Brace yourself kids, this is a long one! From the snowy south coast I set out towards a windy moon like landscape full of rocky shores, moody skies and a surprise or two watching me from the water. My first stop was on a whim, just outside of Reykjavik is Hveradalir Geothermal Area, literally just on the side of the road. You can see the steam rising from the earth and a small walkway around so naturally I thought I’d stop and see what it was all about. The color, smell and texture made this 10 minute roadside excursion a fascinating break after hours on the road. My take away here is stop to smell the sulfur! You won’t be disappointed!
Less than 2 hours north of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, lays the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and miles of basalt coastline that I couldn’t get enough of. Being less touristy than the south coast I had the opportunity to see sights all on my own or share them with very few people. The stop I went to first was Selvallafoss, or Sheep’s waterfall as it’s sometimes called, where there wasn’t another soul around for over an hour. This smaller wonder is hidden from the road making it less likely to be visited, as I witnessed by people driving into the small lot, realizing they would need to get out of the car to see something, and driving away. In fairness there was a little snow falling but really the walk to see it was very short and if you walked down a hill towards a lake you could come up the river and be directly in front of the falls. I know because that’s exactly the route I took and spent time enjoying the snow with nothing but the sound of rushing water around me. In warmer months you can go behind this fall too but that wasn’t something I was going to conquer over the ice.
And while this lesser known waterfall was a place of peace the next location is one that had the most people enjoying the view, the ever recognizable Kirkjufell mountain, north of the wall. For any Game of Thrones fan you know this place intimately. It stands out in the landscape overlooking the town of Grundarfjörður. Across the street is Kirkjufellsfoss which makes for a wonderful foreground with it’s tiered frozen layers making it’s way down from the mountains behind it. With the ocean on one side and mountains along the other the scenery here truly is straight out of the mind of George RR Martin.
After a short trip through a snowy mountain pass I reached the southern side of the peninsula where you find Búðakirkja, the famous black church. While the church itself is extremely picturesque, it sits along a lava field and a short walk to the ocean, making this location one of endless photographic possibilities. Many people visit the church, as I did before, but never take the walk down to the shore. Here I spent time exploring the beauty of the moss covered lava before finding the trail to the beach where I happened upon a handful of seals just enjoying the beautiful day. Seeing these adorable water dogs floating on their backs, looking up at me sitting on the shoreline and feeling the warmth of the sun was worthy of the walk.
As there was so much to explore north of the wall I headed to my hotel to check in just a short drive up the road. Knowing my rooms on this trip were about a place to sleep, shower and find a bite to eat I booked myself a simple accommodation at Hotel Langaholt, a family owned hotel nestled between a glacier and the ocean. Upon arrival I found I had been upgraded to a room in the newer part of the hotel which to me meant I had a view of the glacier and not the parking lot. Now who’s going to say no to that? My first floor with walk out onto the grounds and large bay window were such a blessing as I found myself leaving the room over and over to catch the glacier in all it’s sunset glory. Snæfellsjökull was lit beautifully as the sun set and well I now have hundreds of pictures of her! I even managed to grab some pictures of the stars after dinner! More on that later because I know you’re all waiting….
I woke up on my second day in the peninsula ready for a long hiking day. Beginning at a rare yellow sand beach my day started at Skarðsvík Beach where high tide and whipping winds set the tone for what the day would hold. Being up and out on the road by 7am every day meant you got to enjoy sights on your own before tour buses and camper vans took over. This was perfect for my next stop, Djúpalónssandur, a black sand beach strewn with a rusty ship wreck and smooth black rocks. Despite almost leaving my cellphone on the beach this rocky wonderland was perfect for a special shoot and look, more glacial views!
From here I set out through Snæfellsjökull National Park I decided to stop at Saxhóll Crater where I intended to hike up to the top however the 40mph wind gusts and 25-30mph sustained winds made me think better of it. While disappointing, safely while hiking is key no matter where you are. I pulled in to take a few photos and assess the situation and when the winds almost blew me off my feet I decided it would be a bad idea to even try on this day. So off I drove to Arnarstapi where I would begin my hike for the day. This coastal hike began down by the harbor where there’s a trail which leads along the coastline to Hellnar. This town to town walk has more gorgeous views than I could even explain. With whipping winds and numerous photo stops it took me nearly the entire day. You can do this hike in either direction but beginning in the town of Arnarstapi meant you had the majority of your photogenic views at the beginning of the hike which for me was welcome and meant I could put the camera away and hike back for my round trip.
Rewarding myself with a few minutes of sitting on the Hellnar beach having a water break and taking silly selfies gave me the push to return the 1.5 miles to the car, not far but rocky, windy and cold. Let’s also not forget I’m doing all of this with 17ish pounds on my back. Finally, to end the day I made one last stop at Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. While the gorge entrance was covered in ice, making it dangerously impassable, it still offered beautiful views and a friendly raven overhead.
I could have explored Snæfellsnes Peninsula for days longer and likely would go back in warmer months to gain access to some of the more inaccessible sites. I highly recommend a few days in this area. Less tourists, close to the city and some of the darkest night skies I’ve ever seen.