Systrafoss

Kirkjubaejarklaustur, South Region (Suðurland), Iceland

About Systrafoss


Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2007-07-03
Date last visited: 2021-08-08

Waterfall Latitude: 63.78753
Waterfall Longitude: -18.05945

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Systrafoss (Sister Falls) was an enigmatic waterfall as far as I was concerned because I never quite understood how or why it behaved the way it did on each of our visits over a span of 14 years.

What I mean by this is that this was the only waterfall casualty of our 2007 trip to Iceland as we saw that it didn’t have any flow at all!

Systrafoss_001_08072021 - Systrafoss was actually flowing during our Summer 2021 visit
Systrafoss was actually flowing during our Summer 2021 visit

Even though a local was surprised by its condition as he told us that the falls was fed by Systravatn (Sister Lake), I was under the impression that this falls would only flow when the lake had overflowed.

Then, when we came back in August 2021, I was surprised to see that Systrafoss flowed as well as it did while driving the Ring Road by the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (or Klaustur for short).

Despite it being later in the Summer, I had a hard time wrapping my head around why it was dry in early July 2007 but flowed well in early August 2021.

If this was a seasonal waterfall, you’d think that it wouldn’t flow very well later in the Summer, but we observed the opposite!

Systrafoss_002_07032007 - On our first visit to Systrafoss in July 2007, Systrafoss was mysteriously not flowing
On our first visit to Systrafoss in July 2007, Systrafoss was mysteriously not flowing

If this was a glacier melt waterfall, then I could understand its increased flow later in the Summer.

However, Systravatn seemed to be far from any of the nearest major glaciers in Vatnajökull and Mýrdalsjökull.

So was Systrafoss regulated or impacted by some kind of man-made scheme to divert or control its flow?

As a result, whatever the case may be, I can’t advise on predicting when would be the best time to witness this strangely-behaving waterfall.

Systrafoss_049_08072021 - Systrafoss was a roadside waterfall so it's pretty easy to stop by for a closer look if you do notice that it happens to be flowing as you drive along the Ring Road just west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Systrafoss was a roadside waterfall so it’s pretty easy to stop by for a closer look if you do notice that it happens to be flowing as you drive along the Ring Road just west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur

You’d just have to stop by if you happen to see it flowing while passing by along the Ring Road west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

Extend A Visit Beyond A Roadside Attraction

For all intents and purposes, Systrafoss was pretty much a roadside waterfall.

However, we noticed that there was a trail going past a picnic area at its base and a small natural bridge at the bottom of a large rock (called Stóri Steinn).

On the other side of the natural bridge, we saw an interesting-looking avatar for a troll or sorceror using wool skin standing behind a cauldron.

Systrafoss_052_08072021 - Contextual look at Systrafoss when it was performing in August 2021, but notice the picnic area and signage that I swore wasn't there when we first came here in July 2007
Contextual look at Systrafoss when it was performing in August 2021, but notice the picnic area and signage that I swore wasn’t there when we first came here in July 2007

Right behind this avatar on a spur trail leading up to a fence was a partial view of Systrafoss from different angles than what was seen from the car park.

That was the extent of my short visit with my Mom in August 2021 when the waterfall was performing.

That said, if we were so inclined, we could have done a longer trail up the Bursasteinn and Gjót, and then ultimately to the shore of Systravatn Lake before turning back.

Another thing unusual about this area fronting Systrafoss was that it featured a bunch of birch trees.

Systrafoss_019_08072021 - An unusual partial view of Systrafoss as we sought to get a closer look at the falls amongst the trees that were apparently planted here as part of a re-forestation effort
An unusual partial view of Systrafoss as we sought to get a closer look at the falls amongst the trees that were apparently planted here as part of a re-forestation effort

Apparently, these trees were planted, and now some of the tallest trees in the country reside in this very grove.

Of course, it also complicated the Systrafoss experience in that such trees also obscured our ability to get closer views of it.

Nevertheless, the re-foresting of Iceland was something I noticed more of throughout the country during our August 2021 trip, and it seemed to be one of the few countries we’re aware of that’s reversing deforestation (albeit on a much smaller scale).

The Divine Significance of the Sisterhood

You might notice (as I have) after looking at the maps of the area that there seems to be a deeply religious theme to the Kirkjubæjarklaustur area, and there’s a good reason for it.

Systrafoss_036_08072021 - These steps were part of the longer trail climbing up to Systravatn (Sister's Lake), which supplied Systrafoss
These steps were part of the longer trail climbing up to Systravatn (Sister’s Lake), which supplied Systrafoss

And by religious, I mean just about everything here has a religious name to it like the Sister’s Cafe (Systrakaffi), or the name of the town Kirkjubæjarklaustur literally translated as “church farm cloister”.

Heck, you already know that Systrafoss means the “Sister Falls”.

I understand that during the infamous 1783 Lakagígar (or Laki) eruption, lava from its craters encroached on Kirkjubæjarklaustur in what appeared to be an inevitable inundation and burial of the town.

However, the lava’s flow miraculously halted and avoided the church here before ultimately sparing the rest of the town.

Systrafoss_041_08072021 - This was an interesting avatar of a troll or sorceror made of primarily wool skin with a cauldron before Systrafoss and after the Stóri Steinn, which was a rock with a natural bridge at its bottom
This was an interesting avatar of a troll or sorceror made of primarily wool skin with a cauldron before Systrafoss and after the Stóri Steinn, which was a rock with a natural bridge at its bottom

By the way, this very eruption lasted for 8 months and might have caused the famine that accelerated the events that resulted in the French Revolution and turned the geopolitics of Europe on its head.

Thus, it would be understandable why there’s a belief that somehow there was some divine intervention at play here.

And if you’ve paid attention to the Eyjafjallajökull [“EH-ya-fyat-luh-yewk-ul”] eruptions in 2010 (which had nothing on the 1783 Lakagigar eruption), then you can appreciate just how overwhelming these volcanic events can be.

Authorities

Systrafoss resides in the South Region in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Skaftárhreppur. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.

Systrafoss_003_08072021 - Our first look at Systrafoss when we came back 14 years after our first unsuccessful July 2007 visit
Systrafoss_004_08072021 - Looking towards some businesses and accommodations near Systrafoss as seen during our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_005_08072021 - Looking back across the small clearing that apparently acted as a sanctioned car park for Systrafoss
Systrafoss_007_08072021 - Starting the short walk past this picnic area to see if there's a different way to experience Systrafoss during our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_010_08072021 - Looking over the stream towards Systrafoss as we looked for a different way to experience the falls during our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_011_08072021 - Closer look at the picnic area fronting the natural bridge beneath the Stóri Steinn as we looked to get closer to the base of Systrafoss on our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_024_08072021 - When we took the trails in an attempt to get closer views of Systrafoss, we encountered this fence preventing any further scrambling efforts that were unsanctioned as seen during our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_030_08072021 - This broad partial view of Systrafoss was had from our short jaunt into the planted forest beneath the falls on our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_034_08072021 - Mom checking out Systrafoss from as close as we were able to get within the planted forest during our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_038_08072021 - Side view of the Stóri Steinn (Big Rock), which was the rock that had a natural bridge at its base
Systrafoss_043_08072021 - Mom heading back down to the picnic area and eventually the car park after having had her fill of Systrafoss on our August 2021 trip
Systrafoss_045_08072021 - Another look back at the natural bridge of the Stóri Steinn
Systrafoss_050_08072021 - Another look across the street towards Systrafoss as seen from the car park during our August 2021 visit
Systrafoss_053_08072021 - Another look back up at Systrafoss contrasting the blue skies, which was kind of rare during our August 2021 visit


Drive the Ring Road to Kirkjubæjarklaustur (259km east of Reykjavík).

From the four-way intersection of the Ring Road, the road to Geirland, and the short road to Kirkjubæjarklaustur, turn left to go towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

Systrafoss_046_08072021 - Looking across at the road at the small car park yielding the views of Systrafoss that you see on this page
Looking across at the road at the small car park yielding the views of Systrafoss that you see on this page

While on the road through town, it goes by the visitor centre and the Sister’s Cafe (Systrakaffi).

Ultimately, the road will pass right before Systrafoss near some museums.

Finally, if the name Kirkjubæjarklaustur is too long, you could also just shorten it to Klaustur (“KLOI-stur”).

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Comprehensive sweep starting from the end of the 'trail' before descending to an intermediate view while doing another sweep


Brief right to left sweep of Systrafoss from the end of the public part of the road in Kirkjubaejarklaustur

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Tagged with: eyjafjallajokull, kirkjubaejarklaustur, klaustur, southern iceland, sudurland, iceland, lava, waterfall, ring road



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Systrafoss – Suðurland, Vestur-Skaftafellssýsla, Iceland March 3, 2019 7:31 am by John Moerk - The 260-foot waterfall Systrafoss is located just past the ring road in the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Systrafoss is fed by a small lake called Systravatn. In summertime, melted snow feeds the lake creating this waterfall. Systrafoss means sister falls and is named after a monastery that was located in Kirkjubæjarklaustur in the medieval time. ...Read More

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