Isn’t there a saying (or many sayings) about not being able to go back to a time that has passed. Well it turns out Iceland is the kind of place that is always magical, even on a return visit.
So what do you do on the south coast of Iceland when you’ve already done the big attractions of the golden circle? Find all the places that the coach tours don’t stop. First up: that plane wreck.
Located a 4km walk from the ring road (there’s a very obvious car park) on a black sand beach, the US Navy DC-3 plane which crashed on Solheimasadur beach has become pretty iconic for the many many posts across social media. And it’s a great atmospheric subject for photographs. A Saturday morning walk to take photos, sounds perfect!
Iceland though, had other ideas. I wasn’t really fully aware of how different the weather in Iceland can be in places that are very close together. To be fair we had seen the weather forecast that suggested gale force winds on the south coast. But as we drove along the ring road watching a gorgeous pink sunrise give way to a sunny morning and clear skies I think you can forgive us for expecting the weather to be the same at the beach.
But as soon as we parked up I was having second thoughts about going for a walk. Or even stepping outside. The wind was buffeting the car and rain streaked down the windscreen. Not ideal walking weather, but we’d come all this way.
So here’s the positives about the 4km walk to the plane: the path is very flat, wide and well marked. We didn’t get lost. On the negatives walking across miles of flat black sand in sideways 50mph rain / hail is soul destroying. It was like all the colour and features had been sucked out of the world. There’s a reason the Iceland refer to this area as a desert and I felt well and truly lost.
By the time we reached the plane (soaked on one side) all I could think was that I hoped it would be possible to climb inside to get some respite from the wind and rain. Lucky for me we were able to do exactly that. And once I’d had a chance to put on some more warm dry layers I felt up to attempting to take some photos. And then we walked back (getting soaked on the other side). Almost as soon as we got back to the car the sun came out (typical!) and so we headed to a cafe we knew about from our first trip to Iceland to warm up and get dry.
Once we felt vaguely human again (and I could feel my fingers) we took the road back towards Fludir, visiting Selanjafoss waterfall on the way. We visited this waterfall on our first trip to Iceland as well but it was fun to go back and take photos behind the curtain of water. Then we drove back to Fludir ready for our pre-booked visit to the Secret Lagoon. I’ve wanted to visit the Secret Lagoon ever since I saw it on a Rick Stein programme years ago – even though we stayed in Fludir on our first visit to Iceland we didn’t have time to go.
Unlike many of the wild pools in Iceland, the Secret Lagoon is set up much more like a swimming pool – with all the facilities you would expect. We managed to time our visit so that we were in the pool as the sun was setting, which made for a very atmospheric experience as we watched the steam rising off the large rectangular pool in the twilight. We discovered that the hottest parts of the pool were the corners where there are small geysirs just beyond the wall of the pool. It was really fun to move around the pool from hot to cooler spots. The booking system means that the pool never gets too crowded but it was quite busy. As we were leaving we saw several northern lights tours that include a trip here pulling up.
Our plan for the day was to drive back towards the airport ready for our evening flight, stopping off at some interesting spots along the way. First up was Hvergardi and a walk through the strange landscape of bubbling mud pots and steaming rocks to the Reykjadalur thermal river. The walk is an easy hike of about 5km and you are rewarded with an incredible soak in the river. The main swimming area of the river had decked areas running along the edge to get changed and leave your clothes, making it much easier to get in. As you walk further up the valley the water gets hotter and although there were lots of people in the river (mostly locals enjoying a beer) it was pretty easy to find a spot to sit and enjoy the warm water flowing around you.
After our swim we carried on in the car to the Reyjkanes peninsula where we took another walk around the Krysuvik geothermal area where turquoise hot springs contrast vividly against the ochre landscape. These hot springs are definitely not for swimming in. We then continued along the coast road stopping off at Brimketill, another pool on the edge of the sea (the name literally translates as “surf kettle”). Although it is apparently technically possible to have a dip in this pool I didn’t fancy it – the waves were huge and the rocky cliffs looked far too dangerous to climb down. We also stopped off at Gunnuhver, the biggest boiling mud pot in Iceland.
Our final stop of the day was the Bridge Between the Continents, which bridges the rift between the North America and Eurasia tectonic plates. And then as night fell it was time to say goodbye to Iceland for a second time and drop off the hire car back at the airport.
WHERE WE STAYED
I’ve written about my honeymoon visiting the South coast of Iceland. Watching the northern lights from the vantage point of a warm hot tub on a cold autumn night is a standout moment from all my travels. So it probably comes as no surprise that after much discussion about how much we want to go back to Iceland, when I finally cracked and paid out the crazy price of flights Icelandair Hotel Fludir was my only choice for accommodation.
When we arrived at Fludir and entered our cosy cabin-esque room (complete with l’Occitane toiletries) I knew we’d made the right choice. The rooms in the hotel are in a square with a door from the bathroom that opens out into a central courtyard with two hot pots in the middle. After sitting watching the aurora overhead and sipping on our favourite beers from Einstock, Iceland’s main brewery, I had to grit my teeth to wrap myself in a towel and run across the courtyard back to the room and a comfy bed – but that’s half the fun!
EATING AND DRINKING
We warmed up after getting frozen to the bones walking to the plane wreck at Hotel Skogafoss. We enjoyed the most delicious hot chocolate while we waited for a table (once the coach trip visitors had left) and then a bowl of Icelandic soup. That evening we had dinner at the fish and chip shop next to the Secret Lagoon which was delicious and just what I needed after a long day.
On our second day we grabbed a sandwich and cakes for lunch in Hvergardi then after a long day driving we ate dinner at the airport ahead of our evening flight.
Swimming in the Reykjadalaur river was incredible, as was swimming in the Secret Lagoon at twilight. I really enjoyed our walks through the various geothermal areas, with an incredible landscape of steaming ground, turquoise water, orange-red rocks and bright green grass. I felt like I got to see much more of the strange landscape in Iceland than you get from the standard trip to Geysir.
If you’ve read my post on our first visit to Iceland you’ll know that we toured the country from the comfort of a coach. But this time we decided to hit the road ourselves – freedom to explore all the places the coach tours don’t stop. Perfect. Right up until you get off your flight and pick up your hire car and realise you have a 2.5 hour drive through the dark to your hotel in the middle of no where. Because let’s face it, once you get out of Reykjavik the amount of people, cars and light vastly decreases. Which is by no means a bad thing but driving when you are tired on dark country roads is less than ideal.
I absolutely love Iceland and I can’t wait to go back and explore another area. Although we’d been to South Iceland before we still got to discover new places as well as revisit those we had been to before.
Where are your recommended places to visit in Iceland?