BUDGET ICELAND ROAD TRIP DAY 3 : SOUTHWEST ICELAND – HVERAGERDI, SELJALANDFOSS, SKOGAFOSS AND VIK
Following on from our eye-opening (and often jaw-dropping) day 2 trip around the West of Iceland, day 3 started us off on the biggest leg of our Icelandic road trip. We were going to drive from Reykjavik all along the South West coast and spend the night in a hostel near to a Western Icelandic town named Hofn. This was so on day 4 we would be able to visit the incredible Icelandic glacial lagoon (but more about that in the day 4 blog-post).
Luckily for us, Iceland is almost entirely based around an enormous ring road that spans the entire country (imaginatively named Route 1), meaning it is very difficult to get lost unless you veer significantly off the road – you only really have two choices of direction, left or right!
We didn’t have a set plan for this day, we knew there would be some awesome stuff to see along the way, so we decided to set off and see what happened…this turned out to be an excellent plan, although we were perhaps a little over ambitious with how much we packed in (there really are not enough hours in the day).
Our first stop was somewhere that had a couple of paragraphs in the guidebook and sounded like an interesting stop off point. About 45 minutes drive out West of Reykjavik you find yourself driving through quite a few large greenhouses I assume are full of vegetables…ladies and gentleman, meet the town of –
As mentioned, our guidebook briefly mentioned this town, so we decided to stop and have a look around. The town itself is nothing to write home about, a very standard small Icelandic town. The pull of Hveragerdi lies in its location. The town is situated on a site that has high levels of geothermal activity. The familiar smell of sulphur is particularly strong here, and the mountains surrounding it all mist with hot steam pouring from cracks in their sides.
There is apparently a geothermal park in the town centre with mud pots and hot springs, however this was closed when we visited. The guidebook did also however mention a steaming hot river Reykjadalur…intrigued we decided to investigate further.
A small drive to the left of the hill behind the town lies the beginning of the trail to the mysterious steaming river. Wanting to see some geothermal activity ourselves in the flesh we decided to take it. We weren’t really anticipating a hike so early into our day, but our excitement pretty much glossed over that – “3KM in’t THAT far” was definitely a common reasoning used when we were deciding whether to hike or not.
The trail to the river Reykjadalur starts at the foot of a set of mountains. Unfortunately I was so excited about a magical boiling hot river I forgot to take my phone with me, so I don’t have a lot of pictures to illustrate very well.
The hike is initially quite easy, going relatively slight up the hill. The hill from the car park is quite exciting, first walking through a lukewarm (and very shallow) river, then as you climb the hill steam starts arising from the ground left right and centre. At the top of the first hill you conquer is a wonderful prize – a HUGE belching, bubbling, angry mud pot. Very much a taster of things to come, it certainly fills you with excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead.
Following the muddy belching highs of the first hill, the trail does unfortunately become a little less exciting although extremely scenic. What follows is a 2.5km hike through the mountains. Its not a particularly difficult trail, but it does get steep at times, and the weather was very erratic the day we went so come prepared! Stupidly, we didn’t quite grasp the scale of a 3km hike (and back) through the mountains, and didn’t bring any food or much water with us – this is something I would definitely recommend you do! Whilst not overwhelmingly far, a little food and drink would have certainly made the walk a little more pleasant.
The scenery on the hike is predictably incredible. You start to climb rather quickly after the first couple of hills, and you rapidly find yourself up high without having really noticed. Views of stunning steaming mountains, and a distant gigantic waterfall are really quite amazing. The trail wasn’t massively busy when we went either, so competing for space with other hikers shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Eventually after 2.5km, you hit the really sweet spot of the hike, and one of the most wonderful places I have ever walked through – Hveragerdi’s amazing geothermal meadow!
The ground is steaming, sulphur is strong in the air, you can hear oozing, bubbling and hissing noises – this place was absolutely incredible. It felt like being on another planet, or in some sort of insane film set (it actually really reminded me of the initial room of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Augustus Gloop falls into the chocolate river, but less tropical obviously).
Explore, run about, look at all the crazy shit. Each geothermal pool is different, all visually stunning. My personal favourite (and luckily my friend snapped a picture) was this enormous gleaming powder blue bath. The blue was sparkling bright (not represented as well as it could be colour-wise in the picture). Unlike anything I had ever seen before, and completely amazing –
There are loads of these pools all over. Some blue, some red, some brown, some bubbling, some angry, some belching, some stationary, ALL AWESOME. It is a really special stretch of landscape, and the ability to wander through it and get right next to the crazy steaming pools and bubbling pots is different to other more tourist-focused parts of Iceland. In some places insane geothermal activity is roped off – very much “look but don’t touch”, here you can get stuck right in!
The hike to get there is SO worth it. A spot not too far out of Reykjavik I heartily recommend.
Having played in the geothermal meadow you will notice towards the end large amounts of steam coming from around the corner of the mountain in front of you. This steam tells you that you have finally arrived at your intended destination (although with all the geothermal distractions you may have temporarily forgotten) the magnificent boiling river Reykjadalur.
As I said, I unfortunately forgot my phone for this entire visually stunning hike, so the only picture I have of Reykjadalur is the one above of my friends in their underwear.
As you can see, the river itself isn’t particularly deep (or at least it wasn’t when we visited in April), but it really is a fantastic juxtaposition compared to the cold climate all around it. The river is not boiling, but a balmy temperature – very much like a hot bath. Having hiked all the way to get to it, taking at least your shoes and socks off and relaxing in what is essentially an entirely natural spa is incredibly satisfying – some people got well and truly stuck in, we saw one couple get completely naked and lie on their stomachs in the river and have a good slide around (despite the water level barely coming past my ankle).
With time pressing on, and still so much to do we hiked back to our car. The entire hike from start to finish took about 3-4 hours which we hadn’t planned on at all, but it really was so worth it. We then had a longish drive to our next destination, the truly stunning…
Seljalandfoss, wow. Nature at its most formidable, and most interactive. This is an absolutely enormous waterfall, enormous and incredibly beautiful. (to get a sense of scale check out the bridge in the top left part of the picture below). Easily viewed from Route 1, Seljalandfoss is famous for its beauty, and also for being a waterfall that you can walk around. You can see this waterfall from all angles, and it really is extremely impressive and special up close.
Starting on the route behind the waterfall, you instantly get a real sense of the absolute power Seljalandfoss has. You can actually feel its enormous energy as the water pummels the pool it falls into, and as you get close you get absolutely drenched with sheets of freezing cold mist and water vapour being given off from the fall. Its a unique experience and really quite amazing.
Going behind the fall, everything is completely hypnotic. Watching the falling water make shapes and patterns as it falls, then crashes below. Its definitely somewhere you can easily just stand and stare at.
Definitely a highlight of the trip, and a sight that is well worth seeking out. There are several other waterfalls a few metres to the left of Seljalandfoss too that are worth having a look at, although obviously none as impressive as this beast. Bizarrely the waterfall second biggest to Seljalandfoss has had a small concrete hut built directly in front of it, spoiling what could have been a second obscenely picturesque waterfall within a couple of hundred metres. Very strange positioning decision there.
Around 10 minutes drive on Route 1 you soon come to another of Southern Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls…
Similarly massive, and also reasonably interactive, Skogafoss is another beautiful and awe-inspiring sight. If you are doing a Route 1 trip West however and returning the same way, I’d actually recommend seeing Skogafoss on your return from the West, or at least independently from Seljalandfoss if possible. Two very impressive natural wonders within 10 minutes drive of each other inevitably means the impact of Skogafoss directly following Seljalandfoss diminishes somewhat, which is unfair as Skogafoss is extremely impressive in its own right.
Similar to how you can walk behind Seljalandfoss, with Skogafoss you can walk to the top! The climb is rather steep but not particularly difficult (prepare to be short of breath though), and from the top you can see the calm river behind drifting towards the fall, then crashing down below. The calm of the river to the drama and violence of the fall is again really quite impressive
Skogafoss is quite a wide waterfall and is really beautiful viewed from the bottom too. The basin is surrounded by dark rock and mist making it feel like a cave (The Little Mermaid “Kiss The Girl” scene vibes are rife here).
Our final stop of the day (friendly Icelandic petrol stations and supermarkets not counting) was another hour-ish drive down Route 1, and again something incredibly beautiful and scenic, the ghostly beach at…
Often voted one of the worlds most beautiful beaches, Vik is really something special. For some reason the usually bright blue Icelandic sea appears extremely white around the Vik area. Added to this the jet black sands of Vik beach and you have a landscape made in monochrome heaven.
The beach itself really does at times feel like the world has suddenly transformed entirely into black and white (think Pleasantville : Icelandic beach edition), and its hard not to have a bit of a beachy moment.
The white waves crash against the jet black beach in an absolutely stunning way, similar to the waterfalls above, its quite easy to be a bit mesmerised watching the tide crash against the shore –
Vik beach is also famous for its four black rocks jutting out of the sea in near distance, these rocks are named Reynisdrangur and are said to be the final resting place of four trolls that got caught in the daylight –
Reynisdrangur looming on the horizon as black silhouettes just add to the eerie otherworldly feeling of Vik beach, it really is a very special part of the world.
By now time was getting on, and we were still a long way from our final destination for the day near the town of Hofn. What followed after Vik turned out to be mildly terrifying. The night quickly came in, and soon we were driving in absolute pitch black. Route 1 doesn’t have any road lamps, just (very effective) cats eyes to light the way, and with no civilisation to light the route either we actually were driving in absolute darkness. Our hostel was about 3 hours drive away, and the last hour where the night really came in was actually quite scary at parts. If you are driving in Iceland don’t make the mistake we did, try to get to your destination before night comes in strong, driving in the pitch black isn’t too fun!
We did however eventually make it safely, and very quickly went straight to bed…we had a date with a glacial lagoon early on day 4…