The day started with the smell of freshly brewed coffee and of ham and sausage. The wooden log house where we were staying felt warm and cozy. It was about 8 in the morning, and we had had a good night’s sleep providing us with some very necessary rest . We were at Vestri Peutersey in southern Iceland, about 12 kms from the town of Vik and this was Day 5 of our Iceland Road Trip. This is the fifth part of my Travelogue on our Road Trip across south of Iceland, titled ” Black Beach and a Glacial Trek: Iceland Part 5 “. Iceland Travelogue begins here !!
The earlier few days we had traveled to the majestic Gulfoss and Geysir, then to Hail and Sleet into Thingvellir National Park and the gorgeous and breathtaking waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Below is a view of our cottage and the location around it. The cottage was bordered with low lying table top mountains in the north and west, while the Atlantic Ocean lay a few kilometers to the south. Other than the low lying mountains around, it was mostly a flat land of coarse vegetation, covered with patches of greenish brown grass, lichens, and snow.The sun was still not visible, the air was heavy with moisture and a cloudy sky swathed the horizon this morning.
Vestri Peutersey Cottage, Vik, Iceland: A heavy breakfast is the norm for any road trip, especially when the locale was as challenging as we found in Iceland. IWe always packed some dry food items and takeaways in our car. The car and its coffee mug was giving great service. I had bought it in UAE for about USD 6 a piece.
Towards Reynesfjara or the Black Beach :
Our first stop was the Black Beach some 10 kms away. We met with the first drops of rain for the day on our way to Reynesfjara for what will be a wet but rewarding day for us. It was a gray overcast sky and Google map was leading us to the beach. To reach the shoreline, you have to park your car about 250 meters down the road and then you need to walk along an escarpment , where, from the top the whole beach and the fury of the Atlantic hits you straight in your face.
Reynesfjara, Black Beach is the one place you should not miss in Iceland.
Reynisfjara, the black sand beach (locally known as Reynisfjöru), has a mysterious and dreamlike setting. It consists of pitch black sand, caused from the remnants of lava and eruptions from volcanic activities through a million years. The volcanic eruptions caused rubble, which cooled on meeting the icy cold Atlantic Ocean , and then degenerated and turned into black sand in the course of time.The black South Icelandic shoreline stretches for a few kilometers either way and from the middle of the ocean rises two strange monoliths known as Reynisdrangar. The escarpment forms a cliff called Gardar which bends away towards the coastal town of Vik. On the Beach, rising straight out 350 mts towards the heaven, is a black basalt hill known as Reynisfjell, It has hexagonal natural basalt column formations at its base. A few meters down stands a cave, Hálsanefshellir, where the angry sea snarls and reaches at times to flood it.
Reynisfjara is situated about 160 kms from Reykjavik and can also be covered in a day trip from the capital.It is all the more popular because of its association with the famous series ‘Game of Thrones’. The black sandy beach has an outer-worldly setting, with its white foamy waves crashing in all its might against the black shoreline, the foam and the spray rising up in the air. Strong gusts of winds blows at you from the ocean and brings with it the moisture and the spray. The black monoliths which stand out from the sea about 500 meters into the water seems to preside over the whole show. The black beach is majestic and surreal in its appeal. Nature around here is made up of shades of Black and white. No wonder, Reynesfjara is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Iceland.
The children were having another fun day. They climbed up the basalt hexagonal stacks of Reynisfjell ( mind you this is risky and we were having a hard time controlling them) and soon some of us adults gave in and also joined them in their little excursion. The Beach itself is an accident prone area and it is very necessary to be aware of the dangers of this location where nature can transform itself into a deadly concoction in a matter of minutes. The latest accident has resulted in the death of a lady in Jan 2017. So always be alert when you are visiting this place and you should never allow children to be out of sight because accidents can be fatal !! Watch out for the rogue and sneaky waves, they have carried many a life into the sea.
We stayed for close to an hour when suddenly it started to drizzle and in a few minutes large drops of rain pelted at us from the sky. It was time to rush for cover. Though Hálsanefshellir can provide some quick shelter, we decided to pack up and leave. Up near the car park, their is a well decked cafeteria with rest rooms and hot beverages for the weary traveler, which we made good use of. I was driving a Jeep Cherokee and mind you it is a wonderful car to have in such rugged and wild terrain . So my suggestion would be to pick up a sturdy car, preferable an SUV if you plan to do a similar road trip in Iceland.
The next target for the day was the DC-3 plane wreck that I had read about while planning for this trip. A 1973 DC Plane wreck, lies somewhere around VIK and is reachable only by foot. It needs some searching to find the entry to the path which leads you to the crash sight. The road and the entry point has a small board marking the sight, but there is no official route since the location needs one to walk across private farms.
Fun break: near Vik, Iceland, happiness ran amok during this journey and we parked at an enclosure to search for the DC 3 wreck. The team had a quick snack, coffee and a bit of fun while dancing to some popular Indian tunes -again the famous ‘Gerua’ song from a Shahrukh Khan movie shot in Iceland-out in the snowy expanse. We soon found the gate and close to it was a parking lot where you can park your car and start walking to the site of the plane wreck But by then the sky has opened up again and a drizzle started, muddling our plans . We had five children in the 11 person group and it was a 45 minute walk each way to the plane. Contemplating for a few minutes, the team decided against taking the effort, under open skies and flat ground, especially because of keeping everyone fit for the whole trip.
For those people whio would like to visit the DC Plane wreck, here are the GPS coordinates :
GPS Coordinates of Parking lot : 63.483203, -19.333038
GPS Coordinates of DC Plane Wreck : 63.466184, -19.36256
As we kept inquiring with other hikers around the parking lot we met a Canadian. He informed us that a greater attraction was nearby and suggested that we try that instead. Now in Iceland, every nook and cranny holds natural beauty and wonder, its just to stitch them up in a well balanced logistics plan. Sólheimajökul Glacier (now that’s another one of those dozens of unpronounceable names that we keep reading every day ) lay about 20 kms from where we stood and after doing a quick check of the location on our smart phones we decided to go for it.
Towards Sólheimajökul Glacier :
Sólheimajökul Glacier extends from the gigantic Mýrdalsjökull glacier, one sinewy tongue of massive ice curling and twisting inland into the sandy Icelandic plains. This was our chance to go on a Glacier walk. Now organized Glacier Walks are pretty pricey in Iceland. They are coordinated with qualified trek guides, costs about USD 250 a head and lasts for 3 – 3.5 hours. The agency supplies the basic glacier trekking equipment like crash helmets, gloves, shoe crampons and an ice axe. Such guided treks are usually timed to start between 10 am to 2 pm in the afternoon. You can book in advance as well. Since we as a team had five children between the ages of 8 to 16, we never planned to undertake any Glacier Trek with the travel organizations . But Sólheimajökul Glacier walk is considered among the easier glacier walks in Iceland , an enjoyable one that can suit everyone. And the best part is that you can do this completely free up to a certain point basically at the base. You do not need to book this beforehand and can do it based on your capacity for physical activity and risk.Do not overstep your own boundary and keep within safety limits. You will enjoy this immensely with your family.
The first part of the excursion consists of a 15 to 20 minutes ( about one and a half kms) of downward sloping trek along rugged mountain ridges towards the mouth of the glacier. As we started sauntering on our way from the car park, we could see a glacial ocean of ice. A mountain ridge on the other side created a wall for an icy pool of water reaching the glacier. The whole world lost colour to black, whites and shades of blue, with a dull grey sky above us. We made a quick start, as the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines. The sun really wasn’t shining much, but at least the rain wasn’t there and we knew we had to cover this in quick time .
From a distance, we could see a dozen tiny creatures, in colourful attires, lining up near the end of the glacier, as the guides prepared them for the trip up the glacier. It looked ominous as we drew closer and soon we reached the base of the glacial mass. Ice formations have created ridges alongside, which one can climb up to the upper sections of the glacier, from where it is about a 4 km trek to the end of the glacier.
It was a slippery hike, as icy water ran below besides the narrow path, in little puddles and inlets. The bluish – gray massive formations of ice looked intimidating, opening into cracks and crevasses with every twist and bend . The children looked in awe, as we told them that probably we all are looking at ice formed a million years back in time. We kept a strict eye on the ability of each one of the team and continuously measured the risk as we started to trudge higher up into the folds of glacial ice , using the recesses caused by flowing a dripping water over thousands of years into footholds. About 10 minutes up into the glacier , we knew this is where we should draw a line, without a proper guide and trekking gear.
We halted for a while, absorbing the wild, icy and foreboding nature around us. The glacier walls, in strange molded shapes rose all around us. Like huge sand dunes, it wrapped us in its folds , separating us from the world around. It was time to experience . After a few minutes of experiencing the the beauty of the forbidding nature which engulfed us it was time to return. The team lined for the trek down. There were nylon ropes hammered to the sides of the little icy pathway that goes down the slick, kept there by the trekkers and the guides who run this place. As we plodded our way down the menacing looking slopes , we understood that going down a glacier is trickier than climbing up. With some help from a returning team of trekkers, we were able to hit solid ground, all of us, unharmed.
We cherished this lesser known place, with the rugged foreboding folds of ice, a lagoon of still water lying placidly at a distance and the walls of the mountain and glacial snow lapping the edges of the lagoon . The whole setting looked devoid of colour, save the black rocky bed below, white and bluish shades of ice, lava and basalt, cooled mountain ridges and water, with a dull gray sky as the backdrop. This was our first experience of walking on a glacier and the whole team felt ecstatic.
Back, after another twenty minutes of walk, the warm interiors of the cafeteria next to the car park felt inviting and cozy. After the spell of physical activity, everyone wanted to have a moment of rest and a bite of something. Coffee, hot beverages, beer, colas, hot dogs, sandwiches and ice-creams were available among other choices at the cafe. There was a washroom and an adjoining office for the Trek guides from where you could hire them. We rested here for about half an hour.
The sun was now waning as it tilted to the western horizon. I looked up at the watch calculated about an hour of day time left and the team was satisfied with the experiences for the day. There was no more drizzling then and we decided to drive back to our cottages and prepare a hearty Indian meal. The road led us back towards the town of Vik, under a grey sky, with the ocean to your left visible at different turns with the mountain range bordering your right. The Iceland Ring Road is well tarmacked mostly and driving is not crazy here. I hiked up the car volume and listened to Ed Sheeran sing : I see fire …beneath the mountains.. “.
We stopped again at the main intersection near the town of Vik, this time to refuel and buy a few necessities from a small arcade and store next to the gas station. It was here that we saw a lone horseman, with his hat pulled down, riding his horse, shielded against the dying light of the sun with the mountain reef on one side and the giant monoliths of Reynesfjara on the other. The scene got embedded in memory, and as I reflect back on that day this is one scene that stands out from the rest.
It was a day well spent, and I was thankful that the weather held good. Tomorrow will again be a long day as we move further east along the Icelandic Ring Road which circles this island nation .