Iceland part 1 - Our cabin, Seljalandsfoss, Vík and the south coast

I've been meaning to write about our trip to Iceland since we got back almost 2 months ago (!) but haven't had a chance until now. 

It may be a little while since we were there, but Iceland has stayed with me in a way that really special places do. I have thought about it almost every day since we've been back!

We planned the trip to coincide with my 30th birthday and what was meant to be just a weekend away soon got extended to a week when we started looking into all the things that we wanted to do! I'm so glad we did - even in 9 days I feel like we only just managed to scratch the surface of this incredible country. We are already planning a return trip! 

We were there in mid April which was a beautiful time to go as we got a taste of what winter would have been like from the snow still on the ground and high up on the mountain roads, but at the same time the weather had warmed up to the extent that we were able to stay outside for long periods of time (!) and the spring colours were emerging everywhere, painting the landscape in the most wonderful hues of tawny brown, green and blue. Best of all was the light and the blue skies - every day was crystal clear so you could see for miles and the sun was so bright that we had to wear our sunglasses constantly. 

We were keen to pack as much as possible into our week's stay, but we also wanted a bit of down time and to escape it all a bit and spend time exploring on our own. We decided to limit our trip to the southern coast, Rejkavík and the Golden Circle and the Snaefellsnes peninsula north of Rejkavík. It was a good compromise and we were still busy but without feeling as though we were rushing things or just "ticking things off". Luckily, as we learned very quickly, it only gets dark in Iceland in April at about 11pm so you can carry on sightseeing late into the evening. 

Anyway, after flying to Rejkavík, we collected our hire car and immediately headed south along the ring road (Route 1) - the main highway that circles the entire island. We self-catered for the first four nights of our trip because we like being able to suit ourselves but also because it was cheaper than staying in a hotel (Iceland is an expensive place!) We rented a little summer cabin on airbnb (

this

one) near to 

Hvolsvöllur

, a small town on the ring road, about an hour and a half drive from 

Rejkavík

, which turned out to be a perfect location for both the Golden Circle and also exploring the south coast. 

We were greeted by the owner, Ingvar, who led us to the cabin, driving across several fields and a fairly fast moving stream to get to it (apparently that is totally normal in Iceland!). When we arrived we couldn't believe that this would be our home for the next four days - the sweetest little cabin all on its own with the most incredible 360 degree view and not another building in sight! 

It was the perfect place to start our Iceland adventure. The feeling of being totally alone in the middle of nowhere with only birds and rabbits as our neighbours was completely unique, and amazingly exhilarating. Iceland is such a safe place that Ingvar told us to leave the key in the lock when we left (whaat?!). The cabin itself was very cosy and warm and although decorated not exactly to our taste(!), was brilliantly well equipped, complete with record player and an impressive collection of 80s vinyl (hello Tina Turner). 

Our view was of the mighty Hekla volcano, one of Iceland's most active volcanos and the completely unpronouncable 

Eyjafjallajökull (Eyjafjalla Glacier), the ice-cap covered volcano that erupted in 2010 causing meltwater floods to rush down into the surrounding rivers and sending the famous volcanic ash cloud up into the sky.

After a very good night's sleep, we got up early(ish) the next day and had a good explore of our garden/fields.

I spent some time testing out the cabin's trampoline....

I think these photos pretty much sum up how I feel about Iceland!

And then we headed off on the road south. On the way, we took in a rather spectacular waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland's most famous waterfalls with a drop of 60 metres, and a little cave behind it which allows visitors to walk behind it. 

We took some photos and got quite wet in the spray, before heading off towards Vík. 

The drive was extraordinary. Great wide plains of golden grass stretched out on either side of the road, punctuated every now and then by houses that looked like little models on the horizon. Beyond them, far away, were the hulking peaks of distant mountains and above us the clearest, bluest skies I have ever seen, opening out in every direction. The road was almost entirely empty, and we were reminded that Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, with only 330,000 people to its 103,000 square kilometres. Also, extraordinarily, almost two thirds of Iceland's population live in R

ejkavík

 and its environs. Once you realise that it makes sense that there would be no one on the roads!

We stopped for lunch in Vík at the Halldorskaffi, a lovely little restaurant with friendly staff and excellent lamb sandwich (sounds weird but tasted amazing) before venturing onto its black basalt sand beach for a post-lunch wander. 

In the distance we could see the famous Reynisdrangar, giant stacks of basalt rock, remnants of a former cliff line battered by ferocious Atlantic waves. According to local folklore, the stacks are former trolls who tried to drag their boats out to sea but were caught in the daylight and turned to stone. 

The sea here was certainly ferocious, even on the calm day that we visited. Great plumes of spray lifted into the air above the sea, shrouding the cliffs in a hazy cloak, catching and refracting the sunlight. 

I'd never seen black sand before - it's so weird! Like tiny weeny grains of caviar but kind of beautiful too - velvety and smooth against the white ruffle of foamy waves. 

Vík also has a lovely little red church perched on a hill above the town which we didn't have time to visit, but we admired from a distance. 

The landscape around the town is extraordinary - jagged hills rising out of flat plains, streaked with snowy stripes and foreboding shadows, and beyond them, the brutal glint of silver sea. 

In the opposite direction we got a glimpse of Iceland's interior, a vast, sprawling and almost entirely inaccessible world of glaciers and mountains, totally uninhabited, wild and extreme. 

On our way back from Vík we stopped at Reynisfjara beach, from which you can see in one direction the spectacular 

Dyrhólaey

 arch and from the other the Reynisdrangar from the other side of the beach at Vík. 

This beach is also amazing because of its basalt columns and

caves, which looked like something from another world, rising out of the black sand, with waves crashing below and spray rising against them. The cliffs above were dotted with nests of terns and gulls and birds circled above the tourists in the dazzling light. 

We continued back along the coast, stopping again briefly at the small headland and nature reserve of 

Ingólfshöfði

, where we had read that puffins can sometimes be spotted. 

We climbed down onto another incredible black sand beach and kept our eyes peeled for puffins as the sun started to go down, and the light softened. 

We also climbed up onto the headland where there were incredible views back along the coast and towards the mountains.

Sadly no puffins this time (I think in hindsight we were too early for them), but the spectacular views made up for it.

And the way home was pretty wonderful too!

More Iceland adventures coming soon!