Iceland - kirkjufellsfoss-sumarid
Food & Drink Travel Ideas Iceland

Wandering on Iceland’s south coast

A lot of visitors to Iceland go on a day tour of the south coast; Iceland tours that take you from Reykjavik and stop at the Vik Village, the two big waterfalls, perhaps the Skogar folk museum and the tongue of the Solheimajokull glacier. A nice alternative is to consider a car hire in Iceland for a self-guided tour where you aren’t at someone else’s mercy.

It’s a long day and a whistle stop rush around some of Iceland’s most famous landscapes. Instead, I recommend staying a few days to absorb something of the remote wildness of this beautiful land.

As I have written before, my first impressions of Iceland were … limited. The weather was poor; as a New Zealander I failed to get excited about the geothermal activity; and by rushing about I didn’t have a chance to see anything but bleak emptiness.

This all changed when I got to a cluster of log cabins on a seemingly empty plain on the south coast. Staying at Hotel Ranga ended up being my favourite experience on my Iceland road trip.

Iceland - thingvellir-haustlitir

Photo: Iceland Tourism

It was here that I started to understand how Iceland is a country ruled by the forces of nature. How it looks bleak at first glance but reveals surprising colours and textures. Where the landscape can be devastated by an eruption but be miraculously green again in just a few months.

I wandered in the summer meadows, rich with mosses and tiny flowers. I met some of the local Icelandic horses, with their long shaggy fringes, soft colours and eyes that make your heart melt. Introduced by the Viking settlers in the 9th century, they are hardy and sure-footed, and although small in stature they are sweet in nature.

Chatting to the host I gained an appreciation of the phlegmatic and humorous character of Icelandic people. They are far from dismayed by the latest earthquake or eruption but more likely to rush off to have a look.

Iceland - nordurljos-jokulsarloni-vetur-fon

Photo: Iceland Tourism

In winter time the northern lights often dance overhead. After a day out snow-mobiling you can sit in the outdoor hot tub with beer in hand, watching nature’s greatest show. Of course the hot tubs are great in summer too, with views out towards the mountains and over the meadows to the sea where seals frolic.  The sense of being one of only a few people on this isolated dot of lava in the Atlantic.

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If, like me, you love beer you must try the local earthquake beer on tap here. Skjalfti is named ‘the trembling’ for the 2001 earthquake. It is created nearby at a small farm brewery called Olvisholt in the old fashioned Viking style and from the purest ingredients. It’s a strong-tasting lager with both citrus and caramel notes.

The food served at Hotel Ranga is similarly outstanding, although you might be a little surprised at some items on the menu. It was the strips of cured meat in an exquisite salad that first caught my taste buds and I was slightly horrified to find out it was puffin but this became an opportunity to understand more about the Icelandic way of life.

Fresh food available in Iceland hasn’t changed much since the Viking Age, revolving of course around bountiful seafood and land-based lamb, reindeer and horse (yes some Icelandic horses are bred for meat). Then there is Lundi – puffin – which has been a source of protein here for 1,000 years.

lundi-puffin-Iceland

 Photo: Iceland Tourism

There is a strong culture of puffin hunting, although it has been cancelled in recent years due to warmer seas altering fish supplies and puffin numbers falling. I decided that as long as puffin hunting is sustainable I am ok to enjoy the results. Icelandic chefs are certainly more imaginative in how they prepare the natural bounty of Iceland than the Vikings were!

Staying here is a superb base for discovering Iceland’s south coast, and, more importantly for gaining an understanding of what makes this isolated country so special.

Before you leave don’t forget to pose for the inevitablele selfie with Hrammur (the 10-foot tall stuffed polar bear in the lobby)!

By Natasha von Geldern

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2 Comments

  1. I absolutely loved Iceland when I went – I’m fact it was the place that inspired me to travel blog in the first place! And the south coast was our favourite place but like you say, we were among those people who just did a day trip there and I’d have loved to have spent longer there. Would love to return in the winter to see the northern lights.

  2. Iceland is stunning! In my opinion though, it’s somewhere you need to explore before you fall in love with it. I agree with you, at first it maybe seems a little bleak.

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