I spent five days in Iceland this fall, and I think it’s perhaps one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And that’s given seven years of gypsying through five continents and more than 30 countries. This post, about Dyrhólaey in southern Iceland, is one of five posts because each day deserves its own and more.
Iceland is a myriad-minded country. The landscape is volcanic, epic–think rocky black Mordor mountains, wet fingers of earth reaching repeatedly into silver sea, lashing rain, scudding clouds, thermal springs, waterfalls upon waterfalls, natural craters, glaciers, rainbows, and so many kinds of moss, your eyes will die and go to green heaven.
And that’s just a few parts in the south and the west of the country. My travel companion and I didn’t even make it north or east. And I’ll tell you right now, five days is not nearly enough time. Go with ten, better yet, three weeks or more, if you can. Then you can not only rent a car and zoom along the perfect roads to each mystical destination, but you might also have time to hike, dive, climb, and maybe even just sit with a handful of pebbles and marvel.
Dyrhólaey doesn’t just sound like a magical place. It is. There’s a sign by the parking lot where the road ends and the rocks keep climbing on into the sky, stopping only because the sea says so. The sign tells you that Dyrhólaey was formed partly in a submarine eruption about 80,000 years ago. The Atlantic breakers have ground the front of the tuya mountain forming a sheer cliff. [Note to the wiki curious: a tuya is a flat topped steep sided volcano, formed when lava erupts through a thick glacier or ice sheet. And yes, it seems everything in Iceland is a frieze of molten frozen rock.]
The name Dyrhólaey means door-hill-island because there’s a “door” in the side of the cliff where the sea has eroded its way through the bedrock, like an archway to nowhere, or everywhere. If you’re crazy like a pirate, then you can walk across this archway, as the sea bashes itself into the rocks below. I stood at a distance, hand over mouth (other hand on camera) and watched in semi horror-thrill.
That was the high place, with a bird’s eye view of the roiling sea, the restrained sunset. The low was no less astonishing. We spent the morning and then some at sea level, on black sand beaches, underneath the loom of the mossy mountains.
These mountains had been sculpted by the wind and the sea into intricate rock formations, each frame distinctly different from the last.
The beach also featured one tremendous cave, jagged and black and enormous, and if you crept into the way back, the roar of the waves receded like a dream. The sea was a furious cold thing, dotted with huge rocks, and framed in the distance by the door hill cliff.
These beaches were my companion’s favourite place in Iceland, and he spent hours shooting. Despite my own photographer’s glee at the black and silver landscape, I eventually fled the rain and cold to a lone café, the one mark of civilization anywhere for miles, and had tea and oranges till he was done.
Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. See more at olivewitch.com.