Within seconds, the American woman who’d been on my coach disappeared into the sea. As the wave that had caught her ebbed, her yellow jacket and frantic face could be seen being pulled further into the murky waters,
A group of young men rushed to pull her from the foam surrounding her, grabbing underneath her arms and almost pitching over themselves as another wave surged in, almost to the top of her head in her kneeling position. Dragging her out to a safer point on the shore and the arms of her family, crowds stood by to witness her lucky escape from the waters – wet, cold and without a camera, but happily alive.
This is Iceland’s Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, where the sea is as unpredictable as the landscape is fascinating.
Moments earlier, I’d been almost soaked myself, as the foam from an unexpectedly large wave sneaked its way up the inky coloured sands. Shuffling backwards in the open cave I’d been exploring, I felt the relief as the edge of the wave subsided all the way back down the beach, and I made my escape.
The sea’s dramatic, ever-changing dynamics have resulted in some notable deaths over the years – but despite its danger, visitors still flock to the black sand beach, once named as one of the world’s most beautiful. And although you won’t find Speedo-trunked tourists lazing on towels here, it’s a unique and magical-looking beach that’s definitely worth a visit.
Why IS the sand black though? Due to the beach’s proximity to the Katla volcano, during historic eruptions, lava made its way down to the sea. After cooling almost instantly once hitting the water, then being ground into a fine sand before being washed back to shore. Despite its onyx shade, the sand actually feels pretty much like normal beach sand.
Away from the shore, basalt sea stacks protrude from the water, creating atmospheric silhouettes against the sea’s mist and drizzling rain. In Icelandic legend, these were once trolls attempting to pull ships from the ocean. Dawn broke, and the ‘trolls’ were turned to stone. While I’m not 100% sure how true this bit of folklore is…it’s a pretty fun story, nonetheless.
One of the rainiest spots in Iceland, apparently, there’s definitely a gloom to Reynisfjara – but the weather conditions combined with the towering cliffs and dark sand give it a real sense of atmospheric mystery. The landscape is almost sci-fi like, and if I imagined strange creatures crawling from the sea anywhere, it’d probably be here. Up in the clifftops, birds squawked and nested, and despite the crowds of tourists, I felt a real sense of tranquillity and desolation.
After strolling west along the beach, away from the ‘trolls’ and breaking a little from the tourist crowd, I headed back to my bus to continue my journey along the south coast of Iceland. If you’re visiting this amazing country, make sure to pay a visit to the shores of Reynisfjara black sand beach. Just make sure you listen to the advice, and never turn your back on those waves…