Believe it or not, 4 days into our trip to Iceland… we hadn’t really seen any ice! We tried to see some glaciers, but with all the rain and clouds, our visibility was less than a mile at best, and sometimes even less. Really miserable stuff.
But finally the rain was over, and we were headed for the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. We had reservations on a boat but had some stops to make beforehand, so we had to be extremely disciplined on the road.
After a quick stop at the Eldhraun lava field we went on a short hike to Fjaðrárgljúfur (no, I have no idea how to pronounce that) which had a really awesome canyon and a waterfall. We didn’t get to the waterfall because we were on a tight schedule, but the canyon and river flowing through it was truly incredible.
I jogged up to try and get a glimpse of the falls, while Jacob and Ariel stayed behind at one of the lower viewpoints.
I… almost made it… but when you’re on a trail, every minute you go farther, is another minute you have to come back… and we had a boat to catch.
So now we were on our way, zooming to make our boat. The landscape was really impressive… maybe because this was the first time we could actually see it… but wide open flat spaces, with large mountains in the distance… this is very much my kind of place…
But we had a boat to catch!
After blowing past a gas station with about 1/5 of a tank left, we arrived a the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. And… wow…
It was literally a lake, that empties into the ocean, full of icebergs with mountains and absolutely mind-bogglingly massive glaciers in the background. Truly it was one of the most incredible sights any of us had ever seen. We quickly wolfed down our fish and chips lunch from the “Nailed It” food truck (awesome!) and just made it on to our boat with a few minutes to spare. The boat ride itself was nice, with a guide who explained what we were seeing. It was also really cool to be surrounded by the icebergs as they made their way to the sea.
But the most impressive moment was when we arrived and first saw what it looked like. If you’re on a tight schedule on the ring road, or don’t feel like shelling out for the boat ride, or just taking your time and don’t feel like making an appointment, just go there and stand on the shore (that’s what I’m doing at the top image) for a while. You’ll get about 80% of the effect. Don’t get me wrong, the boat was great! But I could see a scenario where you could just make this a lunch stop and move on. Don’t miss out on the fish and chips though – that’s a requirement!
After the boat we went across the street to “Diamond Beach” – a beach named for the large ice chunks that wash ashore and look like gargantuan diamonds. This was also great, Jacob especially really liked throwing black sand on the ice chunks. Pro tip: there are two parking lots, and it seemed like the bigger/more iceberg looking chunks were on the opposite side of the bridge (back towards Vik) from where we were.
After that it was time to head back to our Air BnB in Vik, with a quick stop at a cafe/gas station called Vatnajökull where were we got what might be the best brownie I ever had AND the greatest hot cocoa too.
I was just thrilled by the drive, which was rain/wind free. And the landscapes were really amazing, and kept changing. From brown, nearly black wastelands, to farms, to green lava fields (which I have never seen before), to extremely striking cliffs and mountains. And always waterfalls, everywhere waterfalls. It seems like at least 40% of houses in Iceland have their own personal waterfall in their backyards. I mean sure I’m exaggerating, but only a little.
That evening everyone was really conked out, so Ariel and Jacob called it a night. I had to get our laundry done, which for some reason took over 2 hours (more on that later I think), so while I was waiting I went back down to the Black Sand Beach by myself and got some even more fantastical pictures of the caves and incredible rock formations at twilight.
I really didn’t want to leave, especially since the next day was our last full day in the country. And there’s something about being nearly alone on a beach – even one where the water is absolutely off-limits – in the last remaining light, that is… almost hypnotic.
But this place was really right out of Middle Earth, maybe Beleriand even, for my fellow Silmarillion readers. It was so easy to imagine that this was not a cave, but actually an ancient temple or castle, and the sea was so violent, with waves that were easily 20+ feet tall, that I felt like any moment Ulmo would be rising out of the ocean and direct me to some old suit of armor that I would use to go to Gondolin or something.
Sorry if you don’t get that reference, that’s a really deep Tolkien cut – but for the people that do get it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Eventually it was too dark to really see much so I headed back to my family. Hoping to see some auroras, and with a portion of the sky cloud-free, I stayed up for a while. In the distance there was a green glow that I think might have been a reflection of an aurora, but it didn’t move the way the one we saw in Alaska did so I didn’t wake Ariel up for it.
I still had to stay up waiting for our laundry to finish and the drier wasn’t working so I hung up all of our clothes on chairs overnight and hoped for the best in the morning. Even though I didn’t get a proper Northern Lights display, I did get to see the Milky Way for the first time in a while – really for the first time in full since New Zealand.
And I managed to capture it on camera for the first time since then, which was pretty great!
Once it was clear I wasn’t getting a light show, it was time to call it a night ahead of our last day on the road before heading home.