Westman Islands and the Black Sand Beaches at Vik
After seeing some of the sights north of Reykjavik, we headed in the opposite direction to see what all the fuss was about down south. It ended up being one of the most memorable days, thanks to a ferry ride from Hell.
For the last few months, Kevin had this day labeled as "Puffin Day" in his calendar. That's because the main purpose of our going south was to head to the Westman Islands in the hopes of meeting one of these native (and completely adorable) birds. Our ferry was scheduled to leave around noon, so we left a little early so that we could stop by Seljalandsfoss, which is conveniently only about 10 minutes away from the harbor.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland. It's that one you always see pictures from behind, since you can walk all around it - if you're okay with getting pretty wet. After seeing Kirkjufellfoss the day before, I guess I wasn't sure what to expect, but Seljalandsfoss blew my mind a little bit. It's gorgeous.
Fun fact: Seljandsfoss comes from the Seljalands River, which actually originates from the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
I wanted to walk behind it, and I'm so glad I did since it turned out to be one of the more adventurous things I would do on the whole trip (I know, kind of sad). It was exhilarating to feel the mist spraying you and to hear the power of the water crashing.
The ferry ride from Hell
I don't get seasick. I've spent a good portion of my life on the water, and have been in enough boats, ships and ferries around the world to positively know that I don't get seasick. And I didn't get seasick on this 45-minute ferry ride - but if I was going to at any point in my life, it would have been from this roller coaster of a ride. There were a few moments where I did feel my stomach drop slightly and I was worried that I was going to lose what little breakfast I had. Thankfully, I did not.
While I didn't get sick, two member of our group did, and it wasn't pleasant. All around us people were heaving and turning pale. Everyone was trying to figure out what coping method would work best for them, and there were multiple people who just left and ran (as best as you can run on a bobbing ship) to the nearest bin.
You know that feeling when you start to fall down on a roller coaster? Or when a plane does a quick fall in elevation? You know that rock in the pit of your stomach that also simultaneously feels like someone is pulling your insides up and down? It was that feeling. But, unlike on a roller coaster, it never. ended.
A young family was sitting near the front windows. As soon as things started to pitch, they leaped into action to make sure their young son wasn't going to be the next victim. The entire time they coached him and made sure he was looking forward and would know when the boat would be bouncing up and down. The dad just kept talking and trying to turn it into a fun ride. Truth be told, his talking was the only sound in the whole area and it helped to distract and calm a lot of people down. Plus, their kid was adorable and a total champ through the entire thing.
At one point, I made eye contact with an American couple sitting across from us. There was such a look of pain in their eyes, and we shared a mutual grimace and acknowledgement of the fact that, even though it would be over, there was still the ride back that we had to worry about. Together, we shared a look that seemed to say, "Please, just take me now. I'm ready to die."
There is no way that this tiny little ferry could have been made to deal with North Atlantic seas. My suspicions were confirmed when we were talking to a local and she said that this was not their normal ferry - that one is out for repairs - and that nobody has been a big fan of this one. That tidbit of news made all my leftover queasiness feel validated. We were told that staying in the bottom seemed to work better and vowed to try that on the ride back.
Meeting the Puffin
We came to this island solely for the purpose of getting to see a puffin in real life. Iceland is known for having a lot of puffins, and I was excited to be going at this time of year where puffins are supposed to be all over the place.
On the island we visited the Sæheimar Aquarium, where they have some rescue puffins that you can meet up close. We got to spend some time with their star, Toti. He was adorable and wonderful, and being able to watch him waddle around made it a little more worth enduring the ride over.
I spent a little time looking at the rest of the exhibits in the aquarium, but I've found that aquariums around the world are all pretty much the same. I've visited them in a few countries, but they all have the same things. It's interesting to learn about some of the local sea-life, but I didn't find anything there that I didn't know from other sources (or other Scandinavian aquarium visits).
The only other major thing to really do on the island was check out the elephant-shaped rock. I'd seen pictures of it and was skeptical to how big or impressive it would be in person, but I was happily not disappointed! It definitely looks like an elephant - do you see it?
Black Sand Beaches in Vik
It seemed like everywhere I looked I was hearing about the black sand beaches. This location was one of the places I really wanted to see, and I'm so glad that it was worked into the schedule. The sand was warm and soft, and the contrast of the massive waves and basalt columns made it feel a little bit like a different planet.
These unique beaches ended up being one of my favorite spots. Even though there were killer waves and giant rocks, it remained a peaceful place that I actually felt like I could relax. Had it just been me, I may have spent more time just taking it all in. It's a cool place to explore, and there's plenty to see and experience.
It's unlike anywhere else I've ever been, and it's one of the places in Iceland I'd like to visit again sometime in the future. In fact, if I come back, I'd like to stay in Vik for a few days instead of trying to base everything out of Reykjavik. It would save on gas and make it easier to see a lot of other things in the south and east parts of the country.
On the way back home we quickly stopped by Skogafoss, another popular waterfall. I started going up the path that leads to the top of the waterfall but was the only one in my group doing so, so I only went about 1/3 of the way before coming back down so as not to make everyone wait. Next time I fully intend on making it all the way up for some great pictures (and exercise).
Iceland is full of so many incredible natural wonders, and I feel lucky that I was finally able to experience even a few of them.
The next day we spent in Reykjavik catching up on sleep and stretching out our legs. There wasn't a lot of touristy stuff done, but we had fun walking around. We also ended up getting more hot dogs. Because they're delicious.
The day after, Thursday, was spent checking out stops on the Golden Circle and celebrating my husband's birthday! Stay tuned!