Iceland Travel Blog

Goðafoss

While traveling around Iceland’s ‘Diamond Circle’, one of the last major stops before heading back to Reykjavik is the beautiful northern port city of Akureyri - Known as Iceland’s “Northern Capital” the city was a welcome respite after countless hours of driving through northern Iceland.

Coincidentally we happened to be travelling through Iceland at the same time as when the 2018 World Cup was being held and the Icelandic national team had earned a spot for the first time in its history. It was somewhat of a cultural thing for me as I’m from Canada and the whole football / soccer thing never really interested me. I find its to be a far too dramatic sport. The collective attention of the Icelandic people however was focused solely on the World Cup.

We knew that Iceland had a relatively small population, especially compared to what we’re used to living in Taiwan, but when almost half of the country had packed up and left for Russia, the small town of almost 20,000 seemed eerily empty.

Nevertheless Akureyri is a picturesque harbour-side city surrounded by mountains and the ocean and compared to the capital, has a much better system of urban planning, which means getting around is a lot less confusing for tourists.

Our accommodations in town were stunning and included a geothermal jacuzzi which was much appreciated after driving hundreds of kilometres from the rather desolate area where we stayed near Dettifoss.

Another highlight was having access to a nice supermarket where we picked up some fresh juice, Icelandic craft beer, fresh bread and more supplies for the road.

Due to time constraints we hadn’t planned many stops for the last leg of our trip between Akureyri and Reykjavik, so just before arriving in Akureyri we more or less made our final stop along the Diamond Circle at yet another waterfall, but not just any waterfall - The Waterfall of the Gods.

With a name like that, who wouldn’t want to stop and check it out?

Godafoss

Goðafoss as it is known locally just so happens to be one of the most spectacular and well-known waterfalls in Iceland. Even though it is not as large, wide or powerful as all of the others it is certainly one of the most beautiful and that is true for every season.

There’s a reason why the waterfall is known as the “Waterfall of the Gods” but before I get into that I think I should talk about its physical attributes:

Godafoss is a 12 meter high, 30 meter wide set of cascading falls, similar to Canada’s Niagara Falls.

The water flows from the river Skjálfandafljót, one of Iceland’s longest rivers. Originating from the Vatnajökull Glacier, the river also happens to be the water source for several other waterfalls including Hrafnabjargafoss, Aldeyjarfoss, Barnafoss and Ullarfoss.

During the summer the area around the waterfall is lush with green grass which reflects in the colour of the water. In the winter the area is usually covered in snow, the falls may freeze and if you’re lucky you can see the Aurora Borealis in the night sky.

The waterfall is attractive year round and when I visited it was really beautiful.

However I would have loved to have the opportunity to watch the Northern Lights at the same time.

So how does it get its name?

Well, like a lot of things in Iceland, it has to do with a bit of a legend. Whether or not the story is true is up for debate, but in Iceland it is widely accepted as fact as it is chronicled in the Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders), a 12th Century work that tells the early history of human settlement in Iceland.

The first people to settle in Iceland were Norwegian explorers, more commonly known as the Vikings. When they settled on the island they brought with them their culture and their old Norse religion which consisted of deities like Thor, Odin, Loki, etc.

No, not the superheroes that you’ve seen in the movies.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe, societies that practiced what was considered “pagan” religions were often forcibly converted. The Christianity of a thousand years ago was much different than it is today, no one bothered with slogans like “God is Love” to convert people - The good word was spread primarily by the sword.

By the time the Icelandic Commonwealth was established in 930AD, pressure to make Christianity the official state religion became an issue as Norway threatened to invade if the people of Iceland didn’t conform.

Around the year 1000AD, when the annual meeting of the parliament met at Þingvellir, it was decided that for the good of the people, Christianity would become the state religion with the caveat that pagans could still practice in private.

That decision was placed on the shoulders of an “Ásatrú” priest (or goði) named Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi Thorkelsson who was said to have spent days meditating and praying to the Old Gods before it was clear what path would be taken. When the decision was made to make Christianity the official state religion Thorkelsson returned home to the north of Iceland where he tossed his idols of the Norse Gods into a beautiful waterfall.

Since then that waterfall has been named Goðafoss.

Photography

Like most other destinations in Iceland there are a few things you’ll want to take into consideration if you’re planning on visiting and taking photos at this waterfall.

Similar to Dettifoss, the last waterfall you’re likely to have seen before this one, there are two different sides to view Godafoss from. In this case however getting to either side doesn’t take an much time - You’ll just have to get in your car, cross a bridge and park at another parking lot to enjoy the view from the other bank.

Unfortunately due to the amount of people that visit, you’ll probably want to find a spot to set up your tripod away from the wooden platform - The problem with the platform is that when people walk it creates a shake which will ruin your long exposure shots.

To solve this problem you can walk a bit further past the waterfall onto the grass bank for a bit more stability. Likewise you could also consider taking the path down to water level.

If you do take the path down to water level though, you’ll be confronted with a whole new set of issues with the amount of spray and mist that will cloud up your lens. In this case you’ll need to bring something to safely wipe down your lens with between shots.

Most of the shots I’m sharing here today were taken on an overcast and somewhat dreary day with a wide-angle lens and an ND filter attached. The shots are a range of long exposures that are anywhere between 2-10 seconds each.

If you don’t have an ND Filter on-hand it is important that you know how to manually control your camera if you’re looking to take photos similar to these. You may be able to get up to around one second exposures if the light is right.

To do this you’ll want to ensure that your ISO is as low as possible. Preferably at ISO 100. You’ll also want to have your exposure set to -1 or -2 so that your shot won’t be blown out.

Take some test shots and play with the settings to find out what’s best and then have fun!

If you visit during the summer and want long exposure shots like the ones here, I highly recommend investing in a Natural Density filter for your lens. However if you visit during the winter when there isn’t much light, you could get away without one.

If you visit in winter you’re going to be in luck because it’s likely that you’ll have the added bonus of the Northern Lights overhead. You won’t need lens filters for taking photos of the waterfall and the Northern Lights, but you’re definitely going to need a tripod, a remote control (or cable shutter release) and a lens capable of f/2.8 apertures.

For a handy introduction on how to shoot the Northern Lights click this link - Northern Lights Photography Settings

Getting There

 

Godafoss is located in northern Iceland along the Ring Road that circles the country.

Situated along the ‘Diamond Circle’ sightseeing route it is about a 53 kilometre (45 minute) drive from the northern city of Akureyri.

If you’ve first travelled south along the Diamond Circle and made your way north, the waterfall is about a 50km drive west of Lake Mývatn or the town of Húsavík.

In both cases you will drive along Road N.1 which is the highway that circles the country. The waterfall is a simple stop along the road and there will be adequate signage on both sides that notify travellers that you’re approaching the falls.

If you’ve decided that you’re not going to bother renting a car while visiting Iceland, you’re going to have to rely on public transportation or tour groups to get to where you want to go. There are tours out of the capital offered by tour groups like Reykjavik Excursions or Arctic Adventures which offer tourists access to several different destinations. 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.

There are public buses that run between Akureyri, Myvatn and Egilsstadir that you may want to consider but you should know in advance that these buses don’t come that often, so you may get stuck waiting around for quite a while which is probably not the wisest way to use your time in Iceland. 

Bus Link: SBA-Norðurleid route 62 and 62A.

As one of the highlights of any travellers trip through Northern Iceland, Godafoss is one of those must-visit locations when you’re in the area. The waterfall is beautiful all year long but even though it is one of Iceland’s most popular destinations, it is rarely packed with people. If you visit, make sure to check out both sides of the fall and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Likewise if you are in Iceland during the winter months, try to visit a bit later at night so that you can not only enjoy the waterfall but the beautiful Northern Lights as well.


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.