When preparing for this trip, I reached out to Auto Europe and asked if they were interested in sponsoring our rental. They said yes, and provided the rental car for the duration of our trip. This post includes references to Auto Europe tied to that partnership.
For my second visit to Iceland, I opted for something quite different than the first visit. Where a year previous I had headed to Iceland by myself for a solo-road trip that took me up to the Western Fjords, this trip would be similar in length but a shared road trip with four friends. In place of the nearly empty West Fjords, we’d strike South and East towards Iceland’s famed black sand beaches. The goal? To reach Vik and then shoot up to the Diamond Beach for a quick peek. Our initial plans included trying to run all the way up to Hofn, but with a full car and mixed interests, we decided for a more conservative timeline which was ultimately wiser.
We landed midday on Wednesday, picked up our rental car from ProCar, which had been provided in partnership with the folks at Auto Europe, and struck out immediately in the direction of Seljalandsfoss. As dusk approached we reached the recently opened Midgard Adventure Base Camp (a lovely brand new hostel concept), dropped our gear and then made the quick drive to Seljalandsfoss just in time for a dramatic sunset. The hostel itself offered lovely rooms in a convenient location and more importantly included a sauna and hot tub on the roof with a panoramic view of the Icelandic countryside and nearby mountains.
The following day we wound our way back to Seljalandsfoss, which unlike the evening before was overrun with vehicles. Disinterested in the crowds we explored the surrounding area and found a series of alternate waterfalls which were intimate, lovely and stunningly beautiful – all within a 10-minute drive. Waterfalls in our rearview mirror, we wound down towards Dyrholaey and the nearby cliffs with panoramic views, an incredible coastal window, amazing views and numerous puffin nests. From there it was on to Vik and the surrounding area where we checked into an extremely bizarre bed and breakfast before deciding to roll the dice and make the 2-hour drive out to the Glacier Bay.
From there it was on to Vik and the surrounding area where we checked into an extremely bizarre bed and breakfast before deciding to roll the dice and make the 2-hour drive out to the Glacier Bay. We knew the drive was a bit of a gamble. Not only was it a four hour round trip journey, but the weather offered little promise of breaking for a beautiful sunset. Still, with our tight itinerary and limited timeframe, we figured the benefits outweighed the risks. The road trip to Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon and the Diamond Beach was incredible. It winds across massive black plains where only the most minimal scrub grass grows. It sneaks through sprawling mossy lava fields and slips along the lip of stunning glaciers. By the time we reached Jokulsarlon and pulled up to the black sand beach, dusk tinged by a fine mist was rapidly settling over the landscape.
While the beach lacked the drama of a vibrant sunset, we had it largely to ourselves as we wound our way through the blocks of ice washed ashore. To keep us company two seals tracked our progress along the beach, keeping an attentive and playful eye on us. Even in, and perhaps in part because of, the light mist and late evening light, the black sand, white sea foam, and rich blues of the ice were mesmerizing. We walked the beach until the light gave out on us, then began the long journey through the rain back to Vik, all wishing we had more time to spend exploring the area.
The following morning kicked off with a brief drive from Vik to Halsanefshellir Cave, Reynisfjara Beach and additional time spent with dozens of puffins. As luck had it, the puffins were fishing and extremely active which led us to extend our visit to the beach and coastal area by several hours as we sat and took in the Icelandic landscape, blooming flowers, and puffins wish fish-filled beaks. From there it was on to Solheimajokull Glacier for a quick walk to the base of the glacier and a few moments to pause and wish we were joining the steady flow of people taking ice expeditions out onto the glacier. But, with time limited we cut our way back north west to explore the Golden Circle. From Gullfoss Waterfall to Strokkur and then on to Thingvellir National Park and Rift Valley at sunset, it was a race, but well worth it.
Despite my concerns that we’d be so overwhelmed by tourists that it’d diminish the majesty of the stops, most were still well worth a visit and every bit as awe inspiring as pictured. We did skip a number of more “major” falls along the way due to the packed parking lots, but with so many stunning falls nearby we more than satiated our urge to explore the region’s great falls. While the Southeastern coastline was without question far busier than the Western Fjords, it also boasted incredibly dramatic beaches, stunning waterfalls and captivating landscapes forged by glaciers.
We spent our semi-final evening in Reykjavik before jumping back out to continue exploring Thingvellir National Park in proper daylight. From there it was back to downtown Reykjavik to return the rental car at 4PM, into town to explore and enjoy dinner, some drinks and a bit of live music, before attempting an all-nighter and heading to the airport at 2AM for our 6AM flight back to Denmark. In celebration of the spectacular nature we enjoyed during our visit, I’ve created the following video, enjoy!
One final quick tip. Situated a bit before the junction where the 43 connects to the 41 just outside the Airport, you’ll find an Orkan gas station, a Bonus super market, and a few shops. Situated behind the gas station is a semi-permanent fish and chips trailer. Despite the surprising location, the fish was some of the freshest we had, the stand had a steady stream of locals, prices were good and the meal was absolutely fantastic. To the point that I’d happily flag this as a must-stop for all my future visits to Iceland.
Photos from the trip will follow in an upcoming post. All footage was shot on a Sony A7RII using a mixture of lenses, but predominantly a Sony 24-70 F4. The video was edited in Davinci Resolve 14 by Black Magic.
This trip was made possible in part due to a collaboration with the folks at Auto Europe who provided our rental. I’ve previously used Auto Europe as my go-to booking site of choice for car rentals, including my previous self-funded trips in Slovenia and Romania. For Iceland, Auto Europe arranged our rental which was a 5 person, automatic, Opel Mokka 4×4 in excellent condition. The rental was easy without mickey-mouse or any headaches. Clearance isn’t amazing for a 4×4, but it was ideal for relatively well-maintained roads we spent most of our time on, particularly along the coastline near Vik. It also managed to seat the five of us plus luggage, which in and of itself was a feat. The folks at Auto Europe have also prepped entertaining funky facts which are well worth a quick look (in Danish) about motoring in Europe which you can view here.