Vik is a tiny village of 300 souls, perched on the southernmost point of Iceland. There is no land mass whatsoever between this point and Antarctica. There is a small formation slightly offshore; all that remains of a once massive cliff face that has been pulverized by the pounding waves of the Atlantic. A legend evolved that the fingers of basalt rising out of the sea were once three trolls who were towing a wrecked ship to shore. When dawn approached, they were transformed to stone by the rays of the sun.
The black beach at Vik was recently listed as one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world. The cliffs above the beach are home to thousands of puffins during the nesting season when they burrow into the soft soils. Other seabirds can be found here as well, but are not as highly regarded as the puffins.
Vik sits below the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and is at great risk of being washed away should the volcano under it erupt. Katla has not done so since 1918, but there are fears that it may be overdue for a blowout. The citizens of Vik exercise regular drills and their evacuation plan sees them rushing to the church built high on a hill overlooking the homes and businesses. It is believed that the church would be the only building left standing if there were an enormous flash flood.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
It was dark as we pulled into Vik and drove through the small community looking for a hotel for the night. We had arrived without a reservation, something that would have been foolhardy during the busy spring and summer months. We found only two places in the town itself, one looked a little rundown for the price they were asking, and the other was an attractive hostel, but we would have had to share a room with four other people and that didn’t suit us at all.
We had passed a large guesthouse 5km back along the highway, so we turned around and retraced our route. We found a lovely sprawling complex of log buildings set around an attractive courtyard, and the rate was less than we would have had to pay in town, and it included breakfast. We were tired from our long day of driving so we made a picnic supper of foods we had on hand and went to bed early.
During the night we could hear the wind pick up and before dawn the rain started slamming against our windows. It looked like the weather forecast that we had seen a couple of days earlier was accurate and our fine sunny weather was over for the time being. We lingered over breakfast, hoping that the wind would die down a little and to our surprise the rain slowed and eventually stopped altogether.
We decided to take an hour or so to have a look at some of the natural formations around Vik, before we set off for Reykjavik, 180km to the west. We noticed that a couple of diggers were busy on the beach constructing a new breakwater, so we drove out beside them and got a better look at the stone trolls offshore in the heavy mist.
We returned to the highway and drove up and over the massive ridge that sits just to the west of Vik. Before descending down the other side, we turned off onto a small road that took us to the eastern side of the ridge where we could view the towering basalt columns that had been exposed by the pounding surf. We were very much reminded of the Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast of Ireland. Molten basalt had cooled to form vertical octagonal columns there as well. We looked along the enormous black beach and could just make out another natural treasure, the Dyrhólaey peninsula. At the seaward end of the promontory is a large black lava arch that gave the peninsula its name. Translated from Iceland, Dyrhólaey means ‘hill-island with the door-hole.
We drove out to the peninsula and climbed the high arch for a good look, but the clouds were low over the ocean and the visibility was greatly reduced. We could make out the footprints of someone who had walked along the coal black beach just after high tide. There were a couple of rusty remnants of ships mounted on cement platforms, but the signposts were in Icelandic so we weren’t sure of their significance.
It would have been great if the bad weather had held off for one more day, but we had been lucky so far to have blue skies when we needed them most. As we drove towards Reykjavik we remarked on how glad we were that we had walked around the city on our first day there, because it was clear that it wasn’t going to be an outdoors day when we returned in the afternoon.
We decided that we would head for the Saga Museum, situated on the top of a high hill overlooking Reykjavik. We had consulted the Lonely Planet and it was listed as one of the must-see sights, in the boxed text which describes what to do if a visitor has only two days in the city.
The last hour of our journey was along the same route that we had taken when we completed the Golden Circle and again when we set off for the lagoon. This meant that we had now travelled this same stretch of road three times, but it was still startling to see the vast lava field and the city perched on the very edge; next to the sea.