The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
March 11, 2016
Our last full day in Iceland was also one of our busiest and most rewarding. It started out a little stressful as we woke to a fresh five or six inches of snow on the roads and we had a two and half to three-hour drive to peninsula ahead of us. We had rented a 4WD SUV just in case something like this happened, after all we were in Iceland, but that doesn’t mean that it can get through anything. We asked several people at the hotel if they thought the road conditions would be okay for us to make it the peninsula and they all said that it might be “a little icy”, but that we should be fine. Since we live in Colorado, we’ve probably told people something similar when we’ve had a few inches of snow, but we’ll probably think twice about saying that again in the future.
It was still dark out when we hit the roads and it was white knuckle driving as we made our way out of Reykjavik. Once we got out of town and the skies started to lighten up, the roads got a little better, but we would deal with icy roads for most of the day. The drive to the peninsula took us back through the town of Borgarnes where we turned off of the Ring Road (the road that circles the entire island) and headed west. Once we turned off of the Ring Road, we were pretty much the only car on the road, which was a little unnerving to be out in the middle of nowhere with no one else around. Despite the fact that the Snæfellsnes peninsula is considered “Iceland in Miniature” due to all of the sites that can be seen, it is also one of the least spots travelled to by tourists, perhaps because they have to leave the Ring Road. As you can tell by the varied scenery in the pictures, it really is an amazing place to see so many different sights.
One notable feature that is visible from everywhere on the peninsula is the Snæfellsjökull volcano which has a glacier that covers its cap. It is the highest mountain on the peninsula and can be seen from the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik on a clear day. It was the inspiration for Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” and was the location where the expedition started their trek below the earth. The Snæfellsjökull National Park takes you around the volcano and along the ocean and has some pretty incredible views. All national parks in Iceland are free, so they are definitely worth visiting. In order to get into the park, you have to drive over a pass on the edge of the volcano, which was covered in ice while we were there and made for some nervous driving conditions. With all of the active volcanos in Iceland and the land littered with huge lava boulders found miles from the volcano calderas, one can only imagine the potential devastation if one of the larger volcanos were to erupt.
The first stop, as we drove along the peninsula heading towards the park, was the town of Hellnar. It is really only a few buildings and a café that was closed while we were there. During the summer, you can book tours up to the top of Snæfellsjökull in order to see the glacier. The main attractions here are the beautiful little church, the views of the ocean, and all of the birds that make the area their home. The sun actually came out for a little bit, making it a cheery spot to visit. As you can tell from our pictures throughout the trip, the sun made few appearances for us and when it did, clouds returned within a few hours to blanket the sky. Unfortunately for us, the weather and a less than active solar period kept us from seeing the Northern Lights, which was probably our only disappointment of the trip.
From Hellnar, we continued along the coast to Malariff, where there is a lighthouse, and Lóndrangar, which are a couple of rock pinnacles that jut out along the rugged coastline. The rock formations are interesting and lighthouses are always nice, but otherwise it wasn’t anything too impressive. We continued on and entered the national park, always with Snæfellsjökull looming above us as we drove around the coastline. As you reach the northern end of the park, there is a road that heads west to the ocean and one of the many lighthouses on the island. You travel across a lava field and have some beautiful views of the ocean crashing against the black lined coast. After driving for twenty minutes, we turned around as the road conditions just kept getting worse and worse.
Once we reached the main road once again, we could see the most western portion of the Westfjords towering over the ocean water. Knowing that we still had about a four hour drive ahead us, we started heading back to grab a late lunch at the Hotel Búðir. On the way, we saw what looked like steam coming off of some of the lower peaks of Snæfellsjökull, which was a little unnerving to think that there was any chance that there could be anything active on the giant volcano. Although it was probably just a cloud that settled on the mountain, we were happy to make our way out of the area. Our lunch was wonderful, probably because we were extremely hungry from hiking around the different locations where we stopped. The hotel was truly charming, the staff incredibly friendly and if we’re ever back in the area, we would definitely considering staying with them.
All in all, it was a perfect way to end our brief trip to Iceland. We know that we’ll be back again, perhaps in the fall, when things might not be as frozen, but there still might be a chance to see the Northern Lights. We’re glad we chose to make the drive across the frozen tundra and frozen roads to see everything that the peninsula had to offer. After driving back to Reykjavik, we were thoroughly exhausted, but satisfied. Our time in Iceland is something that we will obviously never forget.