Kirkjubæjarklaustur was similar to some of the other larger villages we passed on our drive along Iceland’s South coast. The village was small, simple, and beautiful. There are only a few roads in the village, a school, church, gas station, grocery store, and great visitors center and museum. There is some great hiking in Kirkjubæjarklaustur and the visitors center and museum are worth a quick stop, but most of the tourist sights are in the area surrounding the village. It is a great place to spend the night along your south coast adventure of Iceland!
When we first arrived in Kirkjubæjarklaustur after driving from Hof near Jökulsárlón Lagoon it was a cloudy, cold, rainy afternoon. We were driving west back toward Reykjavik and we visited several small but interesting things before we arrived at Kirkjubæjarklaustur just east of the village. First we stopped at a turf house church called Hofskirkja. This iconic church and graveyard are one of the oldest standing turf buildings in Iceland at over 130 years old. The church still has an active congregation and is maintained by the National Museum of Iceland as a historical monument. You can go inside the church, but we just peeked in the windows. Directly across from the church is a small building with bathrooms and a donation collection box. This was a quick stop but totally worth it as the church and tiny village were stunning!
Our next stop on the way to Kirkjubæjarklaustur was at Nupsstadur Farm. This farm is like an entire village of tiny turf houses! The huts were so small and there were so many I could just imagine a whole village of munchkins living in this fairy-tale place! This beautiful farm is located right along the ring road you can’t miss it! The rain that afternoon clouded some of the amazing views in this area, however the clouds and fog gave this abandoned farm a very tranquil feeling. Don’t be afraid to visit Nupsstadur Farm. We confirmed with the visitors center in Kirkjubæjarklaustur that the farm is open to visitors, but you have to park at the end of the driveway along the road and you cannot enter the main house.
Our final stop before we reached Kirkjubæjarklaustur was a beautiful waterfall, Foss a Sidu, and basalt column outcropping, Dverghamrar. Foss a Sidu is impossible to miss while driving along the ring road. Directly across the road from the waterfall you will see a small parking lot signed Dverghamrar. You cannot see the basalt columns from the road, but it is a very quick walk to them as you basically park on the top of them and just need to follow the path to the bottom. It is amazing how different all of the basalt columns in Iceland are. The Gerduberg outcropping on the Snæfellsnes Pensula were massive, the ones at Reynishverfi were thin and tall and smooth, the columns at Dverghamrar are covered in patches of moss and seem to be crumbling from age. What is most unique about the Dverghamrar basalt columns is how they perfectly frame Foss a Sidu, a thin stream of rushing snow melt that falls from the mesa. When we first passed this waterfall the wind was so strong it was turning the water to snow before it reached the bottom! We wanted to explore the waterfall more and we were able to drive closer but found that the path to the base of the waterfall is on private property and is closed off.
After stopping to check in to our hotel just outside of town we arrived at Kirkjubæjarklaustur and explored this little village. We stepped into the visitor’s center where we met a couple of ladies who were excited to answer all of our questions. We also looked around a little exhibit they had about the unique moss in Iceland. It was a good place to get some shelter from the rain for a bit. They also had more information about Fjaðrárgljúfur. We had planned to visit this amazing place, but it was closed that spring since snow melt had created too much mud! Yikes! I was so disappointed, but now I have another good reason to go back to Iceland! If you are visiting Kirkjubæjarklaustur I would encourage you to look into visiting Fjaðrárgljúfur as it is very close by and looks absolutely amazing!
The next morning we were lucky to be greeted by a wonderful sunny day! We planned to hike to all of the natural wonders in Kirkjubæjarklaustur on the recommendation of the visitors center gals. We started at the village’s iconic waterfall, Systrafoss. Known as the sister falls this waterfall is more of a cascade down the mountainside above the village. Near the top of the mountain the waterfall is split into two parallel streams giving the waterfall it’s name. There is a map at the bottom of the waterfall that shows the route to the top. We took the red route that took us in a large circle up and down the mountain and through the village.
We started up stairs to the top of Systrafoss. There were quite a few stairs but it was not overly difficult. Once we reached the top we were greeted with magnificent views! We were so lucky to have a clear day for this hike! We also were able to see Systravatn Lake, the source for Systrafoss waterfall and the home of the legend of the nuns.
Long ago there was a long standing convent in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Kirkjubæjarklaustur is actually 3 words linked together and is so long that many locals refer to it as “Klaustur”, meaning “convent” in Icelandic. The local legend tells of 2 nuns that while bathing in the lake saw a hand with a beautiful gold ring emerge from the lake. When they caught hold of the hand they were dragged down into the depths of the lake, never to be seen again. This legend has several variations as to what golden object actually appeared out of the lake and as to whether or not the sisters died together or at different times. Regardless of how the true legend goes the iconic waterfall and hidden lake of Kirkjubæjarklaustur are named after these nuns. There are many nods around the village to the nuns that once lived here and the legend of the sisters who died here.
Our hike continued along with the lake on your left and stunning views to the right though open grass fields on the top of the mesa. After about a mile the path descends steeply in a difficult decent. After about another 1/2 mile you arrive at Kirkjugólfið, or The Church Floor. Kirkjugólfið is an outcropping of basalt columns that are buried in the ground so that you only see the top of the columns. The hexagonal shapes of the columns look like tiles on the ground reminding it’s discoverers of a church floor. After passing the church floor we reached the main street of the town near the gas station. We walked up the main road past the visitors center, church, and statue of the two nuns before reaching our starting point at the base of Systrafoss.
After our wonderful morning hike around Kirkjubæjarklaustur we visited several other interesting sights near the village on our way back to Reykjavik. As soon as you drive out of Kirkjubæjarklaustur you enter a strange green lumpy landscape, Eldhraun lava field. Eldhraun is the third largest lava flow on Earth after the end of the Ice Age. It covers 600 square kilometers (232 sq. mi.)! The normally black, sharp, jagged lava rocks are covered by a thick green layer of soft moss. The moss is several inches thick and is a beautiful mix of different types on colors of moss. There are many places to pull over and walk on worn trails through the lava field. The moss is so thick and soft we couldn’t help by lie down in this beautiful natural bed.
The landscape after Eldhraun becomes very plain for awhile until you suddenly come across a field of thousands of cairns called Laufskálavarða. This is a quick and interesting stop along the ring road. It is a good place to hop out of the car for a few minutes and stretch your legs. Adding a stone to a cairn here is supposed to give the traveler good fortune on their journey. We of course added our own stones and I can say that we absolutely had good luck on the rest of our trip in Iceland!
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