Dverghamrar Basalt Cliffs
“Wow! What’s that? We’ve gotta turn around!”, I remember saying, as Phil drove past the Dverghamrar Basalt Cliffs. The cliffs didn’t reach too high (Dverghamrar essentially means the Dwarf Cliffs), at least compared to the average height of the other things we’ve seen so far in Iceland, but there was something special about them.
Apart from the unique hexagonal column structure, which we’d already seen several times throughout the trip, these cliffs rose out of ground in several layers of flat tiers. If you have an imagination, they almost look like steps to a throne that isn’t there.
Their tops are also covered in grass, making it seem as if they are hiding something. Perhaps they are. Icelanders believe that these cliffs are home to dwarves and elves – indeed, they remind me of the Shire.
These basalt cliffs are similar to the ones we saw at Hofsós, which is by the sea, although these are much farther inland. Apparently, they were formed during a period when the earth was much warmer and the seas were higher, and that sea waves are the reason for the shape the cliffs are in present day.
What I really like about them is how the main mounds of basalt structures are partially hidden behind a higher cliff that goes all around them. From a certain viewpoint, it looks as if they are hidden by an ancient fortress that was built with magic. We were pretty much the only visitors at this place, so it was the perfect place to let my imagination run wild!
The first thing you’ll notice about it is how epic it is. Many things in Iceland are on an epic scale, but this is in the top tier. The canyon averages about 100 meters deep and 2 kilometres long. Standing at the start, you can’t see the end, and it seems like it could go on forever, into the very center of the earth.
The sheer walls of the canyon are smooth, made from whole, smooth rock that doesn’t look like it has faced a great deal of erosion in recent times. If a sculptor had made them, he would be at the end of the project – the canyon was formed at the end of the last Ice Age – 9,000 years ago, when the glacier that covered the land retreated and a mighty river poured through this canyon, giving it its present shape. Eventually, so much sediment was deposited that the river lost its strength. Although its still got a pretty strong current – just not at the levels it had once had.
It’s best to give a few hours to see the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. We had a pretty packed day, so we didn’t have much time, which was a pity. We managed to walk a little bit by the river bed, but then opted to climb to the top and see the canyon from above. I really wished we had more time to spend in the valley though.
The view of the canyon is best from the valley I think. From here, you get to really experience the play of light and shadow across the bubbling Fjaðrá river. There are also a lot less people walking on the valley than above, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being alone out in such majestic nature.
The walk to the plateau into which the valley was carved though was fun. I enjoyed ascending the hundreds of steps to the top and later walking on the undulating pathway that skirted the edges of the cliffs. From here, you get to realise what a long way down it was to the valley floor.
We visited the Fjaðrárgljúfur cliffs, I felt, at a really good time – around sunset. I think the dramatic lighting contributed a lot to our experience of the cliffs.
Reynisfjara is truly a special place. The basalt cliffs that border it and the rocky outcrops that extend into the sea give the place a magical vibe. These rock formations look so special that it’s easy to imagine they weren’t a product of erosion but rather the result of some enchantment.
When we were there, there was a thick sea spray coming off the shore, and the main rock formation jutting out into the sea looked like a troll that was turned into stone – at least, that is what the icelandic folklore of the region tells us had happened.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like we are (despite the ending), you might recognise it from a couple of scenes shot for the “North of the Wall” episode in Season 7. Moreover, for the Star Wars aficionados, a part of the Rogue One was also filmed here.
The basalt rocks are also home to lots of northern birds, including puffins. We didn’t see any while we were there though – maybe they were farther down in parts of the beach we could only access when the tide was lower. But certainly keep a look out for them when you get there!
While you are in the area of course, don’t forget to drop by the town of Vik and the surrounding area. The town is very charming, like most Icelandic towns are, and it gives you the opportunity to feel what life must be like so far up north in the world.
I personally feel it must be really special to live in a place like Vik – outside the capital citiy Reykjavik, I felt pretty alone. In Vik. there’s a stable population of only 318 people, so you can imagine how small and isolated it must be.
Nevertheless, it was nice to get a sense of what it must be like to live so far away from large crowds and so close to nature. All in all, I thought Vik was a really pretty place.
While you are there, do go to Strondin Pub for lunch or dinner. It’s got great views over the basalt rocks and serves up tasty pub food. A pan friend artic char and some viking beer made the perfect end to a day of adventure.