Although we caught a glimpse of the Reynisfjara sea stacks as we passed by, our first proper sight was of Vík í Mýrdal (more commonly referred to as just Vik), the southernmost village in Iceland.
Reynisfjara is the name given to the beach which stretches for a distance of around two miles, while the large basalt stacks which rise up to 66m above sea level are actually called Reynisdrangar . This is Iceland’s most famous beach and is made up of black sand and pebbles due to all the volcanic rock and sediment in the area. As the crow flies it’s probably only 3-4 kilometers from Vik, but by road – as you have to drive inland and back again to get there – it’s more like 11 kilometers.
Framed by dramatic basalt cliffs with geometric columns, this wild stretch of the North Atlantic coast is Iceland’s most famous beach. It’s so supernatural that it’s a popular choice for sci-fi movies; he was in Star Trek: Into Darkness and was used to represent the planet Eadu in the rogue one star War movie.
In the distance, at the western end of the beach, we could see the small peninsula of Dyrhólaey where there is a natural arch. Access to the area is limited in May and June due to nesting season, but in the summer it is a great place to see puffins.
On the beach to the west of Mount Reynisfjall is the Hálsanefshellir cave, where remarkable columnar basalt formations can be seen. If you’ve ever explored the Scottish Isles, you may have seen formations similar to Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa.
Columnar basalt forms when magma cools slowly and cracks into columns, usually hexagonal, as the surface decreases. The columns are always perpendicular to the cooling surface and can be horizontal, starting from the center, or vertical.
The varied shapes of the columns are possibly due to the fact that this is a cross-section of an ancient volcano, as dykes, small magma chambers and lava sills can be found among other formations rocky.
Legend has it that the three sea stacks of Reynisdrangar were once two trolls pulling a three-master to shore at night. By daybreak, they had failed and so turned to stone. Closest to land is Landdrangur, the first troll, Langsamur is the ship is in the middle (which you can see best in Vik’s photos – from the beach it’s obscured by the first stack), and Háidrangur (or Skessudrangur) is the troll in the back.
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While the scenery and geology are spectacular, don’t expect to find the beach on your own. Admittedly we were there in the middle of the day during the season, but there were several coaches in the parking lot and we were lucky to find a parking space.
And please, please take note of the warning signs…this is a really dangerous place. If you look at a map and go due south from Reynisfjara, you will notice that there is no landmass until you reach Antarctica. Nothing at all! With no barriers between the southern polar continent and this part of Iceland’s southern coast, smaller waves can merge and combine their energy to create what are known as sneaker waves.
Despite the signs and numerous reports of lives lost on that same beach, I was in despair to see young children near the water’s edge, not paying attention, as huge waves crashed. Who in their right mind lets their kids do that? !
The warnings are there for a reason. The ocean floor is said to drop 8 meters sheer where the waves break. So if you get swept up and dragged around a bit, don’t assume you’ll be able to get back up quickly.
Please don’t be one of those people who get caught and dragged out to sea; you will not only be putting your own life in danger, but potentially the lives of others who may or may not choose to try to come to your rescue. Fortunately, this young child was not dragged but, a few meters closer to the sea, and it could have been a whole different story.
If you needed more convincing, take a look at this rather alarming video from Finistère in Brittany to understand why the power of sneaker waves should not be underestimated.
At the same time, don’t let something like this discourage you from visiting and enjoying Reynisfjara Beach. It’s a beautiful place – you just have to be careful. No need to be at the edge of the water, or even to walk on wet sand, take a step back and enjoy from afar. The view is the same!
Are you planning a trip to Iceland yourself? You can watch a video of our trip to Iceland here. You can fleetingly see the Reynisdrangar sea stacks between 3m 44s and 3m 49s and 4m 23s to 4m 28s:
Disclosure: Our trip to Iceland was also sponsored by Helly Hansen.