Iceland’s South Coast, Part Two

If I’m honest, I didn’t really have my expectations set correctly when it came to the glacial tongue of Sólheimajökull.  It was the least researched location I added to my south coast itinerary, and the pictures I had seen online failed to make a huge impression on me.  I mainly added it to the list because I had never seen a glacier before.

When we turned off the main highway toward the glacier however, we were met with the sight of mysterious green and black mountains fading into the mist, giving the impression of a fairytale landscape.  Steam rolled off of the jagged ice of Sólheimajökull, which was banded with the same black volcanic sand that we saw throughout the south coast.  The glacier is a short 0.1 mile hike from it’s parking lot, so I hadn’t planned to spend a great deal of time there, but walking on black earth toward the ice, surrounded by towering green hills, we became enraptured in the moment.  What I thought would be a half hour stop turned into an hour and a half as we marveled at the sight before us.  It was difficult to turn around and drag ourselves away, but we had two more stops to make and we would lose daylight soon.

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After Sólheimajökull, we set out for Skógafoss, a large waterfall and icon of the south coast.  This waterfall is easy to spot from the road as it is massive.  There were many tents set up around the parking lot, and campers milled about looking cold and wet.  First we hiked up a narrow staircase to the top of the waterfall to see the view from above.  Once at the top, we climbed a ladder over a fence to reach a trail that follows the river for a short distance.  The river was quite beautiful with large rock formations standing tall in the swirling current.  On our way back down the stairs we stopped to admire the waterfall a couple of times before reaching it’s base and walking as close as we were willing to get to the powerful water.

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Then it was time to move on to Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi.  We grabbed a last minute Icelandic hot dog from the stand near the parking lot before trekking to the former, which has a trail leading directly behind it.  This waterfall is definitely most spectacular when you are standing behind it.  You feel its grand scale much more acutely when you are that close, and the overhung cliff protects you from most of the waterfall’s mist.  After looping under Seljalandsfoss, the trail continues north along the base of the cliff.  We followed the trail, and eventually saw a posted sign that denoted Gljúfrabúi.  From here, we could just barely see the waterfall through a crack in the cliff wall.  We squeezed through this canyon, jumping from rock to rock to avoid soaking our feet as a small river was flowing through it.  It was too dark to take pictures by the time we were at Gljúfrabúi, but it was hands down the best waterfall I have ever witnessed.  Lacey streams of water cascaded as if from the sky itself, down the canyon wall and into the cave-like crevice were the fall is hidden.  The grotto had a magical quality that seemed to hold a thousand possibilities.  This was a beautiful sort of  moment that made me feel still and peaceful, and I didn’t want it to end, although night was falling and we had to return to our car.  Once back at the parking lot, we bought hot chocolate from the stand to warm up, and got a quick lesson on how to pronounce the waterfalls’ names before getting back into the cars and setting off toward Reykjavík and our hotel.

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