BUDGET ICELAND ROAD TRIP DAY 4 – JOKULSARLON GLACIAL LAGOON, SKAFTAFELL NATIONAL PARK, SVARTIFOSS, GEYSER AND GULLFOSS
And so following on from our day 3 adventure where we saw several of the delights of the South coast of Iceland, we woke up early on day 4 and set off to our next location, which luckily for us was a short 20 minute drive from the hostel we were staying in. We were headed to the ghostly, and quite fantastic location of the glacial lagoon Jokulsarlon…
Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
The glacial lagoon of Jokulsarlon is really quite amazing. Formed where the huge Icelandic glacier Breioamerkurjokull started receding into the Atlantic Ocean – and very easily accessible from the Route 1 ring road – it is well and truly a natural wonder.
It is so easily accessible from the ring road, you may even get a shock when you drive through it. Surrounded by typical Icelandic landscape for the region, you suddenly drive over a bridge and find yourself in a ghostly Icelandic graveyard of ice and freezing blue water. Minute icebergs float around the lagoon, and the ice lake stretches all the way back to the foot of the glacier.
Its really a very impressive and otherworldly sight – so much so it has been used in several Hollywood blockbusters, including two James Bond films – A View To A Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins.
Impressively, Jokulsarlon is – like most natural wonders of Iceland – completely free. Most other countries of the world would charge a steep admission to see this place! My best tip would be to get there early. We stayed nearby overnight and was able to get to Jokulsarlon around 8.30-9am when it was still relatively quiet and the dreaded coach loads of tourists had yet to turn up. This meant we had a little while to wander around ourselves and enjoy the eerie silence of the lagoon ourselves.
The sound of the lagoon itself is worth a mention – you hear nothing but silence, the creaking of the lagoon, and wind whistling through the ice. Sparse and wonderfully creepy.
By about 10am the lagoon was already starting to get busy, with keen amateur photographers abundant. Despite being a glacial lagoon, it wasn’t all that cold when we visited in April. Obviously wrap up warm, but the area itself wasn’t freezing sub-zero temperatures despite being the setting of an ice lake.
Otherworldly, atmospheric, and so easy to access, Jokulsarlon should definitely feature high on any Iceland road trip list.
After a quick warm-up coffee in the tiny gift shop handily located next to the lagoon, it was back into the car and onto our next location, again not located too far away…
SKAFTAFELL NATIONAL PARK AND SVARTIFOSS
Skaftafell is a huge Icelandic national park, with the entrance and visitors centre located about 1KM from the Route 1 ring road. It is decently signposted and we had no issues finding it. Skaftafell is located around the area of the Breioamerkurjokull glacier (which Jokulsarlon above is formed from), and offers a variety of hikes around the region, some of which take you right up to (and even on) the glacier itself!
Sadly we didn’t have time to go on a glacial hike (as much as I would have liked to), so we settled on the much shorter (and I’m sure almost as impressive) hike to the beautiful waterfall Svartifoss.
The hike to Svartifoss starts to the left of the Skaftafell vistors centre, and is clearly signposted. It is not a particularly difficult hike, being just a few km on a relatively easily incline. It takes about 45 minutes to reach Svartifoss, and the hike is well worth it – you pass over the top of two other waterfalls on the way to Svartifoss, and the drama of watching the water tumble down from the top is always a fascinating sight to behold. After a while, the incredibly picturesque Svartifoss starts to come into view –
A few minutes later, you are standing right in front of it
Svartifoss is STUNNING. Such a reward for a small amount of work to see it. Similar to Jokulsarlon above, Svartifoss shares some of its ethereal, other worldly appeal.
The gothic, black, basalt columns formed by lava that surround the fall are incredibly atmospheric, and look too perfect and beautiful to be formed by nature alone –
We stayed and had a picnic. Certainly one of the most scenic lunches I have ever partaken in –
A short hike to the side of Svartifoss (less than 1km) is another trail to a viewing platform and compass, that I certainly recommend even if you are short on time. The trail leads you high up to the top of the mountain you have been climbing, which overlooks vast, vast kilometres of barren landscape below. It is a fascinating view. With nothing to block your way (this is a very isolated part of the Route 1 road) you can see all the way to the sea. Such a huge distance in visible we saw areas that were currently being rained on, and where the rain starts and stops.
On the opposing side of this spectacular view of the valley below, is fantastic views of the surrounding mountain range and the glacier Breioamerkurjokull itself.
Having dipped a toe into Skaftafell (there are much more intensive hikes available had we desired), it was back to the car and a long drive to our next destination…
GULLFOSS AND GEYSIR
Two iconic sights of Iceland, and stars of the famous “golden circle” of Icelandic must-see sights. We couldn’t come to Iceland and not see Gullfoss or Geysir. So in order to see everything we wanted to see, we had to fit them in today. Gullfoss and Geysir are very close together, but not at all close to Skaftafell, Svartifoss or Jokulsarlon. They are however vaguely close to Reyjavik, which is where we were headed back to, so back in the car it was for a long drive back across the country (break it up by stopping at service stations and tasting different flavours of Skyr yoghurt drink – top tip).
The drive back is full of incredible views, at least in the Skaftafell region, with waterfalls a-plenty and huge rock formations abound. Driving through a valley we genuinely saw the end of a rainbow! –
alas no pot of gold was to be found
We also passed the historic peat church located in Hof –
After a very long drive, we eventually arrived at the first of the two attractions, Geysir.
To be honest, I was quite disappointed by Geysir. As you pull up you initially just see a gigantic gift-shop and restaurant, and very little in the way of steaming geysers. Eventually you find the entrance across the street. Perhaps seeing so much awesome stuff previous (a glacial lagoon! Svartifoss! Walking through a geothermal meadow! etc) made Geysir seem terribly sterile in comparison.
Essentially what you see is this for a long time –
Followed by this, which is over so quickly you miss actually seeing it as you’re trying too hard to get a picture of it on your iphone –
It was perfectly fine, but the sights we had seen the day previous at Hveragerdi were comparable and MUCH more impressive.
Back in the car again it was to Gullfoss, the famous gigantic waterfall and star of the opening credits of Prometheus.
Sadly, again I was disappointed by Gullfoss. Perhaps being blown away earlier that day by the beautiful Svartifoss didn’t help, neither did visiting the incredible Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss the day previous either.
Gullfoss IS incredible. Much more visiually impressive than Geysir, but such a force of nature it was – at least the day we visited – quite hard to get close, or see it. There was SO MUCH freezing water in the air it kind of hurt your face. Lots of railings were closed off to see closer to the waterfall – not the fault of Gullfoss for being an awesome waterfall, just a little disappointing for us having travelled to see it –
I wouldn’t want to go on a Golden Circle tour myself. Compared to some of the sights we saw (which were not difficult to access at all), they just seem a little tame. Svartifoss, Hellnar, Seltun (which is to come on day 5), Vik beach, Jokulsarlon, Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss are all so much more impressive.
Back in the car it was again, and back to Reykjavik. We did intend to stop at a crater lake named Kerid that Bjork had once performed at on a raft –
Alas, our car got stuck in the mud extremely close to the Kerid crater, and we ended up being pulled out by a local (and very kind) Icelandic man in a tractor –
Tired having had a very busy day (and it was dark), with a car that we didn’t want to stick in the mud again we gave Kerid a miss sadly (I will return one day!) and made our way back to Reykjavik. We then proceeded to have an extremely drunken night out on the town in Reykjavik as is apparently the custom in Iceland.
We had one more day left, day 5 bought us a stinking hangover, the Blue Lagoon, and the amazing Mars-like Seltun…