The first day of our two-day drive along the south coast of Iceland took us to Vatnajökull National Park. This national park occupies about 14% of Iceland and we visited the Skaftafell area. Skaftafell used to be a manor farm as well as a national park. The farms were mostly abandoned after two volcanic eruptions and the resulting glacier runs. There are a few different hiking trails and you can get the information from the visitor’s center. For us, we mainly wanted to see Svartifoss, also known as Black Falls, framed by basalt column walls. The views here are stunning. The hike is not extremely difficult but there is actually a short cut from the other parking lot pass the one at the visitor’s center that cuts the hike time by almost half. We later discovered on our way back that there is a paved service road that joins the hiking trail about halfway before you arrive at Svartifoss, hence skipping a large part of the hike on uneven terrain.
One of the activities not to be missed, although quite expensive, is taking a flight tour either in a light aircraft or a helicopter. Our 75 minute “West Special” flight cost us about US$500 per person but it was worth every penny. You get to see all the different landscapes Iceland has to offer from glaciers to rivers to glacier lagoons to volcanos to black sand beaches. The weather in Iceland changes constantly so whether one can actually take flight is unpredictable. It could be pouring rain on one side of the village and on the other side the sun is out. We were extremely lucky to have almost no winds (quite rare) and sunny skies the morning of our flight from the Skaftafell Airport.
After an unforgettable 75 minute in the air, we continue on along Route 1 towards Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon which is a part of the Vatnajökull National Park. It is a sight to be seen with giant blue icebergs floating around the lagoon and others collecting on the shores of the black sand beach. Photographs of this place in travel magazines are what inspired me to do this road trip along the southern coast. The icebergs in the lagoon come from the Breioamerkurjökull glacier and are truly mesmerizing. With global warming, the lagoon is constantly growing in size as the glacier continues to melt. There are two type of boat tours here, the amphibian tour and the zodiac tour. We opted for the zodiac tour because it can get closer to the icebergs in the middle of the lagoon whereas the amphibian boat tour mainly circles the lagoon near the shores. These boat tours started the year of the premiere of the James Bond movie A View to a Kill which was filmed here. You get suited up in large floatation suits and life jackets before heading off towards the center of the lagoon as well as the far end next to the glacier.
Not to be missed is the Diamond Beach next to the lagoon. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is connected to the Atlantic Ocean and as the ice falls into the lagoon and drifts out to sea, they are swept back onto the beach by the waves of the Atlantic. They sit on the black sand beach like pieces of diamond sparkling in the sun and that is how this beach became nicknamed Diamond Beach. Diamond Beach is offically known as Breioamerkursandur. This is no doubt one of the most beautiful places I have been to.
From here we turn back for our long drive back to Reykjavik (about 5 hours). The South Coast of Iceland is one of those iconic must do activities in Iceland. The changing landscape from green pastures to black sand beaches, from waterfalls to glacier lagoons is unlike anything I have ever seen. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it even in the torrential downpour and winds that could have blown me away. I will definitely be back to explore more!
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