Attack of the puffins

At the southern tip of mainland Iceland, only a few short hours drive from Reykjavik, we reach our destination:  The lovely, quaint coastal village of Vik.  The sparsely populated town (there are roughly 350 hearty souls who live there) is a beautiful place surrounded by long black sand beaches, lush green mountains, sharp sea cliffs and the trademark which this place is most known for:  Reynisdrangar, a row of pointed basalt sea stacks that legend holds were created by trolls who turned to stone at sunrise.

We planned to make a short stop in Vik to do a well-known hike along the Reynisfjall cliffs, known as one of the most spectacular short hikes in southern Iceland.  We were looking forward to getting out of the car and stretching our legs.  A hike would be the perfect way to experience the beauty of this unearthly land.

As we pull into Vik, the surroundings were mystical.  We could feel the magical effects of Icelandic folklore run through our veins:

 

As we descended into town, we got our first glimpse of the gorgeous black sand beaches which stretch as far as the eye can see.

There is not much at all to the town except a few houses, perhaps one or two small hotels and a couple of restaurants.

It is as isolated as we have been so far in Iceland.  Really in the middle of nowhere.  I wondered what it would be like to live somewhere like Vik.

The countryside is so lush and green.  The Icelandic horses are in their element and have plenty to eat.

The start of the hike was a bit steep.  We couldn’t find the trailhead so we had to improvise by going straight up, using our hands and fingers for support.

We pass a few horses close up but they don’t even seem to even notice our presence.

Finally, we found the trail.  You can actually drive your car up here as well but in my book, that is cheating.  The best way to reach a spectacular view is by foot!

On a sunny day, you are able to see glaciers off in the distance.  All we saw were the green foothills of the mountains since the peaks were blanketed in clouds.

The trademark of Vik, Reynisdrangar, a row of spiky basalt sea stacks which have long been used as a landmark and navigational point for sailors.  The stalks raise up to 217 feet/66m into the air and local lore believes that they were formed when two trolls were unable to find land and turned into stone at sunrise.

Iceland is famous for its puffins and is fortunate to claim ownership of breeding over half the world’s population of Atlantic Puffin’s in her lush, fertile lands.  The total population of puffins in Iceland has been estimated between 8 and 10 million birds.  That’s a lot of puffins!

Puffins are both beautiful and fun to watch…unless of course, you are getting attacked!  Unbeknownst to us, the lovely cliffs we were hiking on were also the mating and nesting area for these fine, lovely birds.  Nothing in the guidebook told us that one of southeast Iceland’s most beloved, worthy hikes was going through the nesting grounds!  I felt terrible!  But what was worse was the actual attack of the birds!

We had reached the top of the hike, a plateau, which afforded a splendid view of the ocean.  As we were taking in the awesome scenery, all of the sudden, out of nowhere a bird began swarming and scooping down at us at ungodly close levels.  I thought perhaps it was a bird gone mad.  But then another came, and another and soon we had to make a run for it, covering our heads.  It was actually a little awful.  Of course we didn’t want to hurt their nests (nor did we want to lose our heads!)  So we ran swiftly and as quickly as would could off the plateau, and headed back down towards our car, feeling a little bit shaken up by the whole experience.  An attack by puffins was not at all what I had expected.  But then again, nothing ever seems to go as planned when you are traveling in another country.

This picture below is right before the surprise attack!  Little did I know what was awaiting!

The stunning view at the top of the hike was worth it.

Happy to be down, away from the flying attacks!

 

Views like this are priceless.  To see such beauty in the world, lifts my spirits with joy. 

 

We ended our hike within two hours, climbed back in the car and set off for our next adventure.  I was looking forward to the remainder of the drive through southern Iceland.  I was fully aware that we would soon be hitting glacier after glacier and seeing some of the most inspiring beauty in all of Iceland.  I could hardly wait!

 

Stay tuned….next post will cover the glacier-filled drive to Skaftafell National Park and a stop at the iceberg-filled aquamarine lake, Jokulsarlon, probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life!

Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION

Heading to the land of gnomes and icebergs: A trip to Southeast Iceland

It is hard to not be completely awestruck by the beauty of Southeast Iceland.  A couple hours drive out of Reykjavik leads to nature as pure and fine as it gets, with little or no signs of civilization except the occasional passing of another car or a herd of sheep alongside the road.  The two hour drive to Vik is renowned for its spectacular views of the ever-changing and always fascinating landscape.  You pass through verdant green farms flocked with white fluffy sheep, craggy mountain peaks loaded with glaciers, brilliant waterfalls and finally nothing but the ocean as far as the eye can see.

We left Reykjavik early in the morning, after a hearty breakfast, expecting the drive Skaftafell National Park (our final destination) to take the entire day.  We had planned to stop along the way, in the small village of Vik to do a couple of hours hike, before continuing on with our drive.  I was immensely excited about the drive for I love to wander and see the countryside.  It is one of my favorite things to do when I’m exploring a new place.  To look at the great big world and breathe it all in, seeing it as if for the first time in surprise and in wonder.   To hold that moment in time inside your heart and soul, and to take every little detail in so you’ll never forget it.  That is what travel is all about.  Those moments in time. 

Heading South on Route 1 towards Vik, you are instantly reminded of how remote much of Iceland is.  Besides the blackened lava fields, lush green farms, and craggy mountains flowing with glaciers, all off in the distance, there are few towns and few signs of life.

The yellow-green grass blows quietly in the wind:

What makes Iceland so incredibly fascinating is that the landscape changes constantly, moving from once brilliant green pastures to dark, fierce lava flows.  This is indeed Iceland, the land of fire and ice.

Geysers off in the distance give an eerie feeling to the drive.  Am I dreaming?

And all those roads that appear to lead to nowhere make one indeed feel far, far away….

Along the ever-changing countryside…perhaps some of the most scenic, “out there” views in Iceland:

The sun slowly peaks through the thunderous clouds.  I am mesmerized…my mind is racing yet peaceful for this is the time I often reflect the most on my life, when I am in my element, exploring and seeing the world.

 

There is nothing in the distance except solitude and sheep.

Our drive seems to take longer than expected as drives such as this one often do.  There are too many incredible views; too many unworldly things to see and admire.  We pass yet another spectacular waterfall along the way, pulling over to the shoulder of the lonely road to take another picture.

The black lava rock field reminds you that one of the world’s largest ice caps irks not far behind…

The glacial remnants against the pale yellow fields are so stark and so beautiful, it almost hurts your eyes to see.

It is almost impossible to believe that we are less than two hours away from Reykjavik.

Yet this is Iceland.  A a land that is so absolute and so pure, it seems like from out of this world.

We are swept away once again by another gorgeous waterfall, Skogafoss in the distance can be seen from the road.

As we approach Vik and see the tiny village away in the distance, I think about Icelandic folklore and ponder on the possibility of gnomes.  Of course it isn’t possible!  But then again, Iceland seems like a fairyland to me.

Stay tuned….next post is titled “Attack by the Puffins: Our short hike in Vik”. 

Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION