Vikings, volcanoes and black sand beaches on Iceland’s south coast

By Karlie Marrazzo

Icelandic-horse-FludirAfter our snorkeling adventure, we drove the rest of the Golden Circle, seeing some of the most famous sites of Iceland, Geysir and Gulfoss. We stayed the night in a guesthouse on a farm in Flúðir, relaxing in the hot pot and enjoying the incredible view of the mountains and the open green fields with the iconic Icelandic horses grazing quietly. These pony-sized horses are almost like an unofficial mascot for the country. They have the funniest manes of luscious hair and are very friendly. I was really excited to see them, so we spent some time petting them while they nibbled on grass out of our hands.

Our day was full of driving and sightseeing. There’s lots to see on the south coast of Iceland, so we hit some of the highlights on our way to Vík í Mýrdal, or Vík for short.

Seljalandsfoss – Although there are countless waterfalls in Iceland, this tall beauty is special because you can walk all the way behind it. Be careful, it’s slippery!

The view from behind Seljalandsfoss.
The view from behind Seljalandsfoss.

Eyjafjallajökull – Even if you don’t live anywhere near Iceland, chances are the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in early 2010 affected someone you know. There is now a small visitor’s centre across the road from the volcano, run by the family whose farm sits right at its base but which miraculously didn’t suffer extensive damage. There is a 20-minute movie that is definitely worth watching. It was chilling to look at Eyjafjallajökull, which doesn’t look like much from the visitor’s centre, and contemplate all the damage it did.


One of the things I was most excited about in Iceland was seeing puffins. There aren’t as many in the south as there used to be, but there is a very good chance of seeing them at a place called Dyrhólaey. The day had turned grey, and as we were driving across the causeway, the wind picked up steadily. By the time we parked, the wind was screaming. We got out and walked up to a lookout point, or at least attempted to walk. I had never felt wind so strong in my life. Pins and needles were assaulting my face. I was practically sideways and almost got blown over. Needless to say, we didn’t see any puffins and ran back to the car pretty quickly. We later found out that the wind speed was roughly100km/h!

Vík is a very small town of about 300 people, so it didn’t take us long to drive around and get oriented. I had my heart set on seeing puffins, and the girl at the tourist information centre suggested that they would be out to feed in the daytime and to check back later at night. Around 9pm I bundled up in my Hudson’s Bay scarf and mitts and my Icelandic toque and went back to the gorgeous black sand beach. Alas, the little guys were nowhere to be found.


We woke up early the next morning to meet somebody at the Vík Hostel who was going to take us out to the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. It’s not accessible with a two-wheel drive car, and it would take about 45 minutes to walk there from the main highway, if you didn’t get disoriented or lost first. A U.S. Navy plane made an emergency landing on this desolate black sand desert in November 1973. Thankfully, the crew survived, but the shell of the plane still remains.

The owner of the hostel, Þrainn, took us out in his Nissan Patrol. It was another dull, grey day. As the wreck came into sight, I realized I had never seen anything so eerie before. I’m terrified of flying, so visiting plane wrecks is not my favourite pastime. I stepped out of the truck into a world in shades of grey.

Photo by Dave S. Clark
Photo by Dave S. Clark

We spent a few minutes taking some awesome, spooky pictures, and then headed out. We had told Þrainn we had been looking in vain for puffins, so he offered to drive us up to the top of a cliff where puffins are known to hang out. The road was steep and narrow, but it was only mildly nerve wracking as he was a skilled driver. I don’t know what was more incredible at the top, the wind or the view. Absolutely stunning. There was only one lone puffin flapping through the air, but it was worth going up there for the view alone. There is another image from the top of that cliff that will always stay in my mind – Þrainn, a tall, solid Icelandic man, wearing his lopapeysa and a knit hat with tassels on the top so that it looked like a mohawk, striding on the top of a cliff. It was easy to tell he had Viking blood…

After some more photo ops on a wide black sand beach, we hit the road again. Next stop, Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon!


3 thoughts on “Vikings, volcanoes and black sand beaches on Iceland’s south coast”

  1. The plane photo is very eerie, especially on such a grey day. I don’t know many people who have been fortunate enough to see a puffin, glad you got that opportunity. The Icelandic horses are beautiful. With winds like that I can understand the need for warm clothes!

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