The Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland in Miniature

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.

Thawing Roads
Thawing Roads
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Snæfellsjökull from the Distance
Dramatic Volcano Crater
Dramatic Volcano Crater

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.

Some of the Few Trees We Saw in Iceland
Some of the Few Trees We Saw in Iceland
Sunrise During Our Drive
Sunrise During Our Drive
Driving Towards the Park
Driving Towards the Park
Dramatic Lava Lined Beaches
Dramatic Lava Lined Beaches

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.

Snæfellsjökull Towering Over Lake
Snæfellsjökull Towering Over Lake
Another Volcano During Our Drive
Another Volcano During Our Drive
Church and Farm
Church and Farm
Rugged Beach
Rugged Beach

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.

Us at Hellnar
Us at Hellnar
View from Hellnar
View from Hellnar
The Old Church in Hellnar
The Old Church in Hellnar
Lava Rocks
Lava Rocks

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.

Lighthouse at Malariff
Lighthouse at Malariff
Rock Formations at Lóndrangar
Rock Formations at Lóndrangar
Lava Fields
Lava Fields
Dramatic Coastline
Dramatic Coastline

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.

Road to the Lighthouse
Road to the Lighthouse
Rock Cliffs on the Side Road
Rock Cliffs on the Side Road
Steam or Cloud?
Steam or Cloud?
Nesting Place for Birds
Nesting Place for Birds

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.

Westfjords Across the Bay
Westfjords Across the Bay
Us on the Coastal Road
Us on the Coastal Road
Amazing Black Beach
Amazing Black Beach

 

Black Lava Beaches on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

One of the most interesting things that we’ve seen in our travels are the black lava beaches in Iceland. There are several of them on the island, but we visited the ones that are on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. They are especially interesting when seen during winter when the black of the lava contrasts with the white of the snow. As time goes by, the larger lava rocks slowly erode to an almost sandy appearance, but it is still quite rough. We stood for quite some time just watching the waves pounding against the rocky shore, the power of nature in all of its glory.

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Amazing Black Beach
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Lava Rocks on the Shore
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Lava Cliffs

To get to the black beaches on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you go into the Snæfellsjökull National Park and head toward the Malariff Lighthouse. From there you simply continue to the shore where the beaches line the coast. You will also get a chance to see the twin peaks of Lóndrangar, which are huge lava rocks along the shore that have survived years of erosion. As we continued down the coast away from Malariff, we came across even more dramatic lava rocks on the shoreline. The lava has been carved into sheer cliffs with the waves crashing along their base. Even further along the coast, we came across large lava fields along the shore that almost looked like we had been transported to a foreign planet.

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Rocky Lava Coastline
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Waves Rolling Ashore
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Rugged Lava Carved Out by the Ocean

Visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which has been described as Iceland in miniature, is definitely something that should be seen during any trip to Iceland. For many reasons, seeing the black beaches along the coast is something that we found extremely beautiful as well as geologically fascinating.

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Snow, Lava, and the Ocean
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Rock Formations at Lóndrangar
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Alien Landscape Along the Coast

 

Geysir on the Golden Circle in Iceland

One of the highlights of the Golden Circle, which is a loop that takes you to several key tourist sights near Reykjavik in Iceland, is Gysir. It is a geyser that erupts every few minutes, often very dramatically, as well as a hot springs area with mud pits. Crowds gather around to watch Geysir as it bubbles and surges until it finally sprays hot water and steam hundreds of feet into the air. The area has been active for over a thousand years and there are many smaller thermal pots in addition to the impressive Gysir.

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It is More Dramatic Standing Away from Geysir
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Steam and Warm Ground Due to Thermal Activity Below the Ground
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You Can See the Power as Geysir Begins to Erupt
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Little Geysir

Upon arriving to the parking area, you will join large crowds that gather around the geyser to wait and watch for it to erupt. Visiting Geysir during the winter months will really give you a sense of how much the thermal activity effects the area as you go from a completely frozen landscape to one with vegetation and steam coming from the ground all around you. We are sure that it is equally dramatic at other times of year, but the contrast between the ice and snow to the steaming mud pits and grassy areas was quite fascinating.

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Dramatic Eruption
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Boiling Water
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Crowds Gathering
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Building Up to a Larger Eruption

As you stand around Geysir waiting for its next eruption, the bubbling and boiling of the water in the mouth of the geyser is almost mesmerizing to watch. Waves of water roll out towards the edges as the water literally seems to boil. We watched several smaller eruptions that only went several feet into the air, although you could still sense the power of the geyser, until finally the main attraction occurred and Geysir spewed water and steam hundreds of feet into the air. We have seen other geysers, including Old Faithful in Yellowstone, but seeing the power of Geysir was certainly an incredible sight.

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Little Geysir Eruption – Not as Dramatic as the Big Geysir
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Getting Closer to the Big Eruption
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Another Mini-Eruption
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Contrasting Landscapes