• Kate

Iceland's South Coast: Our 10 Day Campervan Trip - Day 3

South Iceland travel guide

In this 9-part series we'll give you an in-depth, no-fluff account of our trip around Iceland in a campervan. We had our itinerary for the entire 10 day Ring Road adventure well-planned (some say even over-planned, but we say there's no such thing when your destination country is jam-packed with must-see places and your time is limited) and yet we had to tackle a few surprises along the way. After all, this was our first ever campervan trip (we'll jump ahead and say that we are totally hooked now! #vanlife).

Day 3: Iceland's South Coast, continued.

On day 3 we woke up early. We had some of the more popular destinations lined up for this leg of the trip and we were hoping to get to them early to avoid big crowds.

First thing in the morning we made a quick stop at Kirkjufjara black sand beach. It was cold and windy, so we didn't go down to the beach but admired the view from above instead. There was what looked like a visitor centre at Kirkjufjara parking lot with some beautiful washroom facilities. It was open but unmanned that early in the morning and the turnstile to the paid bathrooms was broken so we scored a quick free bathroom break (using a washroom when coming across one becomes an essential survival skill when travelling around Iceland in a campervan, haha!)

Kirkjufjara beach in Iceland
Early morning at Kirkjufjara beach

When we got to Reynisfjara beach it was still early but already there was a small crowd of people milling around on the beach. However, it looked like we had beat the giant tour buses, so we were happy about that at least. Reynisfjara beach is a gorgeous black sand beach in south Iceland that was at one point voted by National Geographic as one of the top 10 non-tropical beaches in the world. When you get to the beach you'll see why. Reynisfjara was the first place in Iceland where we saw the mind-blowing, geometrically-perfect basalt columns. We've seen them several times since then and they still amaze us every single time. I mean, just look at them! How can they not be man-made??

Basalt columns at Reynisfjara beach in Iceland
Basalt columns at Reynisfjara beach

Walking east along the beach, keep an eye out for Hálsanefshellir Cave - an amazing shallow cave made of basalt stacks. It's like no other cave we've ever seen! If you wait a few minutes, you might even be able to grab a photo without other people in it.

Hálsanefshellir Cave at Reynisfjara Beach in Iceland
Hálsanefshellir Cave at Reynisfjara Beach

One of the things you MUST know when visiting Reynisfjara and Kirkjufjara beaches is that you have to look out for sneaker-waves because they can be extremely dangerous. Don't get too close to the water and never turn your back to the waves because they can be very powerful and come unexpectedly.

Reynisfjara beach in Iceland
Reynisfjara black sand beach

From Reynisfjara we drove on to our next destination - Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, which is an ancient canyon dating back to the last Ice Age (about 9,000 years ago!). It is 2 km long and 100 m deep, with the Fjaðrá river flowing along the bottom. Fjaðrárgljúfur is located right off the Ring Road, parking is free, and there is walking path going along the serpentine canyon allowing you to observe it from above.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in Iceland
Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon

Tip: Check if Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is open to visitors before you plan your trip. It had to be closed several times in the past to allow for vegetation along the walking path to recover from the damage caused by thawing weather conditions and increased foot traffic. It is currently closed until June 1, 2019.

From Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon we headed east towards Svartifoss - about an hour drive away. On the way there, we made our first stop at Vínbúðin in the small village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (our alcohol reserves were running low by that point). While browsing for cheaper options on the shelves we noticed a cool-looking bottle of clear liquor called Brennivín. If you've never heard of it, Brennivín is unsweetened schnapps flavoured with caraway and is considered to be Iceland's signature beverage. We tried it and now we are hooked! We definitely recommend you try it. (Unfortunately, there is no way for us to buy Brennivín here in Toronto so we are still holding on to the 2 bottles we got at the airport's duty-free shop).

Tip: Plan your liquor shopping trips in advance because Vínbúðin stores (the only store where you can buy alcohol in Iceland) are scarce in some parts of the country and are only open for a few hours a day.

Svartifoss trail in Iceland
Entering the trail to Svartifoss.

The hike to Svartifoss waterfall is not the easiest one out of all the ones we did in Iceland but it's still doable for most people. From where we parked, it was a 1.4 km uphill hike to the waterfall but it was well worth it! As you climb up you get some amazing views and pass by a couple of smaller waterfalls.

Svartifoss hike
A smaller waterfall on the way to Svartifoss. It took a lot of courage for me to get that close to the edge of the cliff! #feelingaccomplished

After about 30 min we arrived at Svartifoss just as it started to rain. The waterfall exceeded all our expectations in "awesomeness factor", however, and we barely noticed the rain as we admired its black lava columns set against lush green hills. Once you see it, you really get where Svartifoss, which means "Black Falls" in Icelandic, gets its name from.

Svartifoss waterfall
Svartifoss waterfall

From Svartifoss, it was only a 15 min drive to Svinafell campground where we planned to spend our third night in Iceland. It ended up being our favorite campground in terms of kitchen/dining facilities. There were enough tables for everyone to sit at and tons of pots/pans/other cooking utensils for shared use. It wasn't crowded when we were there and the setting was just breathtaking.

We made a gourmet dinner of pasta and hot dogs (yet again) and had some boxed red wine to go along with it (cheapest red wine we could find at Vínbúðin). After my wine opening fiasco (it turns out wine boxes in Iceland are different from the ones in Canada and maybe I should've read the instructions after all), we cleaned up our spilled wine and finally got to use the plastic wine glasses that were included in our campervan rental. We felt so fancy! #itsthelittlethingsthatmatter

We settled down for the night to the sleepy "baas" of sheep in the field right behind our campervan. It was amazing.

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