Effervescent storyteller.

Welcome to My Modern Diary, an electronic journal filled with tales of nostalgic cuisine, wistful wanderings & personal recollections by Sarah Orman.

Iceland - South Coast

Iceland - South Coast


Our second full day in Iceland began early as we waited outside the apartment for our 4x4 tour guide.

Prior to booking our vacation I had spent a significant amount of time researching what Iceland had to offer and after much reading I was determined to stay away from the famed Golden Circle. I wanted to see and do more, venture off the beaten track, go big or go home! And so on arrival in Reykjavik we reached out to Iceland Offroad Tours to request availability for December 30th {which was forecast to be the best day during our stay, yes, we've covered my obsession with the weather in my previous blog post already}.

After several emails back and forth with Stefan, the owner, we were excited to learn he had found a driver for the following day. And so on December 30th we were headed for the South of Iceland long before sunrise with our tour guide, Arne, and two young girls on vacation from Spain.

Our first stop after about 90 minutes of driving was Seljalandsfoss {note that "foss" is Icelandic for waterfall}. As we neared the waterfall, dawn began to illuminate the surreal landscape we'd been navigating since leaving Reykjavik. Captivated by the strangeness of the view, an eerie silence became of us. It felt like we were inside a painting where the color palette was a dramatic and moody combination of grey, black, white and blue.

The jet-black lava rock jutted across the canvas as far as the eye could see, contrasting perfectly against the pure white snow and ice. The cliffs up ahead of us, a mass of dark grey matter, became more and more defined beneath the morning's first light as we drew nearer. We spotted the "foss" from afar, and watched it excitedly as we pulled into the empty parking lot.

Bundled-up against the cold, we made our way across the icy path. The waterfall was magnificent. We paused to take pictures and enjoy the first stop on our intimate tour. All four of us "ooo-ed" and "ahh-ed" at our first encounter and our tour guide, Arne, smiled at our amazement; "wait until you see the next one!"

After ten-fifteen minutes we hopped back inside the vehicle and left the parking lot, which was no longer empty, and headed to another spot just five minutes from Seljalandsfoss. Despite the growing crowds at our first stop, there wasn't another soul to be seen as we once again disembarked the vehicle to follow Arne. A brief moment before our "trek" and Arne told us to hide our cameras inside our coats, waterfall number two wasn't so easy to reach...

We climbed down the icy, gravelly slope and headed towards a gap in the cliff. As we approached the dark crevice towering above us, we could hear the rush of cascading water yet the waterfall was still out of clear view. Clambering down through the slim space in the rocks and negotiating our way over the slippery stones protruding from the water, we edged closer to the fall, gripping the side of the cliff until we reached an opening and some solid ground. One by one as each of us reached the final destination, there was a squeal of delight as we looked upward to the sky; we were literally standing beneath the hidden "foss" : )

It was no easy task to capture the moment, especially as within just a few short minutes we were soaked {thank goodness for waterproof clothing!} but this snap below take me right back to this incredible moment. No one else came to see the hidden waterfall while we were there. In fact, Arne told us that few people even knew about it, which undoubtedly made the "trek" all the more worthwhile. It felt as though we had discovered a teeny tiny part of Iceland that had never made it to the pages of a guide book, we were steps away from the road well-traveled and yet we were off the beaten track; I was ecstatic!

Another 40 minutes or so on the road and we were at our third and final waterfall; Skogafoss, which was a monster! Look closely at the image below {it's a little like Where's Wally/Waldo... can you spot the couple holding the umbrella?!} Hubby and I couldn't stop laughing; we were getting soaked from where I took this picture, I can't imagine their umbrella was very efficient...

After the excitement of three waterfalls, we were headed further South to the black sand beach near Vik. Northern Lights aside, this was probably the most eagerly anticipated part of our trip to Iceland. And sure enough {there is a common theme occurring in my Iceland blog posts} it did not disappoint.

Stepping out of the vehicle and making our way onto the beach was honestly like entering another world. For miles the black sand stretched into the horizon, the cliffs of Dyrhóleay an eerie shadow of a silhouette in the background. The roaring ocean swelled onto the shore, the foaming white sea-spray a stark contrast against the jet black sand. Pausing to take in the surreal beauty of this place I had been longing to visit, it felt as though all the color from the world had gone and we were suddenly in a black and white movie with only the violent ocean providing the sound effects. A world without color would be a terrible place, but there was something really quite magical about the black sand beach. It was almost mythical.

As we watched the ocean crash onto the shore, Arne shared a tragic tale that reminded us just how powerful Mother Nature can be. There are parts of the beach that can only be reached when the tide is out; a small basalt cave that sits behind the towering black rock formations pictured below. The unpredictable ocean had sadly claimed the lives of a Japanese couple as they tried to explore this stretch of the Icelandic coastline and the Reynisfjara cave. They were never found.

The compelling waves grew bigger and stronger as we wandered up and down the shore taking pictures. While the magnificent allure of the beach and the rock formations captivated me, it was hard not to suppress the fear of nature's strength.

After a thought-provoking yet mesmerizing 30 minutes or so, Arne pointed out a small building where we would dine. In the quaint cafeteria overlooking the beach, we sat down to a large bowl full of traditional Icelandic lamb soup. Damp and cold from our morning's jaunt, the hot soup was the perfect remedy to refuel the body and soul in preparation for the remainder of our tour.

Shortly after our delicious Icelandic lunch, we were back inside the 4x4 heading towards the top of the Dyrhóleay cliffs. The road {if you can even call it that} was icy and treacherous and as we climbed higher and higher I grew more and more nervous every time our wheels spun. Arne was an awesome driver though and despite being perched on the edge of my seat in anticipation, I knew we were in good hands. In fact, I think he was secretly enjoying the "off-road" terrain?!

The wind was brutally cold as we stepped out of the truck to enjoy the view. It was incredible to see the black sand beach from above and to look out over the wintry landscape.

Iceland21 copy

Our final outdoor stop before the sun set on another day was one of Iceland's many glaciers.

As we departed from the Southern most point of Iceland in pursuit of the remaining daylight, I felt happy and content. Prior to booking the excursion, I was worried that it would be a total waste of money given the inevitable short window of light we would have. Instead, I was totally thrilled with the whole experience up until that point; we'd seen and done so much more than I ever imagined.

As I happily made myself comfortable in the backseat of the warm car, I pondered our next destination with a lack of enthusiasm; I could have easily forfeited our final outdoor stop. Driving right on by the glacier and heading back to Reykjavik with my eyes closed sounded wonderful; it felt so good to thaw out and relax and in truth I wasn't overly excited about seeing what I imagined to be a big sheet of ice.

We pulled into the parking lot and once again followed Arne's lead. The light was fading fast and we knew we had to move quickly. As we made our way towards the icy path, I became ever more dubious; the folks walking towards us were heavily laden with ice-climbing gear after obviously spending the afternoon on the glacier. We must have looked crazy, it was only 30-40 minutes until sunset and we were clearly not physically prepared for glacier climbing?!

Despite being the only people headed in the opposite direction and undeterred by the sideways judgmental glances, hubby and I kept up with our tour guide, adamant to at least see something before the last of the day's light faded. The two Spanish girls lagged way behind us, the terrain a little too treacherous for them. On realizing our efforts, Arne pointed us in the right direction, smiled and said "go!" And so we did as he hung back to check on the girls.

On finally turning the corner we'd been hustling towards, Iceland once again "wowed" us. The glacier was just up ahead, an icy blue mass of lumps and bumps cutting through the black landscape; I'd never seen anything like it!

As we drew nearer and nearer we grew more and more excited. I was suddenly transported back to my geography classroom, listening to my teacher intently and not quite understanding what a glacier was. I laughed out loud; the penny had finally dropped now I was standing underneath one!

Arne caught-up with us soon after we paused to take pictures. As we gushed to him about how impressed we were, he told us we were incredibly lucky. The rain from the previous day had washed away much of the snow to reveal the glacier in its true glory. He recalled how just one week earlier, his tour had seen nothing but snow-covered mounds of ice.

At our furthest point from the truck, we found a spot to jump down into the ice and actually touch the glacier. It was totally surreal; we were actually standing inside it?! We laughed and jumped like children, after all it's not every day one can say he or she got up close and personal with a huge sheet of ice!

As the day light began to quickly disappear, we raced back to the truck. We were almost the last ones to leave the parking lot and as we once again made ourselves comfortable in the car, I smiled to myself at how very wrong I had been about our last outdoor stop : )

Our final destination before heading back to the city was a small family-owned farm at the foot of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, just ten minutes from the glacier. In 2011 the farm opened a small museum; one year after the volcano last erupted, which caused chaos for the family living on the land below its crater and tens of thousands of travelers who were left stranded as a result of numerous flight cancellations. The famed ash cloud of 2010 created havoc for thousands of transatlantic passengers. Amid all the media attention, however, the world failed to report the impact the volcano had on the family that live under its shadow.

The museum played a short 20-minute movie that shared their story, which was truly fascinating to see. Despite having to evacuate their land when the volcano erupted, today the farm is a thriving self-sufficient business that is reaping the benefits of the post-eruption fertile soil.

After thanking the farmer {and movie-star!} we were back on the road, headed towards Reykjavik in the darkness. At some point we both closed our eyes, exhausted from the day's adventures. I'm quite sure I dreamed of breathtaking waterfalls, mythical beaches, monstrous glaciers and powerful volcanoes... it had after all been an incredible excursion, a trip of a lifetime that would stay with us both forever : )

Homemade almond milk

Homemade almond milk

Iceland - Reykjavik

Iceland - Reykjavik