I joined a guided tour to Eyjafjallajökull & South Coast by Activity Iceland. A month earlier I had joined the same company on a guided tour of the Silver Circle and fell in love with their super jeep and so wanted to try it out again! This jeep is a huge modified Ford 350 EXXL Excursion extra long with 46 inches tires.
It is really luxurious, with heated seats, a Wifi and an Ipad on which we watched clips from Youtube.
Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Sean Penn and Dennis Quaid have all been driven around in this super jeep while they were filming in Iceland. You don't really go unnoticed when travelling in such a vehicle and where ever we went people were taking photos of the super jeep!
One of my favourite trips in my country is visiting the waterfalls in the south, the best known are Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls. And both these waterfalls and more were included in this tour.
I was picked up at Hilton Hotel as usual at 9 am and after two technical stops (WC breaks) we visited the beautiful waterfall Seljalandsfoss.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland, 60 meters high and so beautiful. It is possible to walk behind the waterfall - I love walking behind it - standing so close to and behind this majestic waterfall is stunning. I especially love walking behind it on a sunny day when there is a rainbow. It is best to bring a raincoat as you will get drenched from the drizzle.
In wintertime Seljalandsfoss is all lit up, but the path behind it is closed when it gets too slippery.
After walking behind the waterfall we carried on our journey towards Eyjafjallajökull glacier. We were actually driving by it, but we wanted to see a glacial tongue of Eyjafjallajökull, called Gígjökull.
Remember Eyjafjallajökull volcano which erupted in 2010 and spew so much ash in the air that air traffic was affected and more than 140,000 flights were cancelled - along with ca 10 million travellers being stranded on airports around the world because of this big ash cloud?!
Eyjafjallajökull, which is a volcano covered by a glacier, peaks at 1.666 metres above sea level (I have also seen 1651 metres). The name of the glacier means Island Mountain Glacier, which is maybe easier for foreigners to pronounce than the difficult Icelandic name Eyjafjallajökull. We Icelanders had such a laugh back in 2010 listening to the news reporters trying to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull with such hysterically funny results ;)
There is a popular film called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Ben Stiller, who actually was driven around in this very super jeep during the making of this film in Iceland. In the film, which is filmed entirely in Iceland, apart from the New York scenes, Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty, tries to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull with the same difficulties as the news reporters had - and any foreigner trying to pronounce it for that matter :)
Gísli, the driver-guide, showed us some footage he found on Youtube of news reporters and other foreigners trying to pronounce the difficult name of this volcano - it is hilarious :) If you watch this footage you will also be able to learn how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, so it is worth watching it before your visit to Iceland.
We drove in the direction of Þórsmörk and crossed several rivers, both glacial and fresh water on our way to Gígjökull glacier, which is one of the glacial tongues of Eyjafjallajökull. The volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull was very close to Gígjökull. It was a breeze crossing these rivers in such a big jeep with such huge tires. Obviously a jeep is needed to cross these rivers, so never try to cross them on a 2WD.
It had been beautifully sunny, but as we reached Gígjökull it started raining heavily as you can see from my photo below. It was difficult taking photos in this heavy rain and I got soaking wet and the same happened to Gísli, the driver-guide, when he was taking my photos!
This is Iceland for you, the weather changes constantly and I never know how to dress when travelling in Iceland. Usually I bring a whole set of wardrobe with me, which of course is difficult if you are a guest travelling in my country. So wear layers, that is the safest bet.
Water which flows from Gígjökull runs into Markarfljót river and before the 2010 eruption there was a glacial lagoon in front of the glacier. The sheer force of the eruption caused a massive glacial outburst flood with 2,700 cubic metres per second of water and discharge from the volcano at its peak. It tore down the wall of the lagoon and filled it with discharge, leaving the landscape there very different from what it was before the eruption.
I visited Gígjökull glacial tongue in 2013 and 2014 and it is incredible how much the glacier has receded in just 2-3 years. You can see on the photo below the difference in just 3 years.
I walked up to it during my visit in 2013 to have a look at the ice cave. I didn't enter it, of course, as that is way too dangerous in summer time, but the glacier was much bigger and thicker, as it were, 3 years ago.
This is a very rugged area. Being there is just out of this world and one feels very small against such extreme forces of nature, thinking about what actually happened here during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. And even if it is so rugged just a short distance further you will find a totally different landscape when you enter the beautiful oasis of Þórsmörk.
On this trip though we didn't go any further but turned back, as Eyjafjallajökull was what we wanted to see. There are other guided tours to Þórsmörk valley which I would love to join this summer.
On our way back we visited Gljúfrabúi waterfall, which is one of the most mystical waterfalls I have visited in Iceland, as it is partially hidden behind a big rock.
Gljúfrabúi is very close to Seljalandsfoss on the land of Hamragarðar. The driver used this stop to inflate the tires again, but he had deflated them a bit for a more comfortable drive on the gravel road and the rivers. This waterfall is either called Gljúfrafoss or Gljúfrabúi which means "Dweller of the Gorge". I always call it Gljúfrabúi as I find that name to be so cute.
Gljúfrabúi is 40 meters high and in front of it is a big rock almost covering it so it is difficult to see the lower part of the waterfall. This rock is called Franskanef cliff or the French nose.
Not many visitors knew about this waterfall until recently as it is so hidden away and we locals kind of kept it to ourselves.
Visiting this waterfall is a different experience from visiting Seljalandsfoss as you walk behind Seljalandsfoss, but right into Gljúfrabúi. It is best to wear Wellington boots and maybe a raincoat, but it all depends on whether there is much drizzle or not. You can either wade through the gorge which is relatively easy, or climb up the rock which is in front of the waterfall and have a look down into the waterfall. In winter time the rocks can get quite slippery, so it is more difficult to wade the river.
It is a bit hard taking photos when inside the gorge as the light shining from above is sometimes too bright and there is a lot of drizzle. I have been inside Glúfrabúi many times and always have my photo taken on top of the rock inside the gorge, sometimes they are all blurred, but sometimes they are clear and mystical. You just have to protect the lens from the drizzle.
You just cannot visit this waterfall without saying "WOW" several times - mark my words :)
There is a part of a turf house close to Gljúfrabúi, but those of you who read my blog know how crazy I am about turf houses - I have written articles about almost all the remaining turf houses in Iceland.
The next waterfall we visited was Skógafoss, which is 30 kilometres away from Seljalandsfoss, just off ring-road 1. It is very powerful and ever so beautiful - it has been amongst my most favourite waterfalls ever since I was a little girl. I could stay by this beautiful waterfall for hours on end.
Skógafoss is 60 metres high and 25 metres wide and you can walk right up to, but be prepared to be wet from the drizzle. Standing so close to a powerful waterfall is overwhelming. You can see how high it is compared to the small person standing on the ground to the right of the waterfall on the photo above.
There are staircases leading up to the top of the hill above Skógafoss, with 527 steps all in all - I think. I counted them the first time I climbed them, but haven't counted them again. It is a bit difficult climbing so many steps, and I am totally out of breath when I reach the top, like most of my fellow step-climbers were also ;)
But you can take a break midway up and visit the troll, which you see in my photo below. It is a really lovely spot and makes for a beautiful photo. Be careful though as there is a long way down.
There is a legend connected to Skógafoss. The story goes that the first Viking settler at Skógar, Þrasi Þórólfsson, hid a chest filled with gold-coins in a cave behind the waterfall. It is said that you can see the gold glistening on sunny days behind the waterfall. Many men have tried finding the chest, and one man is said to have succeeded in a way. He tied a rope around the chest-ring and pulled it and the ring came out. The big ring was later used as a ring for the church door at the church at Skógar. One can see the ring at the Skógar Museum.
I have written a more detailed article about Skógafoss and the legend where you can see a photo of the chest-ring.
After visiting Skógafoss waterfall we drove down to the black sandy lava beach and drove fast on this huge super jeep right by the waves of the ocean under the beat of Mambo number 5! It was so much fun driving on this black sandy lava beach, which reaches as far as you can see.
Off-road-driving is illegal in Iceland, that is why we drove right by the ocean where the tire tracks will be washed away. Don't attempt this without guidance though!
We stepped out of the jeep for a photo shoot and to enjoy the ocean.
We even saw a big black seal, which had come to check us out :)
Gísli cut his beard off after Iceland lost against France in EM - and thus looks more his age, 24. I am the small person looking like a hunchback hobbit beside him.
We made one more stop on our way back to Reykjavík, after a very fun and eventful day - by Þorvaldseyri farm, which got hit hard in the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption. The eruption took place right above this big farm - they even talk about having a volcano in their backyard!
They got hit so hard that the farmers there, Páll Eggertsson, and Ólafur Eggert Pálsson, a father and son and their families, decided they couldn't live there anymore, especially as there was a small baby on the farm, and decided to move. It was on the news and the nation was sad watching these hard-working farmers leave their farm. The same family has been running this farm for 110 years now or since 1906.
Then to everyone's surprise the crop grew at double speed due to the ash so when the eruption stopped there was a lot of crop. The farmers returned - and then there was a flood which almost ruined everything. But the farmers stood firm and now their farmland is blossoming.
Þorvaldseyri farm is a big farm by Icelandic standards. The crop at Þorvaldseyri is wheat, barley and rapeseed oil. And they produce meet and milk.
In the photo above you can see what Þorvaldseyri looked like during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption and what it looked like on the July day when we stopped by the farm. There was this dark rainy cloud above the farm, so it looked kind of eerie. It was the same cloud which poured rain on us on the other side of Eyjafjallajökull by Gígjökull glacial tongue.
The farmers at Þorvaldseyri got a lot of foreign visitors after the volcanic eruption asking them all kinds of questions, so they decided on opening up a Visitor Centre across the road from the farm a year after the eruption in Eyjafjallajökull. At the Visitor Centre you can learn all about the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and watch a footage on the eruption and how it affected the farmers. They also have lava and ash from Eyjafjallajökull for sale and all kinds of lava products and barley grown on their farm. Do pay them a visit, it is very informative.
By now a long fun day had come to an end and everybody was tired. There was still a ca 2-hours-drive to Reykjavík and we got to watch a stand-up comic show on the iPad in the super jeep. I thoroughly enjoyed this tour and cannot wait for another guided tour on this super jeep, preferably to Þórsmörk-the Valley of Thor.
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