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Two Days in Iceland: Part One, Not Reykjavik

When planning our Irish holiday last November, we looked at a few different flight options to get us from Maui to Ireland. Since there is not a direct flight from Hawai’i to Ireland, we were able to use Hawaiian Airlines (our favorite) to get us to the mainland, and then we searched for a flight from there to Ireland. The most appealing, reasonably priced, and the eventual winner was with Icelandair and their flight from Seattle to Dublin, with a layover in Reykjavik.

Icelandair has this fantastic program, My Stopover, where travelers may stay in Iceland up to seven nights (coming, going, or both) when they fly through Reykjavik. Since neither of us have been to Iceland, and it was on our list of places we would like to see, this seemed like an economic way explore someplace new and exciting. Iceland still remains one of the more popular destinations for visitors with tourists out numbering the locals five to one during certain times of the year. To take of advantage of this unique tourism initiative by Icelandair, we decided to stop over for two nights to get a taste of what Iceland has to offer. In hindsight, we should have stayed longer.

I was expecting to sleep most of the red-eye flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, but I failed to take into account that it was early summer and the sun only sets for roughly four hours that close to the north pole. Even with the shades drawn, the light was invasive and kept me awake throughout the flight. When we landed early the next morning at an overcast and grey Keflavik International Airport, we were ready to go, but maybe not as well rested as we should have been. The cool wind slamming into our faces as we stepped off the plane and walked down the ramp onto the tarmac to board a bus to take us to the terminal. The brief time outside gave us a brisk adrenalin rush and woke our minds up to the fact that we were in Iceland!

Alert and awake, riding our traveling high and lack of sleep, we hopped in our red little Suzuki Swift and drove southeast from the airport along the Ring Road (No.1) towards the southernmost village of Vík (pronounced Veek). The weather cleared up as soon as we moved away from the airport and we were rewarded with a wonderful first look at Iceland as we drove the three hours towards our furthest destination. From the main highway, a two-lane road, we could see Icelandic ponies, geothermal pools, and so many waterfalls we thought we were back on Maui for a moment.

Right before Vík, there is a black sand beach with amazing basalt columns (the kind we got to see when we paid a visit to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland) and a very dangerous shoreline. Kirkjufjara beach is known for how dangerous the waves can be; signs are posted for everyone to see before you step foot on the beach. Since there is no land mass between Iceland and Antarctica, rogue waves or sneaker waves as they call them in Iceland are a serious threat. Even on fair weather days and calm seas, people have been swept out to sea and drowned because of the sneaker waves that have reared up from the ocean without warning. We saw a few small sneaker waves hit the beach while we were visiting for an hour. People were standing well away from the normal shoreline, but when the rogue wave came they got soaked up to their waists. It was amusing for me to watch, only because nobody got hurt.

photo courtesy of Emily Lorusso.

The village of Vík í Mýrdal does not have too much to offer visitors in the way of amenities. With a tiny population of roughly 300 people, Vík has over 1,400 hotel rooms for visitors, as well as scientists studying volcanoes and glaciers (among other things). We walked around the town for a bit, found a place for lunch and got back on the ring road, heading back the way we came.

Our next stop was the very popular and very crowded Skógafoss waterfall. Parking was easy to find, and if you just follow the crowd, you can either stand at the bottom of the falls, or take the stairs up to the top of the falls, or do both. The amount of water coming over the edge and creating the river two-hundred feet below was impressive. The closer you got to the base of the falls, the power become more and more evident.

Long exposure at Skógafoss.

We visited the cowsheds at Drangurinn Rock which are built right into the boulder’s rock face. The cowsheds are on private property, so we decided to look at them from a respectful distance.

We made a slight detour to visit Ásólfsskálakirkja church, built in 1955 because we could see it from the ring road, tucked right up against the green mountainside. It was so picture perfect we just had to stop. As we drove down a gravel road, we were greeted by sheep and waterfalls.

After taking a few pictures of the church, and avoiding an aggressive dog, we got back in the car and continued our drive towards Reykjavik. It was late in the day at this point and the lack of sleep began to creep up on me as I began to realize how tired I was becoming. We pulled into the carpark at Seljalandsfoss waterfall, but the crowds and the fight with fatigue kept us both from getting out of the car to explore.

The rest of the drive to our hotel in Reykjavik was uneventful and we both were exhausted, but happy to experience a taste of what Iceland had to offer us on our first day visiting.