Filled with extensive glaciers, floating icebergs, waterfalls you can walk behind and black sandy beaches covered in ice chunks, its no wonder visitors flock to Iceland’s South Coast. Every twist and turn on Iceland’s Ring Road: Route 1 invites travelers to jump out of their car and explore the spectacular surrounding landscapes. Iceland’s South Coast was probably my favorite with a constantly changing scenery and plenty of areas to explore. After we visited the waterfalls in the South: Gljúfrabúi, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss we continued in the direction of Vik towards Iceland’s other famous sights.
From Skógafoss, heading towards Vik, you can visit Iceland’s southernmost peninsula-Dyrhólaey. Meaning “the door hole island,” although it is not truly an island, Dyrhólaey is a massive rock promontory that rises 120m from the sea. The name comes from the enormous archway that has formed from the erosion of the sea’s currents.
Directly below the cliff is a black sand beach with another towering lava rock called Arnardrangur. There are many other rock pillars, basalt columns and sea stacks that lie along the waters edge, all equally as interesting as the main arch formation.
Standing atop the rocks’ massive ledge, you can spot the beaches of Vik and the lava rock formations of Reynisdrangar, known as the three trolls, to the east. If the skies are clear you might even be able to see the large glacier Mýrdalsjökull.
In the summertime, Dyrhólaey becomes a nesting ground for thousands of puffins and other sea birds as you can see them flying all around the peninsula. The puffins were my favorite to watch and we spent a lot of time observing and photographing the adorable birds. We strategically and very carefully climbed to the top of the promontory, leaned over the edge of the sheer cliff face and waited in silence to watch the puffins.
Although small, puffins seem to have huge personalities and we enjoyed watching them for a while. Their stubby wings, which are well suited for underwater swimming, beat unbelievably fast in order for them to soar through the air.
The view from the top is breathtaking; surrounding the peninsula are miles of black sandy beaches and endless ocean. The soothing sounds of crashing waves married with crisp sea spray nipping at your nose creates the perfect ambiance while exploring this protected nature area.
Just up the hill, a short walk, is the old lighthouse that was built in 1927. It was quite windy up there but well worth it for the views. From atop the hill you get 360 degree views of the surrounding areas and on a clear day can see long stretches of the gorgeous Icelandic coastline.
After spending a substantial amount of time exploring Dyrhólaey we continued on to Vik for lunch and short walk on the famous black sand beach. We grabbed a quick lunch at a small cafeteria style place and continued exploring.
Vik í Myrdal, although small with a population of around 270 people, is the largest village in the southernmost part of Iceland. The small village is set along a dramatic stretch of the the North Atlantic coastline punctuated with craggy cliffs and rock projections rising out of the sea.
Vik’s crashing waves devour the black sand beach that extends seamlessly forever. Nearby, in the direction of Dyrhólaey, are the towering finger-like rock formations of Reynisdrangur jutting out from sea. Even today, Icelanders believe in tales of mythical and magical creatures such as fairies, trolls and elves. Iceland is filled with stories of old legends and folklore, and of course Vik is no exception. As the legend goes, the Reynisdrangur rock formations were formed when two night trolls attempted to drag three-masted ship ashore but didn’t make it before sunrise and were turned to stone.
Once we finished our quick lunch and short exploration around Vik, we back tracked a few kilometres to visit Reynishverfi beach. Once we arrived we could immediately see the towering cliffs with the famous hexagonal basalt columns framed by the black sand beaches.
I was so excited to see the columns that I quickly ran down to the beach, leaving only the trail of my footprints in the black sand. While Reynishverfi is not a beach you’d go for sun bathing or relaxing, it is still spectacular with its unique basalt columns and exquisite landscapes.
Reynishverfi’s signature columns were created from the cooling lava. The columnar basalt gains its hexagonal shape due to the contraction of the lava during cooling. Also, the slow speed at which the lava cools contributes to the stair-like resemblance that you will see when visiting the stacks. If you are feeling up for the challenge you can climb up the columns quite a ways.
Making this beach even more appealing, there was a large colony of puffins nesting high in the cliffs and while we walked down the beach, we could see these fun little birds flying around from the nests to the sea to catch some fish. Again the temperamental Icelandic weather surprised us with more misty rain and as the water droplets began to fall we raced for cover in the vaulted cavern called Hálsanefeshellir (this cave is featured at the end of the movie Noah).
Situated on the south-western foot of the Reynis Mountain, the cave is not deep but it is really beautiful surrounded by the basalt columns.
Of course the weather changes quickly in Iceland so it wasn’t long before we found ourselves back on the beach watching the foamy sea water rise up to the toes of our water-proof boots before slinking back out to sea. Reynishverfi beach was my favorite black sand beach that we visited in Iceland because of the uniquely spectacular landscape and rock formations.
How to Get There:
-To reach Dyrhólaey, continue along Route 1 towards Vik. About 15 km before Vik, you will see the sign, turn onto the road that leads to a parking lot. From here you are free to explore the entire peninsula, the promontory and the lighthouse. Make sure to be careful when climbing on the rocks and wear shoes with proper tread. Also, be aware that because the peninsula is a protected nature are for nesting sea birds there is limited access during the months of May and June.
-To reach Reynishverfi beach, take a right about 10km before reaching VIk. You will follow the signs to take you in the direction of Reynishöfn and then you will reach Reynishverfi. Located at the parking lot there is also a small cafeteria and restroom.
-Make sure to stop for gas in Vik as you never know when the next available gas station will be. If you are in town for a quick lunch I recommend the small convenient store cafeteria since the soup and burgers were good and prices were reasonable. Plus you won’t waste too much time indoors when there is so much beauty to be seen outside.