East and South Iceland Beautiful Nature Pleasures

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After spending more than a week enjoying a lot of the pleasures of Western and Northern Iceland, it was finally time to make our way down to the final leg of our trip, which was in South Iceland. That meant one very LONG day of driving, because we were starting our day in Myvatn and finishing it up at our hotel in the central part of South Iceland.

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This was our longest stretch of driving in a day, not necessarily in number of hours on the road, but rather the number of kilometers driven. We logged over 400 kilometers in our car, but thankfully 99% of the drive was on fully paved roads. Driving this long leg is not the most ideal, but I considered it rather necessary. Sure there are plenty of things to see and do among the fjords in Eastern Iceland, but we just didn’t have time to fit those things in along with everything else we wanted to see in two weeks. Hence, the very long day of driving to set us up for the final days of our trip.

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This is not the first time I made this drive, since I did the same amount of driving on my first trip to Iceland. That one was during the winter, and I ran into the same issues you can expect when driving on ice and snow. For reasons, I can’t quite figure out, once you get to the town of Egilsstadir, the main road splits. Sure that is understandable, because one takes you almost directly east to the coast, and the other one splits down and goes further south. What is odd is that only one of those roads is fully paved, and it’s not the one you think. No, it’s not the Ring Road 1, which is Iceland’s main highway that circumvents the island, but rather Routes 92 and 96. Sure, Ring Road 1 does continue south, but a good chunk of this portion of the road isn’t fully paved and it’s not even easily accessible during winter months if there is snow and ice on the road.

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I learned this point the hard way on my first trip. I tried to take a “shortcut” that would have cut my driving time significantly, but it was so laden with ice, that I had to turn around on a narrow road. I kept envisioning that I was going to slide off the road into the ditch and be stuck there for a very long time before help comes along (I had encountered that situation earlier on my trip in another part of Iceland), but thankfully I had made it back to the paved road.

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Even though the weather was clear on our second visit, I was completely over driving on gravel road and would rather take a little bit extra time to drive on paved roads. The drive east from Egilsstadir to the coast, is one of the most beautiful stretches of road I drove in Iceland. The road wound around the hills as we descended from the heights of northern Iceland to near sea level of eastern Iceland. The hills rose steeply around us, and we passed numerous beautiful waterfalls, easily viewed from the road. We stopped when we could, but I wish this road had more pullouts to stop to gawk and take photos.

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Once we hit eastern Iceland, the road followed the geography of the fjords, so we didn’t have too much to do, but just enjoy the scenery around us, and make occasional stops, such as an outdoor art exhibit of numerous stone sculptures in the shape of eggs of Iceland native birds. This exhibit is called Eggin i Gledivik, and makes for a short diversion. It’s a pretty exhibit in a pretty area, and is a good chance to stretch your legs from the long bouts of driving (at least it was for us).

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There is so much to see and do in South Iceland, that you will need at least a few days if you want to see most of it at a leisurely pace. It is also here when you know you have linked back up with the Iceland tourist blob. Sure there are tourists in other parts of Iceland, but the vast majority of tourists don’t venture too far outside of the Reykjavik tourist radius. That radius does extend as far south and east as Jokulsarlon (a site I’ll cover in my next blog post), and the closer you get to Reykjavik, the more tour busses and more crowds you will see. The difference is stark and very noticeable. While beautiful, this is not part of Iceland you go if you want to enjoy splendid isolation (that’s what the Westfjords are for).

South Iceland beautiful nature-12The farthest south you will see most daytrippers from Reykjavik is the town of Vik, which is on the western side of south Iceland. Among the numerous natural pleasures in the area or within short driving distance (which I will cover in future blog posts), one of the nicest (and therefore most popular) are the sites of Dyrholaey and Reynisfjara. They are two distinct areas, but you can see one from the other. South Iceland beautiful nature-16The first place we stopped was Dyrholaey, which is a beautiful rock formation, sea arch, and black sand beach. During nesting season, it is also home to a variety of birds (we visited out of bird nesting season). One of the viewpoints at Dyrholaey overlooks the western side of Reynisfjara black sand beach. From this viewpoint, you can see the sea stacks of Reynisdrangur. However, what captured my eye was the freshwater river that originated somewhere farther inland, most likely from one of the many, many glaciers in the area that flowed into the sea. I wanted to get close to it and see it for myself, but there is no easy way to walk down to the beach from the viewpoint. South Iceland beautiful nature-15At another vantage point, you can also see the sea arch off in the distance and a beautiful black sand beach down below. I remember this beach from my winter trip, because at the time I visited, it was covered in pure, virgin snow (except for a step of footprints), and I was entranced with the contrast between the pure white of the snow and the pure black of the sand. This time however, we weren’t supposed to go down to the beach, because it was closed.South Iceland beautiful nature-14After that, we drove a short ways down the road to Reynisfjara. While Dyrholaey is popular with tourists, Reynisfjara is another thing altogether. Hordes of tourist buses regularly show up and discharge their passengers for a short walk around the beach with a chance to look at a basalt sea cave, and a closer look at the sea stacks.South Iceland beautiful nature-18It is a very beautiful site, but as you see from the warning signs before you walk onto the beach, and what is apparent from just observing the beach for a few minutes, it can also be a very dangerous beach. This beach is notorious for sneaker waves, which are very powerful waves that can easily knock someone down or pull them out to sea. The occasional tourist death happens at this beach when people don’t respect the power of the ocean. The ocean is not placid at this beach, but rather filled with reasonably large, powerful swells, along with some powerful ocean currents. South Iceland beautiful nature-19This beach is also a good reminder that while Iceland has many, many beautiful beaches, this country is not what you would consider a “beach destination.” I mean beach destination in the sense that you would want to hang out on the beach all day and frolic in the water, even on beaches where the sea doesn’t rage as much. The ocean is simply too cold to swim or play in at all, even in the summertime (it doesn’t get that hot in Iceland in the summer). So beaches here are great to visit and enjoy the seascapes and beautiful nature, but not to play in the water. South Iceland beautiful nature-17From the entrance point to Reynisfjara from the parking lot, we could see the cliffs of Dyrholaey off in the distance, and it didn’t look TOO far away (though it proved to be around a couple miles). So we just started ambling down the beach, first to get away from the hordes of tourists mucking up the background of our photos, and then later just to see how far we could get. I was hoping to get close to the glacier river I saw at the Dyrholaey viewpoint, and eventually we found ourselves at the banks of that river. After taking in the view, we turned around and made our long way back to the parking lot. South Iceland beautiful nature-21South Iceland beautiful nature-22There are so many beautiful things to see and do in South Iceland, that I can’t do it proper justice in one blog post, but I have a few others coming up that highlight all there is to see and do in the area. Even though you do see daytrippers coming down on a tourist bus, that way is simply too superficial to really see everything. I would highly recommend you rent a car and see this area at your own pace. Just know that you will be one of many, many tourists taking it all in. South Iceland beautiful nature-20


Big Island and Kauai Exotic Beaches

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Hawaii is known for many things, and beautiful beaches are at the top of the list. There are too many beaches to count, and so many of them aren’t just the garden variety golden sand beaches, but rather green beaches, black beaches and others as well.

Mom and I aren’t dedicated beach goers in the sense that we will go to a beach and stay there all day. We simply like to do too much on vacation and don’t stay in any one place too long. As I always joke, you know you had a good vacation when you need another vacation to recover when it is all over.

Even though we had visited most of the best beaches on the Big Island and Kauai on our first trip, there were still some beaches to see on our second trip. The Big Island offers many different types of beaches, just because that island is younger than the other Hawaiian islands, so it is still transforming (and the ever erupting Kilauea ensures that the island is frequently changing landscapes).

I had visited Green Sand Beach on our first trip to the Big Island, but my mother elected not to go at the time, and regretted it later. Since I enjoyed the trip the last time, I had no problem doing it again.

This beach takes more effort to get to than most beaches, because there is no road near it, so you have to hike over two and a half miles from the parking lot to get there. To get to the parking lot, you take the turnoff for South Point Road between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11. You then drive down several miles, and follow the signs to Green Sands Beach. You can’t really miss the makeshift parking lot, and there should be plenty of cars already parked.

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From the parking lot, you have a decision to make. You can walk all the way to the beach if you desire. The walk isn’t difficult, but it can feel longer than it is at times, and it is exposed to sun and wind. If you choose to walk, most of the path is fairly easy to traverse, though there are sections where you have to negotiate rocks. There isn’t one path per say, but rather you just pick the best  of the available paths, which is usually the one that is flattest. Basically you just walk east and head toward Green Sands Beach. Eventually you will see the cliffs surrounding the beach, so you know you are almost there.

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Like I said, it isn’t HARD, but the walk can feel long and if the sun is beating down on you or the wind is strong, you will feel it. So make sure you take a lot of water and sun protection with you if you decide to walk the way.

However, you don’t have to walk out there if you don’t want. There is a cottage industry of locals and their 4WD vehicles who will gladly take you out to the beach and back, for a fee of course (roughly $10 per person for a round trip). Mom and I decided to walk out there, to get the full experience and some exercise, but we decided to take a truck back to save time and energy.

Once we got to the cliffs overlooking the beach, we just spent some time marveling at the beauty. The cliffs are rather magnificent in and of themselves, and the green sand of the beach just makes it all the better. The green sand comes from olivine, and its really only found in Hawaii on this beach. It’s not a bright green, but the sand definitely has a greenish tint.

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It’s fairly easy to make your way down to the actual beach, because of the steps and ladders. It is possible to swim in the ocean, though you need to be careful not to swim too far out, because there can be strong currents in the area.

If you like beautiful nature and unique beaches, you’ll probably like Green Sands Beach. It’s not a stop you can just spend a little time at, just because of the time it takes to get there (even if you take a truck). So if you plan to go, definitely allot enough time to get there, enjoy the beach for as long as you want, and get back. But it really is worth your time.

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About a 30 minute drive from the turnout to Green Sands Beach is the turnout for Punalu’u Beach, or Black Sand Beach. This beach is much easier to reach, because the parking lot is only a short walk from the beach itself. It’s located between mile markers 56 and 57 on Hwy 11 off Alanui Road. The road to the beach is well marked and easy to follow.

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Punalu’u Beach is a nice contrast with Green Sands Beach, both in the ease of access and the color of the sand. At the time we visited, the weather was a bit overcast and it was windy, so the waves were a bit too strong for me to want to swim. But it was pleasant to walk along the beach, admire the view and even take in the sight of a turtle.

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The beaches of Kauai are very beautiful, but almost uniformly a golden sand. However, there is one beach that takes more of an effort to reach. At least a beach that is not off the Na Pali Coast, because those beaches are much, much harder to reach.

Mom and I debated visiting Waimea Canyon on this trip, even though we visited it at length  during our first trip. However, we got a late start on our designated travel day, and we could see the dark clouds rolling in, so we figured it would not be worth our time to make the long drive up, only to have the surrounding views obscured.

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Instead, we decided to visit Polihale State Park, which we had not visited before. Polihale State Park is on the west side of the island, and it is about as far west as the road goes before it peters out, just before it reaches the Na Pali Coast. It’s not exactly EASY to get to Polihale, but it is worth your time if you have the time. Getting to the turnoff is easy, because you follow Hwy 50 all the way down the road, until you see the turnoff for the park. However, this is when the trip becomes more of an adventure. The access road to the beach is approximately five miles over an unimproved dirt road. I honestly don’t know why money isn’t spent to improve the road, but for whatever reason, the road is decidedly unimproved, though I read there is periodic maintenance to make it somewhat driveable.

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Generally speaking it is recommended that you take a 4WD vehicle to the park, though it isn’t absolutely required. You can take a 2WD vehicle like we did (though I wouldn’t recommend one if it is wet outside, because I can just see how the road would turn into mud when the rain falls). The road is deeply rutted in places, so you have to drive carefully, but eventually you will get there. Even though the road goes further up for camping access, it is easier to park at the spaces for the Queen’s Pond. There isn’t a parking lot per say, but rather you just pull your car off the road into the sand. Just make sure that the sand isn’t too loose, so you won’t get stuck trying to leave.

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From where you park, you just follow the road until you hit the beach. Once you arrive, it is pretty much up to you. Polihale State Park makes up several miles of golden sand, and if you come during the week, you are liable to have the park to yourself. We visited on the weekend, and there were plenty of locals camped out, but it was definitely not crowded.

If you want to swim on the beach, the safest place is within the reef of Queen’s Pond. Outside of it, the waves and current are a bit stronger. There really isn’t much else to do on the beach, but relax, swim if you want, and walk up and down taking in the views. We saw the dark clouds were getting closer and the rain was threatening to come down, so we left before the road was too difficult to traverse.

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If you choose to go to Polihale State Park, just know that it is out of the way for most other sites (though you could combine it with a day trip to Waimea Canyon), and the road is somewhat difficult to traverse. But you aren’t likely to find many more isolated places on Kauai (though some of the most isolated Na Pali Coast beaches would give it a run for its money).

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Journey to Hana and Back (All the Other Beautiful Nature)

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The absolutely gorgeous Hana Highway is most known for the abundance and variety of waterfalls, but there is also other beautiful nature to behold as well. One of the first stops out on the Hana Highway was at the Waikamoi Nature Trail. It is located between mile markers 9 and 10, and there are a couple nature loops. I did these walks myself, because it was raining and Mom decided to guard the car while I got wet and sort of muddy. It wasn’t pouring down rain, but there was sort of a constant drizzle. Both trails are pretty easy, though like I said, they were a bit muddy when I visited. However, at one point, there was a nice view of the green valley (a common theme at many of the stops along the Hana Highway).

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Thanks to my guide book, Maui Revealed, I knew that you could walk a bit from the main trail and come to a pretty waterfall. Yes, I did say that this post was going to be about everything but waterfalls, but just one more (since my Hana Highway waterfall post was just packed to the gills with them). I followed the directions in the book, where I took the longer trail out to a picnic area and then walked past the “End of Trail” sign. The book said to take the trail to the left and walk a few minutes, where it would lead to a stream an dam. I think I must have missed some critical step because I didn’t find myself where the book described. I took one path down a bit, but then it started getting super steep and slippery so I hiked back up and tried another wider path that was more like a road. I eventually did come to a nice view that overlooked the top of a waterfall, but I don’t think I was where I was supposed to be. However, the rain started picking up and we had many, many more stops along the way, so I turned back and walked to the car.

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We made a stop in Ke’anae, and the turnoff road is between mile markers 16 and 17. You pass a stand called Aunt Sandy’s selling pretty good banana bread and then come to the end of the road at the Ke’anae Peninsula, which opens up right onto the seas. In the past, there used to be a small village there, but thanks to a massive tsunami in 1946, all the buildings but the stone church were destroyed. However that church still remains standing to this day.


In addition, the view of the sea is absolutely marvelous from this vantage point, and the day we were there, the sea was churning mightily with some powerful waves crashing against the young lava rocks.

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We made a brief stop at Wailua Valley State Wayside, which is just before mile marker 19. It is a short trip up the stairs, but at the top, you have a wide open view of the Ko’olau Gap with the lush green valley laid out before your eyes and a far off waterfall visible (at least at the time I visited, because it was raining).

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My next stop is probably the weirdest, and it is extremely easy to miss if you don’t keep your eyes out for it. But there is a small lava tube cave just off the right (mountain side) two turnouts past mile marker 23. But if you know what you are looking for, you will spot it and know you are in the right place.

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Yeah, on the face of it, it might seem stupid to crawl into a hole off the side of the road when you don’t know what’s down there. But Hawaii really isn’t filled with creatures that can kill you, so you are probably safe. I crawled into the cave (make sure to bring a flashlight, because it does get dark, and there are plenty of loose rocks to fall on if you aren’t paying attention). But inside, you can scramble through the 140 foot long cave and come to an opening in the forest where you can climb out and see inside. Overall, it is a different diversion and a nice break from all the waterfall beauty.

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Just a few miles before you reach the town of Hana, there is a very nice beach stop at Wai’anapanapa Park. The turnoff road for the park is located just after mile marker 32. There is ample parking there, and plenty of signs for things you might want to see. Most of our time was spent enjoying the coastal view and sort of frolicking on the gorgeous black sand beach (sort of frolicking, because the surf was pretty rough that day- even though there were a couple local surfers riding the waves out there).

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There is an easy trail that leads down to the  volcanic black sand beach, known as Pa’iloa Beach and right when you get down to the beach, there is a small sea arch that looks like a cave. You can walk into it and enjoy the sea view from a different angle.

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We spent some time just enjoying the texture of the beach and the beautiful black stones.

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We eventually left, because the tide was coming in and we were only a couple hours from sunset and we wanted to get to Hana and settle in at our inn before it got dark. But it was still amazing to witness the awesome power of the ocean crash into the beach. I have always had a thing for stormy beaches and crashing waves, and there was an abundance of both on this day.

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The town of Hana is small, but nice. There aren’t THAT  many hotels out there (since most tourists do the Hana Highway as a day trip), and most the hotel rooms are sort of inn rooms or Air BnB type rooms in someone’s house. Our particular inn room was very nice with an outdoor shower, which is one of my favorite things when visiting the tropics. We got up early the next morning to head out to Haleakala National Park for some hiking and waterfall viewing (subject of my next blog post), but we had a nice sunny morning to start the day in Hana.

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If you have the time, I would highly recommend staying overnight at Hana. It gives you that much more time to stop and see the numerous beautiful sights on the Hana Highway. It allows you to really enjoy the scenery rather than just zooming by it or just taking a minute, because you have a packed itinerary to complete in a day. It is also likely to help you avoid the crush of the tourists. Overall, I think taking your time on the Hana Highway will allow for a deeper traveling experience.