Exploring West Iceland: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

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Iceland is a place of epic extremes: giant volcanoes that plunge straight into the cold sea, glaciers with boiling pots of lava underneath, and midnight sun vs. winter blanketed in darkness. After spending a couple days in Reykjavik, we climbed in our rental car and headed northwest towards the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The clouds played with us, making the base of the mountains look like they supported Everest-size peaks, but alas the peaks never appeared. From the clouds, though, waterfalls tumbled down the slopes and over cliff edges. The stunning June colors in Iceland made the price of dealing with the high number of summer tourists well worth it. There are kilometers of blue, white and purple lupine filling lava fields; the bright greens' stark contrast to the black lava made this world all the more vivid. 

For the Snaefellness Peninsula, I followed the advice from a very useful blog post: http://iheartreykjavik.net/2015/04/drive-it-yourself-the-snaefellsnes-peninsula/

There is a helpful map on the I heart Reykjavik post, with many fun stops laid out. The eight we visited were phenomenal. While you can drive this peninsula in a day trip from Reykjavik, we chose a slower pace and spent a night on the edge of the peninsula in Rif. Stunning views are numerous along the drive. I couldn't help but hum "Misty Mountains Cold" from the Hobbit, because it seemed like that story's dwarfs had carved these mountains out of the earth.

Gerduberg Basalt Columns: 

A quick stop: For a close look turn right off the main road onto what appears to be the driveway of a farm house.

Vatnaleið: Another quick stop to look out at this breathtaking view.  

Mt. Helgafell: 

Legend says that if you climb Mt. Helgafell in total silence without looking back, you can face east and make three wishes at the prayer-chapel ruins. Anything with a legend or myth around it brings me running, so of course we stopped. The 10-15 minute hike is fast and easy; the fee to climb is 4 Krona. We lucked out because no one else was there, so we took in the sounds of the expressive sheep while admiring the sweeping scenery in lovely solitude. The views looking back across the tiny lake to the snow-covered peaks of Snæfellsnes are some of my favorite in all of Iceland. 

Stykkishólmur and Viking Sushi Tours:

 Viking Sushi tours pulling in the shellfish to eat.

Viking Sushi tours pulling in the shellfish to eat.

One of our wedding gifts was tickets for the Viking Sushi Tour, which takes visitors to the little islands near Stykkishólmur and pulls fresh seafood out of the sea for customers to eat. It was a great way to see puffins and hear sagas about these tiny islands. The puffins (I love puffins!) would flap around the boat like clumsy airships, then dive into the water and gracefully dart under the boat. The crew tosses unintentionally caught inedible sea life, like starfish, back into the water. The fresh scallops were delicious, and Ben enjoyed trying sea urchin. I recommend it as a different way to see a bit more, and the Viking sushi express tour is one of the more affordable Iceland tours. My only complaint was that the crew seemed a bit unhappy, though polite. (Perhaps because this was their second tour of the day). 

 One of the little islands we were able to get close to on the Viking Sushi Tours to look at birdlife.

One of the little islands we were able to get close to on the Viking Sushi Tours to look at birdlife.

Stykkishólmur is the last place you can visit a Bonus (affordable grocery store) before moving on through the peninsula, which we needed to do since we were spending a night in Rif.

Kirkjufell Mountain:

This was the part of the drive that just kept taking my breath away. Every turn leading up to this glorious mountain offered a new angle of view. This mountain is the most photographed in Iceland and for good reason. More than the others we saw, Kirkjufell looks carved from myth. There are several viewpoints before and after it. The most famous has a waterfall that you can photograph with the mountain in the background, but it was swarmed with tourists, so we continued on to other viewpoints.

 

Snæfellsjökull Glacier only graced us with a 2-minute midnight viewing from the window of our AirBnb. It is absolutely magnificent, just as massive a volcano as I imagined. 

Vatnshellir Cave:

The next morning we were shrouded in fog, which made the drive to Vatnshellir Cave spooky because we could only see about five feet in front of the car. The tour of the cave is inexpensive and interesting. The cave is small, but it is cool (literally and figuratively) to go deep into the earth through a pocket in the lava and hear stories of the giant trolls who had meetings here in the era of the sagas. 

Rauðfeldsgjá:

This is an epic ravine that slices into the side of Botnsfjall Mountain. It can be seen from the main road, but to get close to the ravine it's about a 15-minute hike. The snow-melt-fed stream was running quite high, preventing us from getting very far back into the ravine, and still we managed to get our pant legs soaked.

Eldborg volcanic caldera:

We finished up our circle of the peninsula with a hike to the cute Eldborg Volcanic Caldera. The hike, which took about two hours, was very easy walking until the last 15 minutes, which is straight up the sides of the crater. (The crater did not look so cute climbing straight up). Of all the places we went in Iceland, this had the smallest number of tourists; we only saw a couple on the trail. Except for a very territorial sea bird that tried to attack us repeatedly. My red hair seemed to make this lovely creature all the more angry; it dive-bombed my head as we ran laughing to the car. This hike was a peaceful break from the tourists and the car. To take this hike> drive towards the ocean from the main road, and park next to an Icelandic horse farm. 

Our last stop in West Iceland was the Geirbakari Bakery & Cafe in Bogarnes, where they serve an Icelandic pastry, the snudar, that I loved! It is like a cinnamon role topped with hardened dark chocolate. This is a great stop to take a coffee break, do some people watching, and gaze at this triangular lava beast that looms above Bogarnes.

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Did this post inspire your marvelous wanderings? Let me know!