or grocery store… they went hungry that night! We booked a private room for the first night here, & a dormitory for the next night. We really, really appreciated having the room to ourselves that one night… even though the next night, we shared a lot of laughs & got along really well with everyone who was jam-packed into the tiny dormitory space. As to how much sleep we got, though… wasn’t near as much as we wanted, due to rampant snoring from many sleepers!