I had doubts about visiting Southern Iceland when I read about how many tourists visit this part of Iceland each year, but the waterfalls sounded too beautiful to miss. We were not disappointed; South Iceland has it all... waterfalls, glaciers, puffins, stunning scenery, and epic volcanoes. As if an underground dragon was waking up underneath us as we drove between Reykjavik and Hella, we noticed vents of steam coming out of the ground. Several of the more recent big volcanic eruptions in Iceland have occurred in Southern Iceland, including Eyjafjallajökull, the eruption that grounded me and millions of other travelers in Europe during spring break of 2010. By Icelandic standards, this eruption was actually quite small, it just happened to dump enough ash into the air to stop all air traffic in Europe. This is when Iceland first got my attention and made it onto my travel list (and apparently millions of other people's lists as well). So when I really thought about it... we just had to explore Southern Iceland.
We only had one day to explore and once again I used the iheartreykjavik.net blog to help me plan the places we wanted to see: http://iheartreykjavik.net/2015/01/drive-it-yourself-a-south-coast-adventure/
We started our day by leaving our beautiful accommodation, on an Icelandic horse farm in Hella, and heading for the Sólheimajökull glacier. We splurged on a tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides to climb this glacier, and I am so glad we did because it was the highlight of our honeymoon. Climbing one takes the experience of seeing a glacier to another level because you get to be a part of the incredible ecosystem of the ice.
If you do one thing in Iceland.. DO THIS! Having seen the beautiful crystal blue glaciers of Alaska, initially I thought this one was a bit dirty. It is actually covered with piles of ash left from the last eruption of the volcano Katla in 1918. These blankets of ash help protect small parts of this glacier from melting, while the rest of it melts and moves. The exponential rate at which this glacier is melting is shocking. Visible marks along the cliff walls indicate the height of Sólheimajökull five years ago, and the lake in the picture below was completely glacier just a couple years ago. For me it was another powerful reminder impelling me to do what I can to protect the planet, at home and while traveling: recycling, respecting the cultures of the places I am traveling, not eating endangered animals (like puffin) while traveling, and doing whatever I can to lessen my carbon footprint at home and abroad. If we all start consciously doing what we can to protect the earth, I truly believe it can make a difference .
The tour was informative, interesting, and there were only 6 of us! It's an easy hike/climb even for those of us not be in the best shape. (Quick tip: make sure you have hiking boots that stabilize the ankle if you do this tour. We learned this the hard way by having to rent some that gave us blisters). The guide leads the tour over the terrain explaining how the ice sculpts itself into caves, shoots, and canyons, creating a unique and always changing ice landscape on the top of the glacier.
The active volcano that is underneath and behind the glacier, Katla, adds an extra thrill factor. The guide starts the tour with emergency volcano evacuation instructions: get on the nearest hill because there will be a flood due to the eruption. It has been 99 years since this volcano has erupted, but volcanologists keep an eye on Katla constantly to monitor for signs of activity. It is mind-blowing to think that while walking over the ice there could have been boiling lava miles underneath us or nearby, but I'm guessing my brain exaggerates that image a great deal. One of Iceland's logos, "the land of fire and ice", is very fitting at this stunning ash-streaked glacier.
After our tour we continued exploring by driving to nearby sites such as: Dyrhólaey, Skógafoss, Seljavallalaug Pool, and Seljalandsfoss.
Words can't really do justice to what we saw close to Sólheimajökull. My husband kept saying, "Everything is just so epic here". While this part of Iceland is popular with tourists, we were able to experience marvelous moments that felt like it was just us and the natural wonders of Iceland. If you don't have much time in Southern Iceland, a day visiting these waterfalls and vistas, and taking a glacier tour is a fabulous way to get a good taste.
Did this inspire your own marvelous wanderings? Let me know!