In Search of Puffins

Looking over the cliffs towards Dyrhólaey lighthouse
Looking over the cliffs towards Dyrhólaey lighthouse (Dyrhólaeyjarviti)

My mum asked for one souvenir from Iceland: a photo of a puffin.

I must admit that I didn’t want to leave Iceland without seeing one, either. My original plan for going on a puffin and whale-watching tour out of Reykjavik had been eclipsed by the opportunity to go inside of a volcano, and I wondered if I had missed out on being able to see a puffin altogether.

On my mum’s birthday, our tour guide took us along the southern coast of Iceland, stopping at cliffs that overlooked the rough sea. Rock formations jutted up out of the water in shapes that reminded me of London Bridge and the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road back home.

The 'London Bridge' rock formation
I’ve named this formation at Dyrhólaey lighthouse ‘London Bridge’, after the collapsed London Bridge rock formation along the Great Ocean Road

Each time a bird flew past I’d peer at it through my camera’s zoom, hoping to see that distinctive red beak and a flash of white underbelly, but all I saw were gulls. Our tour guide was not optimistic: the previous tour they had only seen three puffins. It was quite likely we wouldn’t see any.
The next stop was ostensibly to walk to another lookout for a view of some basalt columns, but it was also a well-known spot for puffins. And just a few steps away from the car park, there they were, sitting perfectly still, posing obediently while we scrambled to take photos of them.

The first sighting of puffins, perfectly positioned

Our guide marvelled at how many there were. I like to think he knew they were there all along, and wanted to build up the suspense and surprise us!

Puffins are such unique looking birds

We tore ourselves away from the puffins and carried on towards the next stop: a black sand beach with basalt columns (it was easy to see how the columns had influenced the design of Hallgrimskirkja back in Reykjavik).

Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach
The basalt columns of Reynisfjara Beach

Here, we were being truly spoiled: there were puffins galore floating on the water.

Puffins floating in the ocean
What an amazing sight! There were so many puffins floating in the ocean (and I was worried I wouldn’t see any)!

Later that day, still excited by having seen puffins, I sat in the lobby of the Puffin Hotel, wished Mum a happy birthday on Skype, and e-mailed her her present.

Seeing puffins on Mum’s birthday made these photos a birthday gift rather than souvenirs

Going beyond Skogafoss

Skogafoss is just one of the many waterfalls along Iceland’s Ring Road. Most people see this waterfall from below, standing next to the river that it crashes down into. However, there is more to Skogafoss if you’re feeling adventurous and want to explore.

Skogafoss, one of the many waterfalls along Iceland’s Ring Road

Next to the waterfall there is a set of stairs that snakes its way up the cliffs to the top of Skogafoss. Even though I was out of breath by the time I reached the top of the falls, it was completely worth it because the view was spectacular: you can look out over the rugged green hills and watch the river as it cuts through the plains below and winds out to the sea.

The lookout from the top of Skogafoss
The lookout from the top of Skogafoss – from here you can see all the way to the sea

While this lookout has a fantastic view, you can venture further up the river. If you climb over the stile by the lookout (be careful – it had just been raining when we reached Skogafoss, and I slipped off of the stile and into the mud!) you will find yourself on the trail that heads through Laugavegurinn and Fimmvörðuháls Pass.

The top of Skogafoss
The top of Skogafoss, where the river plunges down the cliffs

While we didn’t venture too far up the trail (we had a guided tour of the Skogar museum that we needed to get to), the scenery above the waterfall was even prettier than the landscape below.

The waterfall just up the river from Skogafoss
The waterfall just up the river from Skogafoss

There were more waterfalls and emerald green fields where sheep grazed. A collection of troll cairns surprised me – I had thought they were something that were only built in Norway, but obviously not!

Troll cairns
Troll cairns along the river

Heading back down the stairs I took one last look at Skogafoss, feeling the thick mist hanging in the air, before returning to the carpark. I felt glad that I had made the effort to get to the top of Skogafoss – it gave me an appreciation of just how beautiful and green the Icelandic countryside is.

So if you’re driving along the Ring Road, stop in at Skogafoss and take on those stairs – you won’t regret it!

Me trying to keep out of the mist coming from the falls!