Braving an Icelandic Storm in the South Coast

08 June 2015

Iceland's South Coast is one of the most picturesque parts of the country, and for me, it did not disappoint. During my 5-day trip, I had the pleasure of taking a tour from Reykjavik out to explore it.

We'd gotten a deal from Sterna Tours for booking this tour with another one the day prior. We hopped on our bus at the Harpa Concert Hall right in the city center, and our guide warned us that we were unfortunately headed for some nasty weather. This tour group was much smaller than the one for the Golden Circle -- only about 11 people, which was surprising given that it only departs three times each week. 

A Disappointing First Stop
After we were about an hour and a half outside of Reykjavik, we stopped at a gas station. Yep, a gas station. By now, I was wanting a coffee and a moment to stretch my legs, but Sterna had us stop for 30 minutes. This was excessive, in my opinion, especially with the blizzard approaching imminently. So, we sat and waited on some couches in a random gas station in Iceland. I guess that's an experience I won't forget!

Majestic Eyjafjallajökull
You'll know when you start nearing the South Coast because the landscape begins to change. What was once a rolling, mountainous area will sometimes stretch onwards indefinitely over small bodies of water and fields. Our first official stop was to catch a glimpse of Eyjafjallajökull -- try and say that one five times fast. I can't even say it once! This volcano erupted in 2010, making Iceland the headline of almost every newspaper.

Caileigh and I actually planned a stop in Iceland for our European backpacking trip in 2010, and we ended up canceling for fear of flight troubles. Little did we know that most into and out of Reykjavik actually remained in tact, but those giant ash clouds quickly covered parts of Europe instead!

Glacial Hiking at Sólheimajökull
I was so excited for the next part of our trip. We were headed to walk out to the tongue of a glacier! The terrain getting out to Sólheimajökull was so rough and bumpy, we actually saw a couple of tourists who had blown their rental car tire. While we were hiking, our driver headed back out to them to help get them back up and running. Because that's what Icelanders do. They just smother people with their niceness. 

It was so windy hiking that I got knocked over a few times, but the experience was like something from a movie. The ashy black ground was covered with waves of ice, and after awhile, I couldn't tell where the ice stopped and the white sky started. This was a pretty tame hike with no special equipment needed. I was certainly glad I had my camera, though!

The Beach Town of Vik
The storm started to hit after we left the glacier, and we headed through the mountains to the small town of Vik along the coast. Vik is where most Icelandic wool is produced, and it's cheapest to buy it here. After a hot lunch of fish and chips at a local diner, we headed over to the wool store to watch the process of turning spools into clothing like hats, socks and sweaters. 

By now, the storm was completely out of control. You couldn't see anything or go outside without getting pelted by ice and snow, so we unfortunately were unable to head down to the serene, black basalt beach that I'd read so much about. Guess that just means I have to go back!

We headed back out into the snowstorm over the windy, mountain roads. Truthfully, I could tell the group was terrified. It was so white that our driver must have been driving blindly. Despite the blizzard and icy roads through those steep, mountain passes, I still felt safe the whole time. Our guide tried to cheer our spirits by distracting us with stories of Icelandic folklore.

A Wonderland of Waterfalls
On our way back toward Reykjavik, we stopped at Skogafoss, a beautifully gigantic waterfall that is truly breathtaking to see. We hiked up to the top to check out the views, which was certainly a feat. My legs and lungs were killing me when it was all said and done. I snapped this shot of two people marveling at this massive thing to put its size into perspective. 

The weather had cleared a bit, so it was time to start heading toward our next waterfall. Believe me, during a trip to Iceland, you will want to chase as many freaking waterfalls as you possibly can. 

In warmer weather, you can walk behind Seljalandsfoss which is the first -- or last, depending on which direction you are headed -- of a series of three gorgeous waterfalls along the Ring Road. Some were brave enough to trek behind it despite the bridges and steps being completely frozen over. I attempted to get as close to the waterfall as I possibly could. It didn't go over so well. 

The South Coast was a unique experience, and one that's not to be missed. In the summertime, I would gladly rent a car and make the drive myself to have as much time for independent exploration as possible. 

Have you traveled to Iceland's South Coast? What was your favorite part?

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