ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 5 – Waterfalls, Puffins & Black Sand Beach

July 02, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

August 2016

ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 5 – Waterfalls, Puffins & Black Sand Beach

 

Day 5 map

01 2015-08-14 Map Day 0501 2015-08-14 Map Day 05

Once again we head south and east to the coastal plains of southern Iceland.  When I say “Plains” I’m sure many of you think of Kansas or Iowa but that’s not it.  Remember Iceland is made up of volcanoes and fissures in the crust where lava has oozed up.  This cooled lava is basically rocks and much like Hawaii, has formed cliffs where the lava hit the ocean.  Much of this happened in earlier times when the sea level was much higher.  Since then several things have happened.  The sea level has gone down exposing ancient seabed and subsequent eruptions in the interior of the island, many times under glaciers, has caused massive flooding where the runoff water is laden with pumice and ash.  Once it hits the exposed land in what used to be the seabed the rivers of this stuff widen out into vast, black, flood plains where all this crud is deposited.  This is what I call the “Plains”. 

 

COASTAL PLAINS

We’ll see more of this tomorrow but for today, the key is that these plains, where the road is built, are pretty much flat areas that extend from the sea up to several miles inland and eventually come to those original rocky cliffs.  During the summer when it’s warmer, there is a lot of glacial melt and, as you’ve probably gathered, it’s been raining a lot.  So, every mile or so all this water pours over those cliff in yet another incredible waterfall – each one more beautiful or interesting than the last.  There are so many that most are not even named on maps that I could find.  And, many are just named for whoever’s farm they happen to land in with a “foss” at the end, like Ericssonfoss Falls (I made that name up to illustrate the point, but it sounds pretty good though).

So, off we went, toward the coast, passing some of those same farms we saw before with the bagged hay bales strewn about – but now that’s old hat.  After passing a half dozen or more waterfalls on our way (no photos, I was on the wrong side of the bus) we arrived at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – in the pouring rain.

 

SELJALANDSFOSS WATERFALL

This waterfall is on the Seljalandsá river and here it plunges 200 feet over the cliff and into a pool.  This is one of the few waterfalls where you can walk behind without getting wet and as I understand that the area behind the falls is quite large.  However, in the pouring rain this was not an attractive idea.

The water in this falls comes from the massive Myrdalsjokull glacier (as most waterfalls from here on to the east do).  This Glacier has many sub glaciers (actually just fingers of the main one but with different names) but all in all it is said to be the biggest glacier in Europe (yes,  Iceland is considered part of Europe – Greenland however is part of North America).  In 1980 this glacier was measured to be 230 square miles in area and covers the active volcano Katla which last erupted in 1918. 

In the first waterfall photo below, look close and you can see two hikers, one in red one in white on the trail that goes behind the falls.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (find the two hikers)

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Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and River

Seljalandsfoss WaterfallSeljalandsfoss Waterfall

 

SKOGARFOSS WATERFALL

Continuing our eastward route, a short distance later we came to Skogarfoss Waterfall.  This one actually has some civilization around it.  There is a hostel here with a campground, rooms, showers, a small store and bathrooms.  What is nice about Skogarfoss is that it is easily accessible and flows into a nice wide river.  There is a trail up to a viewing platform about ¾ of the way to the top which we didn’t have time for but we were able to get some nice views from down below.  The most noticeable thing about this location is a row of bushes in a meadow leading from the restrooms toward the waterfall and all the campers had their tents neatly lined up along these bushes like so many colored candies on an assembly line. 

Line of tents along the hedge

Skogafoss WaterfallSkogafoss Waterfall

Skogarfoss Waterfall

Skogafoss WaterfallSkogafoss Waterfall

 

PUFFINS AT DYRHOLAEY HEADLAND

Seeing Puffins was our next stop.  This is at a place called Dyrholaey Headland and is not too far from an actual town called Vik.  The road leads you to a parking lot that is on the top of some cliffs at the sea shore.  The puffins nest in all the nooks and crevices in this cliff face and at times even on top of the bluff.  Fortunately the cliff has a bend in it so you can see the cliff face where they nest. 

These Atlantic Puffins are the North’s answer to toucan’s.  I doubt there’s any significant biological relationship but like their tropical counterparts their beaks are quite colorful during mating season, which was a bit earlier in the year than this trip.  They are sea birds who dive into the ocean and fly underwater in order to catch fish – somewhat similar to penguins except Puffins can fly in the air as well as the water.

Puffins form long-term relationships. The female lays a single egg, but both parents incubate the egg and feed the chick.  The incubating parent holds the egg against its brood patch with its wings. The chicks fledge at night. After fledging, the chicks spend the first few years of their lives at sea, returning to breed about five years later.  After breeding, they winter at sea, usually far from coasts and often extending far south of their breeding range.

On our visit many of the Puffins had already left for the season, much like New Yorkers heading to Florida for the winter.  But, there were still plenty of them around with a constant rush of birds flying into and out of the cliff areas where they nest. 

Atlantic Puffins at Dyrholaey Headland

Atlantic PuffinsAtlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffins at Dyrholaey Headland

Atlantic PuffinsAtlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffins at Dyrholaey Headland

Atlantic PuffinsAtlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffins at Dyrholaey Headland

Atlantic PuffinsAtlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffins at Dyrholaey Headland

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SEA STACKS

The coastline where the Puffins are is quite spectacular in spots and somewhat reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest coast – which also happens to be in a volcanic region.  There are sea stacks here but no where near as prolific as those found in Washington or Oregon, but they are nice to look at. 

Sea Stack with town of Vic in the background

Sea Stack, IcelandSea Stack, Iceland

Sea Stacks

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REYNISKIRKJA CHURCH

As one wanders through the Iceland countryside, it is very common to stumble on picturesque churches, just sitting out in the middle of nowhere in a lush green field.  One such example is along RT-215 near where the Puffins are.  This one is Reyniskirkja Church and is very typical with white plank wood sides, arched windows, a red corrugated metal roof with a single pointed steeple.  Most of these churches are still in operation and serve the local farming families.  I took this photo through the bus window as we zoomed by.

Reyniskirkja Church Through bus window

Reyniskirkja ChurchReyniskirkja Church

 

BLACK SAND BEACH

Our last stop on this day of waterfalls and Puffins was near the town of Vic at what is commonly called Black Sand Beach and much easier to remember than “Reynisdrangar”.  The sand here is a dark black (as are many other Icelandic beaches) but there is more to see here than just some odd colored sand. 

One form of rock that results from volcanic activity is Basalt.  Basaltic rock is formed from the rapid cooling of basaltic lava exposed at or very near the surface.  Another interesting thing about some basaltic rock that cools slowly is that it forms tall 4 or 5 sided columns - although other polygons are possible.  Black Sand Beach is one of the places in Iceland with these basalt columns.  In one area a sea cave has formed in these columns where the floor is black sand and the bottoms of these columns form the ceiling. 

Basalt Columns at Black Sand Beach

Basalt Columns at Blacksand BeachBasalt Columns at Blacksand Beach

Basalt Columns at Black Sand Beach

Basalt Columns at Blacksand BeachBasalt Columns at Blacksand Beach

Basalt column bottoms for ceiling of sea cave

Basalt Columns at Blacksand BeachBasalt Columns at Blacksand Beach

 

Rock formation at Black Sand Beach

Lava platelettsLava plateletts

 

Basalt Columns at Black Sand Beach

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This beach is also known for its rough seas and each year many tourists who are just standing on the beach (most often taking a “selfie” with their back to the sea) get hit.  Some each year even get washed out to sea even though there are signs warning of the danger and explaining that rouge, or sleeper, waves come along with alarming frequency and are much larger than the normal waves you’ve been watching.  Still, people ignore the signs and get themselves in trouble.

Sea Stack off Black Sand Beach

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Black Sand Beach

Black Sand Beach SurfBlack Sand Beach Surf

 

Sea Stacks off Black Sand Beach

Sea Stacks from Blacksand BeachSea Stacks from Blacksand Beach

 

Surf at Black Sand Beach

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- My Photo web site (www.danhartfordphoto.com)

 

- All images from Iceland (202):
http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/iceland
http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/Iceland/slideshow

 

- Favorite images from Iceland (37):
http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/iceland-favs
http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/iceland-favs/slideshow

Thanks for reading -- Dan

 


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