Beach

Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)

For most travellers, a white sand beach vacation is just what the doctor ordered after a long and stressful year of work. Travel Agencies all over the world offer attractive vacation packages that allow weary travellers to simply hop on a plane and be transported to a beautiful beach resort - where all they have to do is lay around, eat, drink and relax.

Having visited the beautiful beaches of Boracay, Bali and Palau (among others), I can certainly attest that this style of vacation helps to recharge the soul and even though its not the sort of trip that I typically prefer to go on, I can certainly understand why people are so fond of them.

If you’re looking to relax on a beach its unlikely that Iceland is going to be on the top of your list of destinations - The small island nation in the North Atlantic isn’t exactly known for its beach-resorts.

Instead it is a nature lovers paradise where visitors spend their precious vacation time time in awe of giant glaciers, steaming volcanoes, massive waterfalls and the spectacular Aurora Borealis.

Nicknamed the ‘Land of Ice and Fire’, the country is known more for its geo-thermal hot springs and spas than it is for beaches, but you might be surprised to learn that Iceland is home to one of the top-ten (non tropical) beaches in the world!

Just don’t expect to go for a swim.

Southern Iceland’s ‘Black Sand Beach’, known to locals as Reynisfjara is one of the country’s top attractions and for good reason - It is one of the prettiest beaches you’ll ever have the luck of visiting.

Black Sand?

Why is the sand at Reynisfjara ‘black’ while most of the worlds other beaches have either golden, brown or white sand?

Well, thats actually quite simple to explain.

The beach is located near the very active Katla Volcano. The lava from each of its eruptions flowed down from the mountain eventually reaching the coast. This allowed for the formation of basalt rocks when the lava met with the frigid temperatures of the North Atlantic.

With each of Katla’s eruptions, the topography in the region changed and the land area also expanded - so much that thousands of years ago this beach didn’t even exist.

The “sand” that you’ll find on the beach is actually more similar to fine rocks and pebbles than the finely grained sand that you are used to on other beaches.

The supply of this special black sand howeveris constantly being replenished thanks to the volatility of Katla which is in a constant state of activity.

The Reynisdrangar Basalt Columns and Folklore

For travellers, the beach is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world - Locals on the other hand hold Reynisfjara in high regard not only for its beauty but for some supernatural events that (they’re convinced to have) occurred there once upon a time.

Local folklore tells of two different stories that attempt to explain why the beach looks the way it does with the beautiful basalt columns at the far end.

Icelanders debate about which myth is the most accurate but everyone agrees that the common feature of both is that trolls were most definitely involved.

If you’re unaware, trolls are basically the bane of every Icelanders existence.

These trolls, unlike their internet counterparts however are quite dangerous.

The first legend tells of a husband whose beloved wife was kidnapped and murdered by two of these dangerous trolls.

The husband, seeking vengeance pursued the trolls to Reynisfjara and somehow froze them as they attempted to escape to sea.

How he froze them, I can’t really tell you but I’d like to think that it was by the power of love.

The second legend tells of a group of trolls who lived in the caves on the beach and terrorized ships that passed by.

The trolls were not only greedy but a bit daft, so one day when they went out to sea to attack a ship they lost track of time.

When the sun came up, they were turned to stone on the spot - unfortunately the ship and the people on it were turned to stone as well.

Link: Folklore in Iceland  

In actuality the ‘Reynisdrangar basalt columns’ were not formed by the nefarious activity of trolls but are naturally occurring and were at one time connected to Reynisfjall mountain.

Thousands of years of weathering and sea erosion has submerged part of the mountain making the columns seem as if they are disconnected from the mountain by a patch of ocean.

Reynisfjall Mountain and Hálsanefshellir Cave

Reynisfjall Mountain, which is located next to the beach is a 340 meter (1115 ft) tall mountain that is at least five kilometres in length and about 800 meters wide.

The mountain is most well-known for its pyramid-shaped cliff of basalt columns which look like they were sculpted by hand rather than by the work of Mother Nature.

The columnar joints on the side of the mountain, known to locals as ‘Garðar’ are one of the most popular locations for taking selfies in Iceland and were even featured in an episode of the Game of Thrones.

You aren’t likely to find trolls making their homes in the mountain, but it is important to note that the mountain is a nesting ground for various species of seabirds. Depending on the season you might see fulmars, guillemots and if you’re lucky some puffins!

On the beach you are bound to come across the beautiful ‘Hálsanefshellir Cave’ which is just a small cavern in the mountain.

The interior of the cave looks a bit like the basalt columns on the outside and is a great place to escape when the winds get too high and you’re feeling cold.

Be careful not to stay in the cave for too long though, you could get trapped inside during high tide!

Tips and Safety Considerations

 There are some important things that you’re going to want to keep in mind while visiting.

You’ll likely notice a warning sign before you’re able to walk onto the beach. Pay close attention to all of the warnings.

This isn’t a place where you’re going to want to have an unfortunate accident.

  • You can’t swim at this beach. Even if the frigid water doesn’t bother you, the water is extremely dangerous and there have been quite a few unfortunate accidents in recent years.

  • You may feel like you are standing a safe distance away from the water, but the ‘sleeper waves’ at this beach are as sneaky as they are dangerous. Stay at least thirty meters from the water and make sure that you are constantly aware of your surroundings. Don’t turn your back to the ocean.

  • Some travellers may think that its okay to get close to the water but something most people don’t ever consider is that when the waves pull back into the ocean they pull back with even greater force. This means that’s the water will drag out even the strongest of us. If you get pulled out with the water its not likely anyone will ever see you again.

  • If you are travelling with children, make sure to keep an eye on them at all times.

  • There is no one on duty, no lifeguards, no security guards, no tourism officials. You’re on your own if something unfortunate happens!

  • There is a small cafe next to the parking lot. Parking is free but if you want to use the restroom you’re going to have to pay a small fee to get in.

  • The food in the cafe is quite expensive, so you’ll probably want to have a lunch packed.

  • Make sure to pack a down jacket as it tends to be very cold and extremely windy on the beach. Likewise you’re going to need sturdy footwear to walk on the beach.

 

The beach, which is located near the country’s southernmost village Vík í Mýrdal is about 180 km (110 mi) from the capital of Reykjavik.

If you are driving from the capital you can expect about a 2.5 hour drive along the Ring Road.

There is lots of signage along the way, so its not likely that you’ll need to use GPS to find your way.

If you’ve decided that you won’t bother renting a car while visiting Iceland, you’re going to have to rely on public transportation to get to the waterfall. There are tours out of the capital offered by tour groups like Reykjavik Excursions which offer tourists access to several different stops for around $100USD. It is important to remember that if you want to book a tour that you should do so well in advance as the seats on the daily tours tend to fill up quickly.

If you are visiting the beach you’ll also want to visit other attractions like Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, the Dyrhólaey Lighhouse and Kirkjufjara Beach which are all a short distance away from the beach and the small village of Vik.


Paragliding in Wai'Ao (外澳飛行傘基地)

When I first came to Taiwan I took almost any opportunity I could get to visit the East Coast - I fell in love with the natural beauty of the valleys with massive mountains to one side and the beautiful Pacific Ocean to the other. Since then, I've been up and down the coast several times through Yilan (宜蘭), Hualien (花蓮) and Taidong (台東) as well as visiting both Orchid (蘭嶼) and Green Island (綠島).

One of the reasons I love the East Coast is for the sheer amount of open space there is - the land is somewhat sandwiched between the ocean and the central mountain range, but the valley below where there are small towns is full of natural beauty and has yet to be developed in the same way that the west coast of the country (where all the major cities are) has. This means that if you want to get somewhere along the east coast, you're probably going to have to drive for quite a while to get to it, but there are always going to be a number of distractions in between as there is so much to see and do there.  

The view from the mountain

With all this love I have for the area though, if you look at my Blog Map, you'll find that I'm sorely missing posts from that part of the country. I have plans to solve this problem in the near future but there are a number of reasons for this - I did most of my exploring of the east coast years ago and while I do have a considerable amount of photos from those trips, they are sitting on an external hard drive that needs some data recovery before I can get to them. The next reason is that I have a dog now so I have to be responsible and can't leave home for a few days whenever I feel like it. I can get away for day-trips but that really limits the distance I can travel. 

I've tried doing day trips to the East Coast in the past and they've turned out to be extremely exhausting and not something that I want to do all the time. An example of this is when I posted about the Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖). Getting to the cliffs involved a four hour train ride to Hualien and then a one hour scooter ride to the cliffs and then the same on the way back. The result was a fourteen hour day of travelling.

Today's post is from a day-trip to Yilan that is not unlike the trip to Qingshui Cliffs, but even though it was really tiring and somewhat of a whirlwind experience, it was still fun and as always, the East Coast never ceases to amaze.

One of the places where I go to relax, meet friends and write blogs is a local craft beer bar called Hop In. I've been going to the bar since it first opened and have become good friends with the owners and the other regulars. A few weeks ago one of the guys asked if I dared to go paragliding. I thought, paragliding? There's nothing scary about that. So the next question was: So when do you want to go? 

Plans were made quite quickly and we were off to Yilan the next week to go paragliding in Wai'Ao (外澳) which is popular for its beach and its harbour. Wai'Ao also has a perfect view of the famous Turtle Island (龜山島), a few kilometres offshore and was off-limits to civilians for several decades.

After passing the beautiful beach (that was surprisingly still busy on a weekday in late October) we drove up a steep mountain and arrived at the point where we would be taking off.  

My friend getting ready to take off. 

The paragliding experience in Taiwan isn't similar to what you'd have in North America - There were no hour long safety videos or excessive lectures about what to do and what not to do. I just had to sign my name, give my ID number and provide an emergency contact number. No fuss. 

The weather on the day we went was absolutely beautiful but we had to wait a while because they were busy and because the wind wasn't that strong. I used the time waiting to enjoy the scenery and tried to get some nice shots of Wai'Ao with the island in the foreground as well as getting shots of my friends going before me.  

When it was my turn, I asked the coach if it was okay if I took my camera with me which ended up being no problem (which surprised me). We suited up, he tightened all the straps and made sure everything was safe as well as giving me a few simple instructions about what to do and what not to do. 

While gliding through the air we passed over the busy East Coast highway as well as the railroad and then quickly passed the beach and went out above the water a little bit. When we got to a certain height we shifted back towards land and the instructor told me that when we got close to the beach that I should put my feet down and get ready to standup and run so that we would have a good landing.

Overall it was a pretty fun experience although it wasn't a very long glide down to the beach. I have a friend who is a professional paraglide who works both in Hong Kong and in India and from what I've seen, paragliding with him would be a pretty awesome experience. One thing I can't compare though is the scenery. The scenery that you get to enjoy in Wai'Ao is pretty amazing and that made the trip worthwhile!  

If you're interested in paragliding while you are visiting the East Coast I'll leave the contact information below. Its best that you make a reservation at least three days in advance. Don't just show up hoping that they can squeeze you in as they're pretty busy! 

Contact Information:

Wai'Ao Paragliding (外澳飛行傘基地)
Address: #95 Shikong Road, Toucheng Village, Yilan County. (宜蘭縣頭城鎮石空路95號)

Reservation Number: 0935181191

Facebook Page:  宜蘭縣飛行運動推展協會