Part 4 of 6
Click here to read Part 3
Located a couple of hours north of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, lies the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It is often referred to as Iceland en miniature or mini Iceland since it contains so many different landscapes you encounter all around Iceland and makes a great road trip for those travellers unable to take a week and drive the full Ring Road around the island.
A drive around the peninsula can be done in a long day trip from Reykjavik, which is made even more possible by the long hours of daylight during late spring and summer. However, it has so many attractions that if you have time to explore it for 2 or 3 days then you won’t run out of things to do.
The 100km-long peninsula holds both a volcano and a glacier, lava fields, craters, waterfalls, black and white beaches, caves, picturesque mountains, calm fishing hamlets, villages and towns as well as gorgeous views along the coastline with rugged rocks jutting out from the Atlantic Ocean.
The word Snæfellsnes might seem like a bit of a mouthful for foreigners, but it’s less so when it’s broken down. It translates to Snow Mount’s Peninsula, an apt name for a long peninsula that’s got a volcano crowned with a glacier on its tip. And what’s pretty cool is that all the places we visited on this peninsula were completely FREE!
On good days, Snæfellsjökull glacier is visible from Reykjavik even though it is about 120 kilometres away. This is not surprising as it is almost 1.5 kilometres high. This is the point Jules Verne picked for his protagonists to descend on their Journey to the Center of the Earth. This is however something I recommend you do NOT try yourself!
Once again, Gunta, my travel buddy, was with me for the day. We had decided to go around the peninsula in a clockwise fashion so our first stop after leaving Reykjavik was at Ytri Tunga, an enormous beach with a spectacular backdrop of Snæfellsjökull glacier and one of the best places for seeing seals in Iceland.
In recent years, this location has become increasingly popular to stop at, not only because the seals are great models for avid photographers but also because the beach itself presents great beauty in case no seals are to be seen. In our case, the seals were not cooperating and we just saw one solitary seal ‘basking’ on a small rock just off the coast!
Búðir sits within the Búðahraun lava field, an expansive environment of torn-up earth that has become all grown over with grassy flora. Here, one can walk along the lava fields and down to the coastline along trails that look and feel unending.
However, the main attraction here is the Black Church, which has in recent years become very popular with photographers and for good reason. The small distinct church is a beautiful and minimalistic object placed in the rough nature of Iceland, where the black colour makes a beautiful contrast to the often cloudy mountains in the background.
Besides the Black Church, there are graves, a stonewall, tall grass and other stuff which can be used as foreground interest in your composition if you so desire. I got one of my favourite pictures of all time at this location – a straight-on picture with flowers in the foreground and the mountains in the background.
Rauðfeldsgjá, which translates to Red-Cloak Rift, is a deep, high and narrow ravine in the cliffs south of the glacier Snæfellsjökull. Seen from the road, it looks like a small crack in the berg that slid just a bit, enough for people to enter and observe.
There is a free car park by the road and a five to ten-minute walk to the entrance of the ravine. It was very windy that particular day so we had to bend almost double as we walked along the path towards the ravine while very strong, almost-hurricane-force winds did their utmost to blow us away!
Although entering the ravine Rauðfeldsgjá is a bit of a clamber, it’s worth it when you go into the main entrance. It is almost like a small and wonderful temple. For those who dare, a further clamber into the narrow crack following the water is possible. It will lead you to a rope where you can pull yourself up a small waterfall, and even go further into the ravine. You will get wet and cold, so only attempt this if you are wearing warm and waterproof clothes, and have dry clothes to change into as soon as you come back.
It’s not necessary to go all the whole way to the waterfall, simply go as far as you feel comfortable with and come back, as we did. The hike up to the canyon from the parking lot is beautiful, and you’ll have stunning views over Faxaflói Bay towards Reykjavík if the visibility is good.
Arnarstapi used to be a vibrant fishing village but nowadays is mainly a centre for tourism, seeing that Arnarstapi is one of the most popular sites to visit on the peninsula.
Arnarstapi has beautiful seaside views and interesting rocks in the sea surf, and is surrounded by a large lava field. A colony of Arctic Tern resides in the small hamlet, and a walk along the seashore is recommended to enjoy the lava formations and the rich birdlife.
The majestic Mt Stapafell towers over the town adding to the dramatic landscape and a sculpture of Bardur Snaefellsas by Ragnar Kjartansson stands by the beach. Bardur Snaefellsas was the settler of Snaefellsnes. Half troll and half human, he is said to protect the peninsula and the people there and many names in the area are inspired by his Saga.
By this time, both Gunta and I were feeling a bit peckish so we decided to stop for lunch here. However, make sure you check around for the best (i.e. cheapest) prices so that you do not feel cheated out of your money! Arnarstapi, however, should never be too long a stop on a tour of the peninsula. As lovely as it is, the natural attractions nearby simply do not warrant too much of your time.
Londrangar View Point
Lóndrangar are two rock pinnacles that strike out from the ocean east of Malarrif and west of Þúfubjarg in Breiðavíkurhreppur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. These uniquely formed basalt rocks are considered to be old remains of a crater which has mostly eroded away. The higher rock is about 75 metres high and the smaller one is about 61 metres high. It is easy to stop by the roadside where there is a free car park lot and a viewpoint over the Lóndrangar rocks.
Reynisfjara on Iceland’s south coast may well be the most famous black beach in Iceland, but Djúpalónssandur rivals it both in beauty and danger. This gorgeous beach contains both black sand and perfectly round black pebbles. The name means Deep Lagoon’s Sand, as nearby you’ll see the gorgeous Deep Lagoon, or Djúpalón.
It is just a short drive from the main road to Djúpalónssandur, and you can leave your car in the free car park if you’re driving. You reach the beach by walking down a path that will take you through a lava field with huge lava formations. To me, this is the most beautiful part of Djúpalónssandur. There is a peculiar rock here with a hole in it, called Gatklettur. Through the hole, you can see Snæfellsjökull glacier.
On the beach you will also come across the ruins of a British trawler, The Epine GY7, which was wrecked east of Dritvík cove on the 13th of March 1948. 14 men died, and 5 were saved by the Icelandic search and rescue teams from neighbouring towns. The iron ruins remain as a memoir of the lives lost here, so the ruins should not be taken away as they a protected monument to those who perished.
Like at Reynisfjara, the surf is life-threateningly dangerous for visitors, with sneaker waves appearing out of nowhere and grabbing anyone with them that doesn’t stay a safe distance away. Luckily for us, it was pretty calm that day!
Saxhóll is a beautiful volcanic crater that was formed between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. There are a number of steps to climb but the view from the top is spectacular. The crater is estimated to have erupted 3,000 years ago, and much of the surrounding landscape is the result of that eruption.
The collapsed core of the crater is fairly deep, and the rim around the crater offers 360 degree views of the surrounding terrain of Snæfellsjökull National Park. In fact, there is excellent visibility of the Snæfellsjökull Glacier to the east and the tip of the peninsula in the North Atlantic to the west. The magma that once spewed from here covers the landscape as far as the eyes can see, although this very much depends on the visibility at that time, which unfortunately wasn’t too good when we were there.
To reach the crater from the free car park, just climb the red-coloured metal steps. There are many steps here and it’s about a 5-10 minute climb to the top but it’s worth it. You can walk around parts of the rim of the crater, then return to your car when you’ve finished exploring.
Kirkjufellsfoss is located near Grundarfjörður at the north side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. A little after Grundarfjörður there is a small car park with a blue sign for Kirkjufellsfoss. The name means Church Mountain Falls and it comes from the peak in the background that is shaped like a kind of church.
It is not a very large waterfall as it only stands about 5 metres high, but it has a couple of levels and the water is channelled into three separate spouts which offer plenty of challenges and opportunities for the photographer.
A bit after leaving the car park you’ll already be able to see the double waterfall but for the best picture walk towards Kirkjufellsfoss and cross the river, walk down a little bit until you have the perfect view. The whole idea is to take a picture of Kirkjufellsfoss with Kirkjufell mountain in the background.
Kirkjufell has been listed as one of the top 10 most beautiful mountains in the world and when you come across it you will understand why. A mountain shaped like an arrowhead was the description it was given in the Game of Thrones, but long before it was included in this world-known TV series, it has been luring photographers and nature enthusiasts to visit it.
There is something special about the shape, location and colours of the Kirkjufell mountain: green in summer, orange in winter, white with snow, under the northern lights, at sunrise, at sunset…Magical! Don’t miss it on your Iceland road trip!
Iceland is a country where every turn brings another mystifying natural wonder impossible to describe – a land of baffling, beautiful contradictions. How do you explain a place that’s both archaic and constantly changing? Where lava meets ice? That’s both lush with greenery and a frozen tundra? That’s electrifying and calming at the same time?
No place on Earth seems so alien, but perhaps no place is as pure a showcase for our planet’s most raw and active geological features. It’s indescribably beautiful.
A land of fire, ice, and elves, Iceland is a beacon of nature’s majesty and culture. It’s also quite possibly the strangest place ever. And that’s precisely why you should go! Begin packing!