South Iceland Campervanning
In a nutshell, Iceland is like the Sweetened Condensed Milk of Europe. Not in the sense of having a booming dairy industry or a night life scene that will leave you reeling for weeks, but rather in the sense that it is as if the Heavens cherry-picked the wildest parts of our Earth and crushed them together into one sweet spot that is the tiny island of Iceland.
To surmise our journey in one thousand words would be poor form; words simply cannot fulfill the grandeur or majesty of this remote corner of the world. And so, we’ll endeavor to outline possibly the most incredible day we experienced, a day where we stumbled across natural wonder upon natural wonder, so here goes!
Friday the 14th of October: We awoke, nice and cosy in our perfect camper van, heater blasting and all rugged up and dewy eyed in the early morning dawn. With fervor and excitement, we blundered around, pulled on multiple layers of clothing (the same we had been wearing all week-classy), and with much anticipation, slid our camper van doors open to welcome in the icy morning air.
Breakfast was simple as usual, milk and muesli, but gloved, numb fingers seem to make the simple things in life a challenge! Once we had rummaged about and cleaned off our gear, we were ready to go. Today was to be a day of waterfalls and wonders, though we didn’t know it yet.
Our first stop was the much renowned Seljalandsfoss, it’s that perfect stream of water that is consistently pictured against the glow of an amber sunset that can be seen on countless Instagram posts, and though our time of day differed, the beauty of it certainly did not. This waterfall tumbles down a cliff and glides down an overhang, so as nature would have it, it has a perfect cave in which you can walk into, feel the spray on your face and grab that 360 degree view of one of Iceland’s most picturesque waterfalls. The beauty of this place however (and we found this time and time again) is not the most photographed location, it is the quiet spots you stumble across when you venture past the crowds and get your feet a little bit muddy.
About 300m down the track past Seljalandsfoss, are two more major waterfalls, tossed between walls of green and orange and fabulous rock formations. It is the last one of these two however, which became our instant favorite. This waterfall is tucked away behind a hill and pours itself from the mountain into a hidden crevasse. Fear not though, you can access this natural wonder via a somewhat precarious climb of the picturesque mound in front of it, or if you don’t mind getting your feet a bit wet, by doing some rock-hopping through the cave that the river flows out of. Logistics aside, when you are inside the cylindrical cave, surrounded by damp shafts of vertical rock, blue sky above and water cascading from the heavens, it’s as if you are in another world, something from the land before time, the experience is truly majestic.
Having knocked this beauty off our list early in the morning, our next stop was Skógafoss, a waterfall renowned for its sheer height, width and symmetry. Still reeling from the beauty of our previous visit, we didn’t expect to be awed as much as we were. Truth be told however, once again, it wasn’t the towering Skógafoss with its shimmering rainbows that took our breath away, it was the path that quietly idles its way above and beyond the top of the waterfall, deep into the foothills towards Skógafoss icy source.
We stumbled across this path by pure accident, admittedly we now know this is a well known and established track, however at the time, we were blindly following a path that took us upstream, enticed onwards by the lure of the crystal water flowing dangerously beneath us. If you ever have a chance to experience this track, it is an absolute must, every turn, crevasse, boulder, cliff and shift in stream, is a visual feast of rugged beauty and lush terrain. From above, you can see how the river that feeds Skógafoss cuts through the earth, splitting it open and breathing life into the barren landscape above. To amplify the grandeur of this spectacle, the river boasts waterfall upon waterfall, some of magnificent proportions that could match if not outdo Skógafoss itself, and as each waterfall tumbles to the rock beneath it, spray and mist linger and cling to the surrounding moss covered cliffs, creating a truly mystical allure. The result is absolutely breath-taking, certainly not short of the word epic. We were in heaven.
As the travelers on the path dwindled down to just us and the couple in front who were much more readily equipped for their journey, we sadly realized at waterfall number 12 that we needed to turn back to savor the hours of daylight still with us. Begrudgingly, we re-traced our footsteps back to them tourist populated car-park by Skógafoss, jumped in our camper and set out for destination 3 for the day, the DC-3 plane crash.
We didn’t really know where we were going, however, so we blindly followed a road that just so happened to lead us to the tongue of a glacier. We were so wildly impressed with our luck that we semi-abandoned our plans and decided to loiter around in the afternoon light and admire the icy view. We stood among the black sand and gazed at the colossal body of ice stretching towards us, basking in the surreal experience of being so close to hundreds, if not thousands of years of ice that had moved millimeter by millimeter to get to the spot we were standing. Earth appreciation points were definitely at the max.
Satisfied with our run of good luck, we decided it was time to head to our final destination for the night – Vik, the most Southern part of Iceland and the spot where we were hoping to catch a glimpse of those allusive Northern Lights. We set back on track, heading Eastwards on Iceland’s Ring road, when of course we happened upon the DC-3 plane crash car-park after-all. Iceland is simply one treat after another!
The afternoon sun was definitely setting in, and by now we already had a thing about getting to our campsites before dark so we wouldn’t freeze our fingers off cooking in the night. However, we also had learnt you must never miss anything in Iceland – that would be a crime against humanity. So, we parked the car, rugged up and set off on the 4km walk to the site of the famous 40 year old DC-3 plane-crash. Once again, the walk itself (all 4km of it…one way), was a unique experience. The never-ending black sand stretches for miles in every direction, interrupted only by the odd black boulder or unusual looking shrub. The vastness and eeriness of this moonscape, void of life and resembling something from another planet, is a testament to the brutality of the weather this area must endure year in and year out. It is truly an un-earthly experience.
After an hour of solid walking, we finally happened across the eerie DC-3 plane-crash. Stranded and alone in the desolate landscape, all that remains of the wreckage is the rusty corpse of the fuselage and the frayed stub of the left wing. The rest of the plane, victim to years of wild weather and I’m sure quick and sneaky fingers, is nowhere to be seen. It may sound like a lonesome sight, which it is, but in the glow of the afternoon light, which cast long shadows across the blackened sand, and spilled light through the plane’s withering frame, it was quite simply beautiful.
The long hike back was nothing short of arduous, the endless landscape of black Earth lends itself to the feeling of very little progress for a lot of work. Yet, we made it, jumped in our trusty camper and set off for our campsite just as the sun began to slide beneath the horizon.
As a perfect day would have it, that night was the first clear night we had had all week, and with a reading of 8 on the Richter scale for Aurora activity, we were brimming with anticipation for what we hoped would be a perfect night. As the blue of the sky deepened to black, we stood outside in the frosted air with our fellow campers and watched as a milky white beam stretched its way across the sky. We were obviously no Aurora experts, but we had all seen the countless images of the wild Northern Lights, dancing their way across the sky in multitudes of colour – this ominous, translucent stripe however, bore very little resemblance to anything we were expecting.
A little dis-heartened, we concluded in our naivety that it was simply the light pollution from the campground interfering with what was surely a better view on the dark hill behind us, so we bundled into our camper, turned on the ignition and just as we were about to reverse through the mud to hit the road, we noticed a rather greenish looking fleck scatter itself across the sky…was the light suddenly greener because of the camper van glass? No, the lights had turned on!
As if having needed time to warm-up, the sky suddenly flooded with colour, the milky band, now infused with minted green, stretched and marbled its way across the sky. Brilliant flashes of green pelted down on us while curtains of tiered colour, dipped in purple and red, draped themselves through the blackness. Just like the pictures we had seen, the sky, emblazoned in green, lit up from one horizon to the other and we stood in awe as the light show above us silently splashed it way behind the mountains beside us.
We were well frozen by the time the lights left us, but as I’m sure is the case for anyone not accustomed to seeing the lights every night, we didn’t even notice. It had been the perfect day and we simply did not know how we would ever beat this moment; Thank you Iceland for an Incredible Friday the 14th.
Read more: Iceland’s rugged power & mythology as seen from a camper van
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