It's not every day that we get to experience three seasons and three different weathers in one hour, but here in Iceland it feels completely normal. A little rain, a little sun and a little snowfall. When everything else on the island is so dramatic, it's only right that the weather can also be a real drama queen.
We have taken the rental car to the black lava beach Reynisfjara, along Iceland's southern coast. One of the places that really gives Iceland its wild stamp. The wind is howling in the ears and the waves are whipping over the black pebble beach. The petrels that nest in their nests along the edge of the cliff have to hold on. But considering the name, they are supposed to be used to storms. But what does a little wind do in such a beautiful place?
Stentrol at Reynisfjara
There is an Icelandic fairy tale about Reynisfjara. It's a tale of big bad sea trolls who are hit by the rays of the sunrise and petrified into stone pillars. Even today, the stone roll looks out over the beach like large basalt columns in the sea, in the form of the rocks Reynisdrangar.
The beach here at Reynisfjara was created after a volcanic eruption during Iceland's last ice age. Through millennia and numerous storms, the beach's boulders have been rubbed and worn down into a beach. But it is not a beach of sand, but of small stones. The stones are actually not even black, but they vary in all colors from brick red to blue black. A rainbow of lava, boiled into a beach. I pick up a handful of rock from the beach and let it run between my fingers. It almost sounds like the sound of small pieces of glass falling to the ground.
But Reynisfjara is not just a black beach. At the eastern part of Reynisfjara, where the cliffs approach the sea, there is another strange natural phenomenon. Here, angular basalt columns rise against the sky. The pillars stand close together and are up to 1 meter in diameter and up to 20 meters high. Together, it forms a wilder version of the Manhattan skyline. Some of the columns are pentagonal, others are square. Naturally created from lava, but unnaturally beautiful.
It may be hard to understand that such a beautiful place can be dangerous, but Reynisfjara is one of Iceland's most dangerous places. People are killed or injured here every year. The reason is the sea and so-called "sneaker waves".
A "sneaker wave" is a wave that looks like it's coming in towards land like any other wave, but has more energy and hits full force without warning. Here at Reynisfjara, up to every tenth wave is said to be a "sneaker wave". Although I always take all warnings seriously and walk several meters above the water's edge, I still manage to get my shoes wet from an unexpectedly high wave. However, getting wet shoes is the least of the problems. Worse is being knocked over by a wave and pulled out to sea in freezing water. Whatever you do when you visit the beach, don't go too close to the sea and don't ever turn your back to the sea. Especially not when it's high tide.
Another danger here at the cliffs is rockfall and landslides. The area around Reynisfjell is unstable and rockslides occur at regular intervals and close the beach. It is difficult to know whether one should look to the sea or to the rocks to see the danger before it occurs. "Expect the unexpected" feels like a good expression here. Bring your eyes to the back of your neck.
No puffins today
I look up along the edge of the cliff hoping to see one of the birds on my bucket list. The beautiful little black and white puffin with the rainbow colored beak and the emotional eyes. Iceland is home to 60% of the world's puffins, but today no puffins are here to welcome me. It's too early in the season, breeding hasn't started yet.
The snow is pouring down. All the pictures I take with the camera are speckled or streaked with all the snow. It's time to start rounding off our visit, but first let's have a warming soup at the beach cafe Svarta Fjaran.
How do I get to Reynisfjara?
Reynisfjara is outside Vik on Iceland's southern coast, 19 miles east of Reykjavik. It takes about 2,5 hours to drive here, plan your day and your trip according to the hours of sunlight today so you don't have to drive in the dark.
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Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.