Tuesday, August 23: We have an expansive breakfast at the Puffin Hotel and then take a walk down to the black sand beach, where we can see Vik’s iconic cluster of basalt sea stacks, Reynisdrangur.
Legend says that the stacks originated when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully and when daylight broke they became needles of rock (Wikipedia: Reynisdrangar). Other legends say they’re trolls that got caught out in the sun (Lonely Planet Iceland).
The large ridge at the western end of the beach is Reynisfjall ridge, and though it’s possible to climb up to the top, we don’t do it, as we have a lot to squeeze in today.
We drive up to a hill overlooking the town, where we find Vik’s 1930s church, Vikurkirkja, and wonderful views of the town and Reynisfjall.
A fishing company started operations here in 1876, despite the difficulty in docking a boat since Vik has no harbor. The fishing operations died out mostly with the originators, but people did sail from Vik intermittently, well into the 20th century. In 1884 the first goods were shipped to the beach at Vik, marking the start of commerce. It became a certified market town in 1887. Eventually the town became the main point of commerce for Vestur-Skaftafellssýsla County.
In 1905, the town had 80 residents and new jobs were created. For the first time, the town had registered residents that included a teacher, organist, photographer, three cobblers, doctor, priest, magistrate, foreman, goldsmith, saddler and postman. Clearly the first two decades of the 20th century were a period of great improvement for the county. The Surgeon General of Iceland said that progress was “tearing everything apart at the seams” in the county. The slaughter of sheep started in Vik, the first two electric generators were built in the county and a phone was installed in the town.
During the 1920s, the town seemed to be filling with people and there were 317 residents by 1925. Residents then started to decline and the town started to make its name in Icelandic society as a sparse village whose population did not increase in proportion with national increases. Autos became more popular and by 1930, there were about 15-16 cars in the county, creating jobs in transporting people and fixing automobiles. The depression brought unemployment and lean times, although the tide turned by 1941. In 1941, the one shipping vessel was replaced with automobiles, as most of the largest waterways had been bridged.
Vik’s population reached its maximum in 1974 with 384 residents. In recent years, the population has been just under 300 people who work in a variety of jobs in industry, agriculture, health care, tourism and more.
After leaving Vikurkirkja, we drive along the west side of Reynisfjall ridge, where we see sheep dotting the hillsides.
We park at the black sand beach at Reynisfjara, where we can see in the distance one of the south coast’s most recognizable natural formations, the rocky plateau and stone sea arch at Dyrhólaey.
We walk in the direction of the sea stacks, where people are wandering about in droves near the stack of basalt columns that look like a church organ.
In the grassy areas above the sea columns and around the caves carved out of the cliffs, we can see the puffin colonies for which Vik is famous. In the following pictures, you can barely make out the white puffin dots in the green moss.
We love watching the puffins with their bright orange feet and their wings flapping like the first flights of the Wright brothers. I adore the puffins!
Some parts of the beach are black sand, while other parts are volcanic rock or pebbles.
We get another view of the iconic sea stacks Reynisdrangur from the west side.
The waves are inconsistent, some of them bursting surprisingly high on the shore. Mike warns a woman to move before she gets her feet soaked by a rogue wave. Then, while he’s focusing on taking a picture, a sprightly wave sweeps over his feet, soaking his shoes and the bottoms of his jeans.
We make our way back to the parking lot; Mike is now annoyed that he’s gotten his feet wet at the beginning of our day. We’re luckily not far from Vik, so we’ll have to head back to our hotel for him to change his socks, shoes and pants.
We walk a little to the west on the beach to get a view of Dyrhólaey.
As we’re driving north on Route 215, we make a quick stop at the little church of Reyniskirkja.
It doesn’t take long to get back to Vik, where we go into the hotel for Mike to change.
Then, we’re on our way to Dyrhólaey.