Friday, July 1, 2022

ICELAND Day 9: Then the Magic

Day 9: Golden Circle

When I woke up, a mama and two baby sheep were directly below my window (totally normal Iceland thing) and it was only lightly drizzling! We could see the glacier across the street! Visibility was above-average and I shook off my bad dreams, absolutely confident my family and our rain coats could thoroughly savor our day. We all enjoyed a farm fresh breakfast before packing up and setting out in our rental car, ready for a big day of 12 stops ahead.
And, after an hour of driving in a thoroughly reasonable amount of rain, the clouds parted and we saw the sun for the first time in days and I knew it would be an absolutely magical day.

And it was.
Our first stop was Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon. Beautiful and ethereal, a sleek seal dove and fished right in front of us.
Pieces of glacier floated by as well, along with a mama and four fluffy baby ducklings. I found it so beautiful.
Diamond Beach was a few yards (meters) away.
Full of pieces of the glacier that have broken off and been stranded by the tides, it's a black sand beach dotted with modern ice sculptures.
The diversity of beautiful things to enjoy, experience, and climb on, mere miles apart, is like nothing we'd ever experienced.
It's a beautiful spot that must never look the same twice.
Our next stop was a National Park. You know we love a national park and this was our third international version! (Costa Rica and Curaçao were our first two.)
The park was lush and beautiful and we hiked the 2 miles round trip to Svartifoss, a stunning waterfall running over black basalt columns. You can tell the weather had changed because we were HOT (actual temp probably about 50*F), shedding all of our coats into James's ever-growing backpack, and sweating through the clothes we had left.
Once again, a big thank you to the volcanoes and lava for providing the magnificent geology.
One thing that's hard to capture in pictures is how lush and beautiful Iceland is on the way to, from, and all around every destination. Like Svartifoss- that's something many people hike to see, yet on the way it's a gorgeous green hike, with hills and valleys and spectacular views. There's waterfalls everywhere (always) and ones like this, that would be the destination of a hike anywhere else, don't even have a placard or lookout point:
We walked to the visitor's center (love having kid's old enough to take pictures; Claire borrowed my phone for a bit and it was so fun to find pictures like this later that night when I was going through them) and had a great lunch cooked by an Indian family that runs the cafe.
Next up was Reynisfjara, Reynisfjall and Reynisdrangar! A few Game of Thrones scenes were filmed here.
A beautiful black sand beach with deadly (literally) waves and stunning black basalt geological features.
As we walked up, a humpack whale was feeding a few yards off the coast. The depth drops off sharply right off the beach (part of why the sneaker waves are so deadly) and this giant whale was happily feasting in krill so close to the shore I worried something was wrong.
He or she waved hello a few dozen times until eventually swimming further out to sea. We all climbed on the columns- they make for perfect stepping stones up and down- for nearly an hour, just enjoying the sounds of the waves, the novelty of the black sand, and the gorgeous architecture of the cliff.
Next up was a stop at Skógar, a small Icelandic village with a museum next to a famous waterfall we'll get to in a minute. But I happened to google something about waterfalls in the area (we banned the kids from electronics while driving when you could actually see things, so if I ever accidentally maybe glanced at my phone and they saw me, I had to be googling something relevant) and learned about a "less visited" waterfall called Kvernufoss that you could hike to from the parking lot at Skógar as long as you paid the nominal Skógar parking fee.
The hike is on private property, so you need to stay on the path and (obviously) leave no trace of yourself behind. There's a ladder over the barbed wire fence and then you enter an absolutely stunning landscape and wide flat path. Even if there wasn't the most amazing waterfall ever around the corner, it would be worth a stroll.
But there IS the best waterfall ever around the corner. You hear it before you see it and then, bam, hello there beauty.
And you can hike behind it! Those three little dots to the left of the falls are the LagLiv kids. Going behind the waterfall blew our minds a little bit. It was genuinely the coolest thing I'd ever done until we did something even cooler about an hour later.
A little wet, a lot happy.
Thoroughly delighted by Kvernufoss, we next headed over to the usual headliner in the area, Skógafoss!
You can climb stairs up and around it, but I could tell my crew was flagging and we still had a few stops to go, so we stayed on the ground level. It was still loud and majestic and Landon insisted (pretended?) he wanted to go swimming in the pool at the base.
Next up should have been Seljlandsfoss, but we were getting hungry and our hotel was so nearby and I knew we could revisit, so I tempted my crew with the secret waterfall right next door instead.
See that slit in the rock? There's a waterfall cathedral back there.
We zipped up our rain coats and fjorded a small river, rock jumping and James carrying Cora on his back, to get through the opening in the rock
To reveal a secret waterfall room inside.
It was magical in a way I'd never experienced before- like a secret space just for us for those few minutes. I'll treasure that memory forever.
We were wet and giddy with secret waterfall magic.
But soon it was time to to reenter the world.
Hotel Selja was only a few short minutes away. The twelve-room hotel was perfect: clean, bright, modern and homey. They served the best pasta bolognese for dinner that I've maybe ever had and we could see Seljlandsfoss and the very top of Gljufrabui from from the dining room and our room windows. We actually got two nights there, so we could settle in a bit. We chatted with the manager and her husband and talked about their childhoods in California and why they chose to move back to Iceland when they had kids. It was a lovely night after a perfect day.

And our day... the colors of the green hills, white thundering waterfalls, black volcanic rocks, and bright farm life dotting the vistas are simply impossible to capture. I've tried, but both pictures and words fail. It was pure magic.
These are live images burned in my mind that I will never, ever forget.


  1. You have me dying to visit!! It's stunning!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. These pictures are stunning! I especially like the one of the ice floating in the ocean. The teeny tiny boat gives it scale. It must have been absolutely gorgeous. I hope your return to the US went smoothly and safely!