After exploring Iceland’s wild west, we booked ourselves on to the South Shore Adventure Reykjavik Excursions tour and headed to the hostile South, smack bang in the middle of winter.
The owner of our Reykjavik Guesthouse advised us there would be bad weather in the South, but how bad could it be for two snow loving tourists?
Barely 10 minutes out of Reykjavik and the bus swayed from side to side as vicious sleet pelted the already cracked windscreen.
The tourist buses of Iceland are designed to cope with extreme elements, we were all the while cosy and warm, like siting inside a moving panoramic cinema.
The driver stopped at a service station while the operators decided whether to proceed with the tour. The rain became atrocious. The service station earth quake simulator kept us entertained for a while. The town where the station was situated, right beside Selfoss, had been hit by an earthquake in 2008 and the simulator allowed visitors to experience 6.6 on the Richter scale, close to the actual 6.1 recorded almost ten years ago.
The driver allowed us to proceed with our exploration and our first stop was the Jökulsárlón Glacier. The driver warned us that we may not be able to get close to the glacier due to the heavy blizzard and we approached what looked like a field of giant peppercorns covered in icing sugar. The Icelandic driver heroically managed to get us to the hiking path of the glacier unharmed.
The snow-covered area was a beautiful site despite not being able to get close to it.
Our next stop was Vik, a small town on the South shore where most of Iceland’s trademark wool sweatshirts are made. Our guide told us the village has a beautiful seaside area but advised us not to get too close to the ocean as the North Atlantic was unpredictable in winter.
Vik is home to Iceland’s famous black sand beach which was quite a spectacular site beneath the overlying white snow. As we headed as close as we could to the angry ocean waves, we captured our first glimpse of the Reynisfjara Halsanefshellir and the black pillars at sea.
We headed to the closest building to dry off and it just so happened to be a wool factory with a souvenir shop. There were so many traditional Icelandic wool sweaters for sale as well as a viewpoint of the Vik Wool Factory and the workers.
The souvenirs were fabulous, sheep fridge magnets, snow globes with sheep inside and good old polar bears. Despite many expectation of seeing polar bears in Iceland, there aren’t any in the country at all!
The top-selling souvenirs in Iceland are trolls, and just like polar bears, there is no evidence of either being found in the country.
Reynisfjara Halsanefshellir was our next stop. The columnar basalt rocks formed huge wall above a vaulted cavern that lines the black sand beaches. The cavern is a great place to stand for a spectacular view of the pillars at sea.
Visitors are able to walk into the cavern at their own risk, proceed with caution, especially in high winds and enjoy a sight where there is nothing comparable anywhere else in the world.
It is difficult to imagine the pillars and surrounding scenery, with such intricate and stunning detail, were created by mother nature.
Many architectural projects within Iceland have based their designs on the basalt columns at Reynisfjara Halsanefshellir, the most notable being the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik.
The coast on the South Shore of Iceland is constantly changing due to natural activity on land and by the sea. This is the reason that Vik does not have a harbor.
One of the highlights of the South Shore Adventure was the weather. Neither of us have ever experienced severe weather before, and Iceland sure knows how to expose raw nature spontaneously. We were almost blown to the ground and one of us came away with a black eye from the force of the sleet.
We’ll never forget the time we spent here, it would be great to experience Reynisfjara Halsanefshellir in the summer for a calmer comparison.
We visited Skogar Folk Museum which was one of our personal highlights of the day. Our wonderful museum guide gave us a 15 minute insight on how the people of Skogar once lived and how they used all available resources at the time to survive.
A huge fishing boat is situated in the center of the museum and our guide told us how fisherman once dressed in leather trousers that were dipped in fish oil for maximum waterproofing. They would go out to sea in Skogar between February and April every year.
That was unimaginable after experiencing the harsh elements for ourselves in February. The museum is full of artifacts and educational boards describing how the people of Skogar used driftwood that came in from currents from South America and Africa to make tools, weapons and even furniture.
If the fishermen caught a whale during their spell at sea, the people of Skogar would be fed for weeks and they would use discarded whale bone (including the vertebrate) and turn it into chairs, bowls and even toys for children. Between 1940-1945, when Icelanders lived in turf house with no heating or electricity, British and American soldiers ‘peacefully’ occupied Iceland during World War II. After the war ended, the Icelandic people moved into modernized housing built by soldiers and as a result were introduced into a new way of life. If you as visiting Skogar, we recommend this museum as one of the top things to do in Iceland.
The last stop of the tour was Seljalandafoss. A spectacular waterfall similar to Skogafoss, only this time a little more unapproachable after the surrounding ice had been freshly coated with rain. We got as close as we could and the ground was like an ice rink so we headed back to the bus after taking only one photograph!
After 30 minutes at a service station, we got the all clear.
Driving through the mountains at dusk was a beautiful experience that topped off a wonderfully exciting day in one of our favorite countries in the world.
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We have derived this post from personal experience after spending two weeks in Iceland and booking on to the South Shore Adventure, Reykjavik Excursions tour.
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We hope you enjoy Iceland and everything is has to offer, let us know what you enjoyed the most.