Sunday, December 20, 2015

Iceland Adventures: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Iceland Adventures: Exploring Snæfellsnes Peninsula – 9 km - 8/23/15

When friends go on a road trip, your seat in the car for the first hour becomes your seat for the duration of the trip.  No thinking that you’re going to rotate or take turns switching around – the cushion gets molded in the shape of your own butt and there you are.  Paul in the driver’s seat, Mike as navigator front passenger, Kim left rear, me right rear and Cathy in the middle rear because her legs are the shortest and she volunteered.  (Well, we did take pity on Cathy a couple of times so she could have a side view.) 

Who controls the GPS?  Who knows the address to program in? Voice on or voice off?  Too loud or too soft?  Who only trusts a paper map?  Who can pronounce even one place name in Icelandic? Here we go!

Our 6-day trip concentrated on the far northwestern edges of Iceland.  We used the Lonely Planet’s Iceland guidebook and highly recommend it.  Planning to visit an entire country requires a lot of homework, narrowing down what appeals to everyone’s wish list, balancing driving time and sight-seeing, maximizing daylight (not a problem in Iceland in August).  With our active group, we wanted to spend time outside, hike at least a little each day, explore the natural features including hot springs, volcanoes and waterfalls.  It was easy to choose the Westfjords. 

From Reykjavik we drove north and then clockwise around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, then north some more and clockwise in and out of the Westfjords, eastward to Holmavik and then back south to Reykjavik.

Leaving Reykjavik, the skies foretold our weather for the trip. 

The view was obstructed only by clouds.  I never got used to the absence of trees.

When the island was first settled it was extensively forested, but centuries of heavy exploitation by humans for firewood and timber, followed by overgrazing by imported sheep, left the thin volcanic soil vulnerable to erosion. There are more trees in urban areas than in the remote reaches of the country, mostly birches planted in a national initiative of reforestation. A percentage of fossil fuel taxes are directed to reforestation.

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula!  Jules Verne fans will recognize the glacier-topped mountain of Snæfells, as the entry passage leading to the center of the earth.  The mountain is the real center of Snæfellsjökul National Park.  Climbing on the glacier requires a guiding service, so we contented ourselves with several shorter independent treks.  And we never saw the glacier through the fog.

First stop along Route 574:  the Park’s Visitor Center in Hellnar, where we picked up a simple trail map that proved unnecessary for our 5km round trip hike between the tiny villages of Hellnar and Arnarstapi (a cliff walk with no intersecting trails).  The spitting rain and chill temperatures did not deter us – we were finally setting our feet on Icelandic volcanic rock! 

Back near the Visitor Center, we took a lunch break at this little church with an adjacent small cemetery.  Remote houses with a few outbuildings and a tiny church are scattered throughout Iceland.

Our next venture was a 2K loop hike along the rim of Rauðhóll, a volcanic crater. Glad I wore a red rain jacket.

The smooth, steeply sloped walls are covered in mosses. 

Diversity of plant life up close

Don’t know what they are called, but they look like cotton

Closing the loop

Walking along Móðulækur stream on the way back to the road
A short hop further along Route 574 and we took a little walk to Klukkofoss, a basalt column waterfall tucked away.

By now we had accepted that Iceland was misty, damp, chilly, beautiful, ethereal and enchanting. 

Connecting back to Route 54, we stopped to fuel up near Grundarfjördur.

If you have seen the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” you will recognize the mountain called Kirkjufell that Ben Stiller skateboards past, said to be one of the most photographed icons in Iceland.

In full view right across the road is Kurkjufellsfoss, a spectacular waterfall, easy to walk to. 

Put them both together and you have an Iceland postcard.

We rolled into Stykkishólmur and located our Airbnb home for the night, a stylish modern apartment with a comfortable living room, kitchen and small den with a futon bed on the first floor and a spiral staircase leading down to two bedrooms and a full bath.  The owner stopped by to welcome us, a nice touch. 
After dumping our gear and changing into drier clothes, we walked down the main street to the harbor to determine where to meet our ferry for tomorrow’s adventure – and find some supper.

The tiny town had just a couple of restaurants.  The first one we tried turned us away because we didn’t have reservations (who knew this would be necessary on a Sunday night?)  Much better luck on our second try at Narfeyrarstofa, a charming restaurant where we scored a round doily-covered table for 5 in that alcove with the big window on the second story. 

We were introduced to Einstöck White Ale served in frosted pewter mugs.  We toasted our good fortune at finding this lovely place to end our day. 

The special of the day: cod with mashed sweet potato and pickled onions in a fancy presentation.  (Later we learned that Lonely Planet called Narfeyrarstofa “the Snæfellsnes’ darling fine-dining destination”.) 

The sun was below the horizon but the sky was still light as we walked back to our apartment, where silence settled in as we all logged onto the Wifi to check Facebook, check email and text the folks back home.  Having a great time, wish you were here!  What will tomorrow bring?

"Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the seam, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."  ~John Lubbock

No comments: