Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day 4: In which we hit the Beach

(This is part of a series of posts about our 2011 trip to Iceland. Here are the first, second, third and fourth posts.)

Volcanic Seascape

Vik Landscape

Day 4

Seth and I woke up a bit earlier than the womenfolk, and drove out to where we had hiked the day before to take some pictures in the morning light. When we returned, we broke camp and reluctantly left the idyllic glacial bowl of the Pakgil campground and headed back into the town of Vik for the day.

Pakgil CabinsMorning ReflectionGlacial Landscape with WildflowersGlacial Landscape (B&W)

Pakgil Cabins, Morning Reflection, Glacial Landscape with Wildflowers, Glacial Landscape

After a brief stop at a mirror-still pond to watch sheep on the mountainside, we had brunch in a small cafe/tourist info centeri, and then headed down to the beaches. Vik is known for its dramatic coastal scenery, with sea arches, sea stacks, and miles of black sand beachii. Atlantic Puffins are supposed to be here in large numbers, but apparently we just missed the main puffin season. There were plenty of seabirds, however, giving me first views of Great Skua, Black-legged Kittiwakes, etc. We bummed around the each and dunes near Vik for a while, then headed for the nearby sea arch at Dyrholaey.

Black Sand Beach at Vik, with Flowers

Reflecting Pond with SheepVik streetscapeI have no idea what's going on here...Black Sand Beach at VikBasaltic columns/forms (B&W)Basaltic columns/forms (B&W)Black Sand Beach at VikGreat Skua (Stercorarius skua)

Vik landscape

Black Sand Beach at Vik, Reflecting Pond with Sheep, Vik Streetscape, I have no idea what's going on here but it's colorfull, Black Sand Beach, Basaltic Columns, Basaltic Forms, Black Sand Beachscape, Great Skua, Vik Panoramic

Along the way to the sea arch at Dyrholaey, we stopped at an overlook that gave amazing vistas of the Vik coastline, and saw our first puffin and some Arctic Terns. There were beautiful heath highlands all around, and bird sanctuary I would have liked to explore if we had had more time.

Coastal landscape, near Dyrholaey

Farm building and Landscape (B&W)Tidal flats abstractBasaltic (?) Rock, Reynisfjara beachAtlantic Puffin

Basalt Arch (B&W)

Coastal landscape, near Dyrholaey

Coastal Landscape near Dyrholaey, Farm Building, Tidal Flats Abstract, Basaltic Rocks, Atlantic Puffin, Basaltic Arch, Coastal Landscape

One of the more famous aspects of the area is the massive sea arch at Dyrholaey. The scale is almost unimaginable, even looking back at the pictures. We hiked out on the long winding trail to the end of the arch and were surrounded on all sides by the sea. Tremendous seabird colonies clung to the sides of the arch, and skuas and kittiwakes constantly swooped past us. A squat little lighthouse perched on top of the formation, along with a picturesque lighthouse keeper's homeiii. Given where we ended up spending a lot of time later, I would have rather stayed here for a while longer.

Vik CoastlineHouse at Dyrholaey Cliffs

Sea Arch at DyrholaeyCoastal Cliffs near Vik

Dyrholaey CliffsDyrholaey Land/seascape with Cairn (B&W)Dyrholaey land/seascape

House at Dyrholaey, House at Dyrholaey landscape, Coastal Cliffs near Vik, Sea Arch at Dyrholaey, Dyrholaey cliffs, Seascape with Cairn, Dyrholaey landscape.

Our next stop was a beach east of Dyrholaey, near the Reynisdrangar iv sea stacks. All around the area we had seen basaltic columns here and there, but this ara was a nexus for them. The whole cliff face was rigid geometrical columns and shapes. We ended up being delayed here a bit longer than we should have because by the time we left it was too late to visit the nearby glacier that had been on our itinerary.

Basalt columns and Reynisdrangar

Basaltic columns (B&W)Basalt Cave at DyrholaeyBasalt Cave at Dyrholaey (B&W)Basalt Cave at DyrholaeyBasalt Columns at Dyrholaey (B&W)Basalt Columns at DyrholaeyMe at Dyrholaey (B&W)Reynisdrangar (B&W)Shatter! (B&W)

Reynisdrangar, Basaltic Columns, Cave at Dyrholaey, Basaltic Cave, Cave vista, Basalt Columns, Basalt Columns at Dyrholaey, Me at Dyrholaey, Reynisdrangar Sea Stack, Shatter!

Given that it was so late by the time we got back to Vik, we elected to stay in the crowded-and-less-than-ideal-campground in town. It was passable, but after our night in Pakgil previously, it was a bit disappointing. The next day, however, would definitely make up for it...


iMuch to our surprise, given our previous experience with food at tourist locations. I had a lamb sandwich that was one of the most amazing things I ate there, and a really good cup of coffee.

iiIt's also known for being in the direct path of what would be cataclysmic torrents of water should the volcano underneath the Myrdasjokull ice cap/glacier that perches over Vik ever erupt in earnest. And it's likely a when, not an if. The town residents actually have eruption drills in which they head for the church on the highlands.

iiiWhich immediately got added to my “top 100 places I'd want to live” list.

ivThe myth is that the stacks are from an episode in which two trolls captured a ship and tried to drag it to shore. When they took too long, the morning light of the sun turned them into pillars of stone. I know the geological explanation, but I like the trolls story far more.

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