Our first stop as we continued down the southern coast was the Reynisfjara black sand beach. Formed from volcanic eruptions, this black sand beach stretches for many miles. The sea stacks that you see jutting up from the ocean were actually once part of Reynisfjall Mountain.
What also makes this beach unique is the columnar joints, called Garðar. These were formed when the lava from a volcanic eruption cools quickly. The rocks start to form these unique shapes.
A short distance from the black sand beach is the Reyniskirkja church. Constructed in 1934, this church is not only popular for weddings but also an evacuation spot because of its high position.
As former ADA Jared Mogil and I drove further down the coast, we stopped at several points to take pictures of the otherworldly landscape. It is no wonder that Iceland is a popular destination for filming movies and TV. On the right is the moss covered lava field of Eldhraun, formed from the 1783 eruption.
Our next major site seeing stop was the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.
The uphill hike along the stream had plenty of places to take pictures.
Of course, it ended in a waterfall!
After the hike, we stopped for a quick lunch and an Icelandic beer. In the past few years, their craft brewing scene has really taken off.
One of the best parts about driving on our own instead of taking a tour bus through Iceland was that we would stop whenever we wanted. Of course, we had to stop to sell hello to these Icelandic horses. Brought from Norway centuries ago, these horses are pony-sized, semi-wild friendly horse.
Another off the beaten path stop was the Skeiðará Bridge monument. This was once a bridge over the lava fields, part of the very Ring Road we were traveling. In 1996, a volcanic eruption melted parts of the Skeiðarárjökull glacier. Although the bridge had been constructed to withstand flooding, it was no match for the giant icebergs that came floating its way. Now all that is left are these two twisted girders, which have been left as a monument to the power of nature. The glaciers can be seen in the horizon.
The lava fields provide a stark contrast to the glacial mountains behind them.
Late in the afternoon, the skies began to darken. One of our final stops was to the Diamond Beach. The icebergs that are swept out to sea from the Jökulsárlón glacier are broken apart by the rough waves. They then wash ashore, creating the look of diamonds strewn across the black sands.
Across Route 1 is the source of these “diamonds” the Jökulsárlón glacial lake, an entire lagoon filled with floating icebergs from the ancient glacier. We even saw seals playing in the water around the icebergs. Their blue tint gave the landscape an unnatural glow.
That night we stayed at the Fosshotel Vatnajökull , just outside the coastal city of Hofn. A fishing town, Hofn is famous for its lobster…and lobster rolls! We found the Hafnarbudin restaurant located near the water, and it did not disappoint. The fresh, crispy fried Icelandic lobster was delicious, and unlike many restaurants in Iceland, it was very affordable.