Our cabin is tucked at the base of a towering mountain rising from the plains facing the ocean. From this picturesque location, we head to Skógar. I turn into a dirt road, and I soon realize that it’s one too early. Even though it’s the wrong street, there’s a beautiful green field with Skógafoss as a backdrop and no crowds. It’s a picture-perfect location. Circling in at the next drive, we come across tour busses and tourists, so we continue to Dyrhólaey.
Leaving Yan and the kids in the car, I hike out to scout the scene. Puffins! To my surprise, there were some along the cliffs. I hurry back and get the family.
Daphney stands mesmerized by watching them leave their burrows, head to the open ocean, and return with fish and crab. Many of them whiz by overhead. They duck into their nest, peek their head out, emerge, then take off again with a running start. Below, the black sand beach recedes toward the town of Vík and the Reynisdrangar sea stacks.
We have been craving Asian food. The only option in Vík is a hillside restaurant Suður-Vík. Here, we are introduced to dessert made with skyr—rich, creamy, and a little tart. I can see why this is the favorite form of yogurt in Iceland.
On the way back after dark, we stop back at Skógafoss. The crowds have now gone to their hotels and campsites. I wait beneath the waterfall’s spray for the remaining two groups to leave. It feels eerie to be standing there among the swirling mist, watching the river flow by and the sky turn bluer and bluer. Now, I’m the only one there.
This morning, we sleep in. There isn’t much driving today. The little bit of laundry we did has now dried. We pack up and head in the direction of Vík. The black sand beach of Reynisfjara is filled with tourists. Every other person is climbing on the basalt columns for selfies, and the tops of the outer columns are worn rounded. Above, more puffins go about their end-of-summer lives.
Fjaðrárgljúfur and Skaftafell
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a canyon that sits just off a little spur road. The hike takes us along the right side of lush grassy cliffs to some viewpoints. I head further to the next one as Yan brings the kids back down the hill. The Fjaðrá river snakes beneath the sheer cliffs before emptying into the sea.
Further down the road, braving cold rain while both kids are asleep in the car, we take turns peeking in Skaftafell Visitor Center. Svartifoss will have to be put on a future trip’s itinerary.
On the way to our next step, we follow the Lonely Planet’s recommendation to stop in at Fjallsárlón, and we’re glad we did. The southern tongue of Vatnajökull calves into this small glacial lake. The water is dilute milk. Nearby, Breiðamerkurjökull breaks into big pieces of icebergs, dotting the clear blue waters of Jökulsárlón. We also stop by Diamond Beach, first the east then the west sides, since different tide patters deposit varied sculpted ice blocks on the black sand.
Soon, we reach Hali Country Hotel. It is a simple but spacious place at a steep price. Location, location, location. Hali is the closest community to popular Jökulsárlón. Attached to the check-in counter and restaurant is the The Þórbergur Center. Not knowing much about the figure, Þórbergu Þórðarson, we skip the exhibit but at least learn to pronounce the man’s name.
Early in the morning, just before sunrise, I sneak out while Yan and the kids are asleep. Jökulsárlón and Diamond Beach beckon. Because of the low lying clouds, the colorful sunrise I had hoped for never materialized. Almost alone, I enjoy the serene quietness of the place, the calm interrupted only by seals and seabirds.
Höfn and Stokksnes
We get lunch in Höfn. GPS takes us to the dock area, and when we get out, the air drips with the stench of fish. Daphney sticks fingers into her nose and wants to leave. Quickly, we duck into the restaurant. We would later remember Pakkhús Restaurant as having served one of our favorite dishes: fish stew. It turns out to be more like a fish-potato casserole topped with sauce and cheese, baked crispy on top. Hashed fish and potatoes feel like comfort food. Back outside, the smell of old fishing boats greets us.
A quick jog around the peninsula brings us to Stokksnes. As we turn the corner at the Vikingcafe, magnificent Vestrahorn unfolds before our eyes. The guest house owns the rights to the drive down to the beach. They charge day visitors, but hotel guests have unlimited passes. We head down to the sand for Jayden’s ten-month portrait with the chalkboard I packed. Daphney gathers feathers and makes a blanket bed for them so they can stay warm. Soon, the clouds roll in and engulf Vestrahorn. We don our rain gear and hike to the nearby Viking movie set. Daphney is happy to roam around in the enclosed field, peering into little turf-roof houses.
For dinner, we look for Asian food again. Hafið is a Thai noodle joint that is more like a bar. We order a bowl of hot noodle soup and a plate with stir-fried vegetables. It is the vegetables that we crave, since being in Iceland, we discovered that most places serve a lot of fish or meat with potatoes but little leafy greens. Again, I get up around sunrise and trek out to the beach. Arriving at the end of the dirt road, I find myself among other photographers. Though less colorful than I had wanted, the rain clouds of the previous afternoon had lifted. The long golden hour gives ample time to shoot pictures. The side lit mounds of grasses glow golden, contrasting starkly with the dark volcanic sand. After breakfast, I bring the family out here again to enjoy the brief moments of clearing skies. From here, we turn northward.