Waterfalls of Iceland

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Photography - Ivan Andrejić


Waterfalls of Iceland In recent years many people have discovered the lonely island in the middle of the North-Atlantic and paid it a visit. Not only to see what all the fuzz is about, but to experience the unspoiled nature. To witness the majestic Northern Lights dance across the blackened winter night sky. To see the sun still in the sky at midnight. To visit the geothermal areas where the geysers rule supreme. To sail among massive icebergs on a glacial lagoon. To see, to witness and to experience something new, something unique. But one of Iceland’s most popular attractions are waterfalls. There are amazing number of waterfalls in Iceland and this book is presenting some of the most beautifull in the country.

Skogafoss Skogafoss is a waterfall in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. After the coastline had receded seaward (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skogar village), the former sea cliffs remained. Skogafoss is unique because the waterfall comes directly from two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull. If you climb the 370 steps to the top of Skogafoss waterfall you’ll be rewarded with an awe-inspiring view out over south Iceland’s coastline. This is also the start of the Fimmvorduhals pass, a popular hiking route. Standing at 60 meters (197 ft) tall, the heavy veil of water is impressive and walking close enough envelops visitors in a cloud of spray, sound and refracted light. Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days. Skogafoss waterfall is often included along with Seljalandfoss in the Golden Circle route. It offers great photo opportunities, especially in winter when the Northern Lights dance across the sky.

According to legend, a Viking named Thrasi hid his hoarded gold under the falls. Many have tried to find the chest of gold and, as the story goes, a young man almost succeeded. He tied a rope to the chest handle ring and pulled. He only retrieved the ring and returned with it. The ring was later used for the church door at Skogar. The river below the falls holds a large salmon and char population. Don’t be surprise to see fisherman fishing in the river from July – October. If you are looking to have Skogafoss waterfall all by yourself, its recommended that you either come very early or late in the day. This is a very popular tourist attraction and during high season you will not have the waterfall completely by yourself at these times. However, if you are travelling late autumn, its recommended coming after dark, when the Northern Lights dance across the sky. Also, make sure you have enough time to explore the waterfall. The trek to the top takes about half an hour but you can also hike to the base of the waterfall (make sure you dress appropriately). There’s so much to see and do around Skogafoss, that you need more than just 15 minutes.

Seljalandsfoss Seljalandsfoss waterfall along Iceland’s southern coast is fed by melting water from the famed glacier-capped Eyjafjallajokull volcano. This powerful waterfall cascades into a pretty meadow. However, the path that runs behind the curtain of water is the main attraction. There you can enjoy a truly unique viewpoint of the waterfall. Seljalandsfoss is a beautiful waterfall along the southern coast. It cascades over steep cliffs, which makes it possible for you to walk behind the waterfall. It offers a spectacular view of the waterfall itself and the surroundings. Make sure you don’t forget your camera, but be advised, it might get wet. Please note, use caution when you go behind Seljalandsfoss, as the path can be slippery. During the winter months, due to risk of falling ice, the path behind the waterfall is closed. So, please be cautious and make sure you stay safe, when visiting the waterfall in the winter time.

If you visit in the summer should witness the many different wildflowers that seem to bloom and thrive around the waterfall, possibly because of the mist it gives off. This is also an ideal place for if you want, or have time for, a more leisurely visit. It is the perfect spot for a picnic since the surroundings are both beautiful and serene. Seljalandsfoss, along with Skogafoss, is often included in the Golden Circle route. The Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route in Iceland, including Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park. These attractions are popular for a good reason, they offer a great chance to see beautiful landscape and spectacular natural phenomena. A little further to the west you can find several other waterfalls. Among them is the interesting Gljufrabui, partially hidden within its own canyon. If you drive a little further east you will spot a sign saying Paradisarhellir, which will lead you to a small cave in the steep hill side.

Gullfoss A ride along the Golden Circle in the south of Iceland reveals the breathtaking Gullfoss Waterfall. There you traverse a narrow path that provides close-up views of the massive, two-tiered waterfall below. In winter the view is spectacular when the waterfall freezes over into undulating waves of glistening ice. On sunny days you are treated to thousands of rainbows, a natural reaction with the clouds of spray from the tumbling falls. Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland and part of the Golden Circle. The waterfall is by many considered one of the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland. You can find the waterfall in the upper part of the Hvita river. The water cascades down in two stages, one 11 m (36 ft) high, and the other 21 m (69 ft), into the 2,5 km (1.6 mi) long crevasse below. This crevasse was created at the end of the Ice Age by catastrophic flood waves and is lengthened by 25 cm (9.8 in) a year by the constant erosion from the water.

In the early 20th century there was much speculation about harnessing this beautiful waterfall for electricity. Foreign investors, who rented Gullfoss indirectly from the owners, Tomas Tomasson and Halldor Halldorsson, wanted to build a hydroelectric power plant, which would have destroyed the waterfall forever. Sigridur Tomasdottir, the daughter of Tomas Tomasson, was fiercely against this as she loved the waterfall so much. She took on many long and difficult journeys, walking all the way to Reykjavik (120 kilometres one way) to further her cause. When all else had failed she threatened to throw herself in the waterfall in protest. Fortunately it did not have to come to that. With the help of her lawyer, Sveinn Bjornsson who later became the first president of Iceland, they managed to have the contract annulled. That’s how Gullfoss became the property of the people of Iceland.

Hraunfossar The Hraunfossar waterfalls (Lava Falls) in Borgarfjordur are an exceptionally beautiful and unusual natural phenomena. The water seems to magically appear from the lava but is actually a clear cold spring that surges through the ground and runs in rapids down into the Hvita River. This series of waterfalls is formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 90 meters (300 ft) out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under Langjokull glacier. The waterfall is recognisable by its turquoise blue waters, lending the surrounding environment distinctive colour.

Heidarviga Saga mentions the engineer Musa-Bolverkur, who lived at the farm Hraunsas and says he was responsible for diverting the course of River Hvita to the north of the hill Hraunsas, its present course. Hraunfossar have been protected as a National Monument since 1987. There is a viewpoint at the car park offering an amazing view over the Lava Falls, Barnafoss and Hvita River. The pedestrian bridge across the river was originally built in 1891 and renovated exactly a century later. A hiking trail leads from Hraunfossar to the nearby Barnafoss (Children’s Falls).

Barnafoss The short, fierce rapids that cut through the narrow canyon at Barnafoss resemble a pale blue milkshake of sorts. The name Barnafoss means Children’s falls, and comes from a story about two young boys who disappeared many years ago from the nearby Hraunsas farm. The waterfall is among the most popular tourist attraction in West Iceland. Once upon a time, the story goes, a wealthy woman lived at Hraunsas, not far from Husafell, and she had two young sons. One day she went with her entire household to church at Gilsbakki, north of the river, but both boys stayed behind. She told her sons to stay at home and not to stray from the house while she was away. But when everybody had gone, the boys grew bored and eventually decided to go after the others to church. They walked down to the Hvítå river and soon reached the natural stone arch that bridged the river. The arch is said to have been rather narrow, with a long drop down to the river and the waterfall beneath. The boys were frightened and they held hands to cross the river. Things went well until they reached the middle of the stone arch and looked down into the water. They grew so dizzy that they fell from the bridge into the river and drowned. Their grieving mother destroyed the arch, and put a curse on it that no man would ever be allowed to cross the falls alive. Therefore, crossing the waterfall is not recommended!

Dettifoss Jokulsargljufur National Park in North Iceland is home to Europe’s mightiest waterfall, Dettifoss. The sheer hypnotic volume of thundering glacial water rushing through the shattered cliffs of Jokulsa Canyon makes this a favorite sight of visitors to the area. Dettifoss is so powerful that the cloud of misty spray can actually be seen from several kilometers away. The view is spectacular and unobstructed by boardwalks or viewing platforms, just a massive waterfall in its natural environment. The water comes from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier, whose sediment-rich runoff colors the water a greyish white. The superlative of “most powerful” comes from its water flow times its fall distance. The water of the wide Jökulsá á Fjöllum river falls for more than 144 feet, causing a massive, crashing spray. Dettifoss is in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. The river flows from the Vatnajökull glacier and collects water from a large area in Northeast Iceland. The falls are 100 metres (330 ft) wide and have a drop of 44 metres (144 ft) down to the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. It is having an average water flow of 193 m3/s.

Godafoss Located in North Iceland between Akureyri and Lake Myvatn, this picturesque Godafoss or ‘Waterfall of the Gods’ is one of the most impressive in the country. Ice-blue glacial water flows over an elegant semicircular arc. It creates blue-green swirling patterns in the water below among the surrounding lava. According to the myth, in the year 1,000 Law-speaker of the Althing, Chieftain Thorgeir Thorkelsson, returned from Thingvellir with the decision that the nation of Iceland would convert to Christianity. He ceremoniously disposed of Norse pagan idols into the falls.

Godafoss plays a role in the story of Thorgeir Thorkelsson, preserved in Islendingabook, written by Ari Thorgilsson in early 12th century. When Christianity came to Iceland it divided the people, those who wished to keep venerating the old Norse gods were not eager to be baptized and the country was on a brink of a civil war. At Althing in either year 999 or 1000 the two groups came armed to the teeth en masse. Both groups nominated their own arbitrators, which finally agreed on letting Thorkelsson settle the dispute. Thorkelsson was a part of the group that venerated the old Norse gods, but was trusted by both parties and believed to be a fair and honorable man. To fully understand why everyone agreed on having but a single person decide on the whole issue, one has to understand the importance of honor back then. Basically, every man was measured by their honor and being honorable meant everything to most people. Reading through the sagas and the Icelandic medieval literature this becomes very evident. Therefore the Christians didn’t have a huge problem with having a firm believer in Thor, Odinn and the other gods settle the dispute. After pondering about this for three days Thorkelsson announced that the Icelander should be Christians, but believing in the old Norse gods was not forbidden, as long as you venerated them in in your own home. You could still hold your blót (pagan festivals) and eat horse meat. This decree was in fact very wise, since it settled the matter without antagonizing either group. As the legend goes, though there’s no mention of this in Islendingabok, Thorkelsson returned home to his farm at Ljosavatn, close to Godafoss waterfall, and removed his idols of the Norse gods from his temple. He took the idols and threw them into the waterfall. This supposedly angered the gods, so they split the waterfall in two.

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