Southeast from the Þórsmörk junction, the Ringroad finds itself pinched between the coast and the Eyjafjallajökull icecap. Though dwarfed by its big sister Mýrdalsjökull immediately to the east, Eyjafjallajökull’s 1666m apex is southwestern Iceland’s highest point, and the mountain has stamped its personality on the area: an active volcano smoulders away below the ice, responsible for major eruptions in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. In 2010 Eyjafjallajökull awoke from dormancy in a fairly small-scale event, but one in which massive clouds of ash, swept southwards by high-altitude winds, caused chaos across Europe by grounding aircraft – something that (along with listening to foreign reporters’ stumbling efforts to pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull”) created a perverse sense of pride in Iceland.
The base for exploring all this is the Ringroad hamlet of Skógar, with its magnificent waterfall and superb hike to Þórsmörk via a pass between Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull at Fimmvörðuháls, site of the 2010 eruption. Moving down the coast, mountain ridges supporting Mýrdalsjökull – and occasional outlying glaciers, such as Sólheimajökull – intrude further and further towards the sea, finally reaching it around Iceland’s southernmost tip, Dyrhólaey, where they form impressively sculpted cliffs, home to innumerable seabirds. Past Dyrhólaey, the sleepy village of Vík has black-sand beaches, more birds and some easy walks, and marks the beginning of the long cross-desert run into southeastern Iceland.
Ringroad buses pull up at Skógar and Vík, though you’ll need your own transport elsewhere.