7 Apr 2013

Iceland Highlights 2013 - Day 8: Around Vík

I love the starkness of the scenery around Vík (full name - Vík í Mýrdal), at the southern tip of Iceland. The first time I approached it, driving from the west, I was blown away by its setting, nestled at the foot of a large hill that sweeps inland around the headland, off which the craggy stacks sit, huge mountains towering above it to the north-east. I'd just used the town as a stopover point on my way east and back the previous year, so this year I'd decided to spend a little longer, and had booked into the friendly hostel for two nights, giving me a full day to explore the volcanic scenery nearby (still not enough time to do it justice). It's also close to the massive Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which sits on top of the Katla volcano, which hasn't erupted for nearly a hundred years, so there is some worry that an eruption is due (but it hasn't shown any signs of danger recently). As well as (and probably as a result of) being the country's southernmost village, it is also the wettest coastal town, with 2,275mm (almost 8 feet!) of rain each year, three times as much as Reykjavik gets. It also seems to get a fair amount of snow and wind.

It was an average day that I awoke to, with rain hitting the window next to my bed. The Spanish guys who'd bagged the bottom bunks had already left, so at least I'd get a better bed that night. Out of the far window I could see chickens, and realised that the lower floor of the hostel was set into the ground; probably wise in such a windy and wet place. I'd checked the weather-forecast the previous night and decided against getting up for sunrise (I wasn't having much luck with my sunrises, let alone clear nights, but at least I was getting enough sleep). Over breakfast I sat in the dining room and went through some more photos and began chatting to a Welsh girl who was working there. She was studying for an masters in photography, so we had a lot to talk about. In the afternoon we headed out in the car to Dyrhólaey, a nearby promontory, with some stacks and a huge arch off its coast and a pretty lighthouse on top. The weather was still pretty dreadful, with a "fresh" wind and intermittent showers. The wind was nothing like my trip the previous year when I'd felt as if the car was going to get taken off the road on a number of occasions (and standing upright wasn't easy). A causeway has been built across to the small island, making access easy, in spite of the swiping gusts.

We started at the eastern side, where you get sweeping views eastwards towards the stacks off the coast at Vík and a huge stretch of black sandy beach inbetween. There's also a narrow entrance to a small beach which faces south-west, where waves batter against the cliffs. I'd been told by one of the photographers that I'd met in Jökulsárlón that this beach had almost been washed away since the previous year, and he wasn't wrong! Where there had been a gentle slope down to the shore there was now a steep ledge ten metres or so further inland and where there had been a beach was now larger rocks, a metre of two lower.

Danielle wasn't as well wrapped up as I was, so we soon left that part, warmed up a bit in the car, and drove back along the promontory up the hill to the lighthouse. Offshore there were patches of sun inbetween heavy black clouds, lighting up the grey seas.

There was a walkway around the edge of the promontory, with the dangerous areas around the cliff-tops cordoned off - not great for getting views of the arch from a photographer's point of view. Towards the west there was a long view over another enormous stretch of black volcanic sand, with a big white surf, and a few mountains inland. On a clear day apparently it's possible to see as far as Selfoss, which is about 125km away. Not quite that far today.

With the view of the complete arch obscured we just had a brief wander around the top of the breezy promontory, and I stopped to photograph the lighthouse, just as Danielle's battery ran out (a useful lesson learnt, she said - always charge batteries!).

We drove back to the hostel to warm up, recharge batteries, and planned to head out for sunset later on. Although the weather was generally pretty cloudy, it was very changeable and you never knew what might happen a couple of hours later. I decided to cook myself some pasta then, as I'd ended up not bothering the previous night and felt drunk (and hungry) after a third of a bottle of wine!

The weather hadn't significantly improved when Danielle came back, but we set out anyway for Reynisfjara, the beach on the other side of the hill from Vík, where I'd sat for a glorious sunset a few days earlier. I noticed that the beach here had also been gouged out a bit, and far more of the base of the basalt  columns was now visible. There was a tiny break in the cloud for a few minutes, giving us a hint that there was a setting sun somewhere behind the grey, above the lighthouse and arch that we'd been to in the afternoon.

The tide was out and the beach was littered with large black volcanic rocks, which produced lovely water trails, like those over the icebergs that I'd become somewhat obsessed with back in Jökulsárlón. If I'd been alone I probably would've stayed out there all night, but Danielle had disappeared (presumably back to the car), so I joined her and drove back to the hostel.

It hadn't been a great day for photographs, but it was nice to have some company for a change. Back at the hostel the sitting room was buzzing with activity, and I spent a fun evening with a couple of New Zealand brothers I'd met earlier, two American students, Danielle, and a young English guy, and all of the others recounted stories of where they had been in scary situations and nearly died/been raped/mugged etc.. It was a bit ghoulish, but entertaining, all the same (and they were all there, unscathed and alive!). It had started to snow outside, and the aurora forecast was "quiet" - ie. little activity. The last bottle of wine was polished off and I got a reasonably early night in preparation for my drive back to Reykjavik the following day.

Click here to see Day 9: Vík to Keflavik

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