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Day two Iceland: Avian Cliffs to Black Sand Beaches

September 21, 2018 | Shauna Cook

Blog written by Martyn Cook with the assistance and photography skills of Shauna Cook

Traffic is amassing already; with our hiking boots donned, backpacks loaded with provisions, the day begins. All roads lead to adventure; terra incognito awaits. Driving down the south coast’s single-lane highway reveals a different side to the country; one of a lifestyle of working people living off the land that tried once to reject them. Now communally they thrive, working with nature. Sheep farms line the sides of the road. Icelandic horses, barely tamed, roam the pastures of this wild country. The sub-tundra foliage now gives way to grasses.

Sheep line the sides of cliffs that human adventurers should be proud to gain a purchase on. We make our way amongst these farms towards Vik, a seaside town, which reveals itself to be the hub for day trips further afield to the east and north country. Our limited time just did not allow us the luxury to enter that unknown landscape, no matter how tempting. As we drive to our furthest point, and work our way back to basecamp, we make our way back to the locations we passed on the way. First we head to the edge of the ocean. The black sand clings to our footwear, as the waves crash upon the shore. The waves crashing, in a futile attempt at the destruction of the shore. With impotent rage it carries on its attempt ceaselessly. Pictures taken, memories forged we head for lunch. Medication for not only sustenance, but a rest for the senses. Stopping for lunch, and savoring Iceland’s food culture my wife and I share the best beef burger I have ever had. My response to the question “How is it?” Was “If I only had this to eat for the rest of my life , I would be a happy man.” My senses awaken from the surroundings, they seep into every facet of our experience. Food and libations, no exception. The local beer, Gull, is offered, and every sip speaks to the boldness and honesty of our Icelandic experience. The view from lunch is that of birds nesting in cliffs high above our terra bound experience. We saddle up our diesel powered stead, and depart from Vik. Our next stop Reynisfjara, a place where basalt pillars fortify the island from the ocean. Hálsanefshellir, a basalt cave, stands guard over the intrepid explorers that accompany us in our wonderlust-fuelled journey. The sound from the cave entices us onwards, our curiosity peaks. What lays around the corner? We follow that clue on our way to our destination. The cave is shallow, but looks like it was carved by the hands of a giant. Defined striations mark the walls, like an inhumanly sized chisel made them. The foam frothed up from the ocean and chases people across the shore line. This area is known for tourist deaths from rogue waves, so we keep a safe distance. Iceland’s nature is to be respected, an underestimation of its capacity to take a life is not a mistake one should make.


We arrive at the bird cliffs of Dyrhólaey. Perched overlooking the ocean, the birds have headed to warmer climes for the winter. Not more than two weeks ago puffins were spotted there, and we had hoped to catch any stragglers still enjoying the cool breeze. In the spring and summer, it is an aviary conservation area. No tourists are allowed while they hatch their young. I stand with the mist from the waves caressing my face, and imagine. I imagine Puffins lining the cliffside in a chaotic tribe of winged beauty. Life is created upon those cliffs, as chicks are brought into this world. Now it awaits the migration, its cliffs empty, but not forgotten. We meander back to the car, onward to another adventure. Sometime later we arrive at Skogafoss. A magnificent and noble sight of a waterfall. The mist hangs and lingers in the air, falling in layers upon us and our fellow compatriots, our waterproof coats shielding us from what they can. Our faces drip with water, adorning our faces like crystals. We can’t help but laugh at our helplessness under the deluge. The violence as the waterfall crashes against the ground creates the most beautiful and delicate rainbows. They hang in the air, and dance as the light shines hither and thither. Drenched, our waterfall baptism is complete; we have been washed clean in the waters of Iceland. Each waterfall we visited, both Skogafoss and Seljalandfoss, beautiful for different reasons. No two things are the same in Iceland, they are unique without trying. As we return from our grand tour today we arrive bleary-eyed at the summer house.


We end the day with overcast skies, but our hearts filled with light. We are fed and watered and fill up the hot pot, the Icelandic equivalent of a hot tub. As I run the hot water to fill it up steam drifts from the water’s surface, my North American mind wondering when will the hot water tank run out of hot water? Then my mind grasps the concept that this water is geothermally heated. The bounty spills forth from the bosom of the earth. Filled with wonder, we submerge ourselves under the blanketed sky. Our conversations run parallel with our wonder, expanding terminally, and joyous. From contrast and continents pulling apart, its strangling galvanizes bonds. It creates an appreciation of shared moments, and brings about a realization – that contrast is really the forge of beauty and love.