Our first two days of our Iceland trip were exciting but we were about to see even more spectacular scenery culminating in an awe-inspiring light show from the Aurora Borealis.
Day 3 – Southern Coast
We started our day viewing 2 waterfalls. The Seljalandsfoss waterfall flows from 200 feet above. You can walk behind the waterfall if you don’t mind getting a little wet. It was a cold and windy morning (in the upper 20’s) but we were properly layered and enjoyed some hot chocolate afterwards.
Located less than a half mile away is a less visited waterfall and it was one of my favorites because it was not easy to reach. Approaching it looks pretty mild, just a small crevasse with a small view of the falls.
Getting to the bigger falls is a tricky walk between the boulders, jumping from stone to stone in the shallow creek below. Once you get past the first set of boulders, you no longer have the ability to hold onto the sides of the rock for balance so it’s almost a game of hop scotch between rocks — tough to do without falling into the water. Once you make it through, you are rewarded with a towering flow of water coming straight down.
Heading east, we saw beautiful farms flanked by mountains. It was getting really windy and we noticed a few vans had blown off the road.
Next we drove to see the Skógafoss waterfalls. Legend has it that a Viking named Thrasi hid a chest of gold beneath the falls. Many have attempted to retrieve it, and one man almost succeeded by tying a rope to the handle of the chest and pulling. He was only able to obtain the ring of the chest, however; now, it’s said, the ring is attached to a church door in the small village of Skógar.
As we walked towards the waterfall, wind grew to about 50 mph and it was difficult to keep grounded.
Our traveling buddy David barely kept his footing and Lynn and I grabbed our travel friend Lucy as she was also being lifted off the ground — we walked her back to the bus.
With the winds howling, we took respite for a couple of hours in a restaurant next to the falls. This was a nice break as we were able to talk more to our new travel companions and learn more about where they were from and a little about their lives.
After the winds cleared, our tour guide Stefan told us about how J. R. R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) was heavily influenced by Icelandic culture. His nanny was Icelandic and he studied Norse mythology, Tolkien had been a reader of the Icelandic sagas since childhood.
The original houses built in Iceland were called “turf houses” because they were built partly underground and had turf roofs. We saw many original turf houses and some were on display nearby. Tolkien got the idea of the Hobbit houses from these turf houses.
Near here was another impressive waterfall adjacent to a field of grazing sheep.
We ended our day by visiting Fjadrargljufur – the most impressive waterfalls thus far and a black sand beach.
Night fell and we made our way to our hotel for dinner. About 30 minutes after dinner, one of our travel mates (Zali) spotted the Northern Lights! We all ran out and boarded the bus for a short trip to an area with less light. The night skies lit up in spectacular green, swirling beyond belief. Stefano said that someone in our group must have excellent karma because normally they don’t experience the Northern Lights in this way.
I took these photos using my iPhone 13 Pro without a tripod (just tried to hold the camera really steady as it took the picture in night-time mode using long exposure). Others had older iPhones and Android phones that did not pick up the lights as well as my iPhone. I am sure it would have been even better if I’d had a tripod.
Finally, we had realized our dream of the seeing the Aurora Borealis!
Day 4 – Vatnajökull & Iceberg Lagoon
Re-energized after last night’s amazing display of Northern Lights, we made our way to the National Park of Vatnajökull.
Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland covering almost 8% of the country. It was here that we took a long up-hill hike to another waterfall. This was the longest hike thus far and we ended up with over 20,000 steps this day.
Stefano and Lauren celebrate making it to the summit.
Nearby was Hofskirkja, a cozy turf church built in 1884.
Our next stop was one of our favorite places. We took a zodiac to the Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon and were able to visit them up close.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures of the entire trip. We took a stroll along a black sand beach covered in icebergs — known as Diamond Beach. We hit it right at sunset and it was simply spectacular.
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Hey Steve, Bob here. Really enjoyed your most recent post. Just thought I’d mention that Tolkein never actually lived in (or even visited) Iceland, but he was tremendously influenced by Norse mythology and apparently had an Icelandic nanny from the West Fjords when he was a child. (Sometimes guides get a little carried away with their stories!) Congrats on seeing the Northern Lights in spectacular fashion — still very much on our wish list.
Good catch Bob. Not sure if I remembered that wrong or if our guide did say it. I just did a little more research and you are right, I made changes to the post to reflect it — thanks for catching that.
I thought you guys saw the Northern Lights, have you not?
RE Northern LightsNope! We visited Iceland in the summer (August) so no such luck…but we’ll keep trying!