Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 12 - Southeast Iceland - Icebergs and Glaciers

Jökulsárlón / Glacial Bay
Just when we thought we'd seen all Iceland had to offer, it shook our soul again.  We witnessed a glacial bay, black beaches with washed up icebergs, a waterfall surrounded by basalt columns, and lava rock monoliths in the ocean.  Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Day 12 - Southeast Iceland - Icebergs and Glaciers
Icebergs, Mountains, and Glaciers...oh my!

After a delicious continental breakfasts at Guesthouse Arnanes, we got on the road and drove the Ring Road (Rt 1) south to Jökulsárlón Bay.  Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon located at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier which is part of the larger Vatnajökull glacier and national park.  As the glacier recedes, it releases icebergs into the lagoon.  Because of increased melting due to climate change, the lagoon's size has increased greatly in the last decade.  Calved icebergs float through the lagoon, through the mouth of the bay, and are released into the ocean. Many wash up on the nearby black sand beach.

Black Sand Beach with Icebergs 

Glacial Bay
We arrived at Jökulsárlón early in the morning to rain and cloudy skies.  The view was still overwhelming - thousands of small icebergs literally filled the lake.  So full, in fact, that we were informed that due to the large amount of icebergs, our boat tour would not be going out that morning.  No boat trip and rainy day aside, we marveled at the amazing location and it's awe-inspiring landscape.  A short walk down the mouth and we got to walk along a black sand beach dotted with washed-up iceberg bits.


Not only was the geological setting impressive, the biological was as well.  Rare seabirds like arctic terns floated out to see on ice platforms.  We saw our first seals of the trip swimming in between the car-sized pieces of ice.  As we absorbed the scene, the sun came out and we were treated to a sun-kissed lagoon.

Amphibious Boat Tour 
On our return to the parking lot from the beach, we saw people waiting in line at the boat trip ticket booth.  WHAT?!  We discovered that the boats were now going out. We signed up for an afternoon half hour amphibian boat tour.  In the meantime, we killed time by strolling around the lagoon and enjoying a lunch of fish soup at the gift shop.

The boat tour was great!  We were able to putt around the bay, admiring the glaciers, mountains, and icebergs.  The boat also had a guide give a short interpretive presentation about the history of the bay and icebergs in general, which included scooping out a piece of ice for everyone to try.  This place was definitely one of my favorite parts of our two week trip.

Svartifoss Waterfall
Our day continued by driving from Jökulsárlón to Skaftafell National Park.  This park is home to mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers.  From the park headquarters we hiked up the 30 minute moderate walk to Svartifoss waterfall.  The trail was crowded.

Now that we were southern Iceland and closer to the airport and Reykjavik, we had started seeing many more people.  Crowded parking lots and trails were almost a culture shock after days of rural drives.  The waterfall was beautiful and we enjoyed the warm sunshine.

We stopped in the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur to see what the tour book called the "church floor".  It turns out this is not a church floor at all but a flat columnar basalt rock formation.  It was a pretty site and a short (5 min) walk from the parking lot.
"Church Floor" Rock Formation"
There were still more sights to see! We took a detour off the Ring Road to Rt 206 to see Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.  This 2 km long canyon is 100 meters deep and ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.  It took about 30 minutes to casually walk the length of it.  You'll see off-shoots where daredevil hikers have precariously walked to the edge.  Photos cannot even show its loveliness.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

Vik / Myrdalshreppur Beach
It was getting late.  We stopped for dinner at the Black Beach Restaurant in Mýrdalshreppur.  Talk about location!  The cafe has 75% glass walls that overlook the black beach and picturesque lava rock formations. The food was good as well.  We finished dinner and walked the beach - marveling at the columnar basalt cliffs, black pebble beach, and seashore rock pillars.

Done for the night, we headed to Hotel Edda Skogar.  Little did we know, our hotel was adjacent to one of Iceland's most impressive waterfalls - Skogafoss!  We watched the sun "set" behind the mountain and falls before heading in for a late night.

Vik / Myrdalshreppur Beach
This has got to be one of the longest, yet most fulfilling and exciting days we had in Iceland.  From glaciers, to icebergs, to beaches, and waterfalls - the Southeast is truly a magical place.  I highly recommend visitors make the time to explore this amazing area.

Skogafoss Waterfall at midnight
READ ABOUT THE NEXT DAY HERE: Day 13 - The South Coast - Waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Snorkeling

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