Published: June 22nd 2011June 14th 2011
This is what it's all about. The view from Grundarfjordur, and not a frozen meal in sight
..or the continuing saga of the travels of Mary Cedricsdottir. That's right, Mary's gone to Iceland (UK readers may get the joke) and what fun it was too and not a party platter or dodgy ex-popstar in sight.
Having a passing interest in all things geological and volcanic I was very excited to plan my trip to one of the world's geological hotspots, armed with GCSE Geography and a book on volcanoes I'd bought for fun (yes I am that much of a geek) I headed off to Heathrow to meet fellow explorer Linda Paulsdottir (I think I've got the hang of the Icelandic patronymic naming convention thing now) for our annual jaunt somewhere exotic.
Yep, Heathrow terminal 1 was the first stop, nice and exotic due to stupid Icelandair delays (they have not made a good impression on me), but after getting over the initial frustration of the delay being longer than the flight we finally landed in Keflavik airport on the Reykyanes peninsula south of Reykjavik. As the plane came in to land the bleakness of the island came in to full view, the peninsula is right on the continental divide and basically one large lava field,
Talk about rock and roll
Not only are you a world famous rock star, but you also have a commerical pilot's licence and fly the tour plane, respect to Bruce Dickenson.
not a tree in sight. Steam rises from the land like a scene from Tolkein and you fell like you have arrived at the beginning or the end of the world, take your pick.
So there's the Earth, the land is pretty much alive as land can ever be, slap bang on the constructive plate boundary between the European and American tectonic plates and so it is still growing (told you I was a geek). The only other place in the world where this can be seen on land is in the Rift valley in Ethiopia, how exciting!
As for the wind, as we came in to land it was clear it was blowing an absolute gale, the pilot did rather a good job getting us down. Even though it was June it was freezing as the wind was so strong coming off the Atlantic, I was glad I packed my gloves. And of course the fire, volcanoes abound and the sun burns for nearly 24 hours, fire in the sky, it’s witchcraft I tell you.
Once we’d bumped in to land and spotted the Iron Maiden tour plane taking off we found our 4x4 and crunching
gears, headed off in to Reykjavik. After a drive through the lava fields the capital city came in to view. Iceland is a country of roughly 310,000 people and most live in Reykjavik so the driving was rather easy compared to the busy London streets so it was rather fun. By the time we checked in and headed in to town, it was 9pm, but the sun was still blazing high in the sky, sunglasses were still on even though the wind was doing it’s best to blow them off my head. The city centre is quite small as you can imagine with plenty of opportunities to try the local specialities of Puffin or buy woolly socks. The harbour has plenty of signs of the Icelandic banking crisis with lots of half built apartment blocks looking sorry for themselves.
The next morning and it was Golden Circle time, the well worn tourist path around a few of the tourist hotspots. After the first night of midnight sun, we headed off up the Icelandic ring road, route 1, and then took a right to head over to Thingvellir and the site of the first parliament (the Althing) and continental divide.
To be honest, I'm surprised those Viking long boats even floated, they dont look very well built to me.
After just about being able to get the car doors open as it was still so windy, we took a stroll down the continental divide to the site of the Logberg (law rock), unfortunately PMQs wasn’t on so I just enjoyed all the lovely geology surrounding me. Oh the tectonics, you could almost hear the continents dividing…
Hopping back in the 4x4 and we drove on up to Geysir, home of the, yep you guessed it, Geysir. Sadly Geysir is a bit lacking these days and isn’t really performing for its audience, so the crowds had to gather around the smaller Strokker vent. There is something quite hypnotic about waiting for an eruption (eh Linda?). Everyone gathers around waiting, cameras in hand, as the water teases the crowd, bubbling away, the smell of sulphur hangs in the air and then suddenly the water shoots out up in to the sky. I wouldn’t fancy a shower in it and to be honest, it is sort of like watching someone about to be sick. Still it is rather cool and not to be missed.
The final stop on the Golden Circle is the immense waterfall at Gullfoss. As you approach
After a bad guinea pig experience in Peru, there was no way I was going to try the puffin.
you can hear the roar of the massive cataract and you get a nice shower from the spray. The river Hvita rushes over three levels of rock, you really wouldn’t want to lose your footing and fall in.
Time to head back to Reykjavik, we took a less well travelled road and switched on the 4-wheel drive (I had to read the manual the night before) and took a dirt track towards a town called Sellfoss through some pretty farmland. Finally we hit back on Route 1 and took a few detours to some towns on the south coast and then through yet another lava field to the city.
After another night of burning sunshine and snow (?!), it was up early to head back on the road and we were heading north to the Snaesfellnes peninsula. By now I was speaking in geological tongues; Magma! Magma! And we all know what the difference between magma and lava is, don’t we?
North of Reykjavik the road follows the coast and you pass through a long Troll tunnel to Akranes (the Milton Keynes of Iceland apparently) which is 5km under the sea, the coastline becomes even spectacular with
I really am not sure why...
sharp mountains rising dramatically from the sea. We drove through the town of Borgarnes where the first settlements were and carried on further north.
Finally we reached the Snaesfellnes peninsula and cut across the land to the town of Stykkisholmur for a welcome hot drink. Even though it was June the weather was not kind and an icy wind was blowing across the land, it all felt rather bleak. Our hotel for the night was further west along the north coast in the town of Grundarfjordur, the drive along the coast took us through the fantastically named Berserker lava field. The coastline was becoming even more spectacular and as the roads were empty it was easy to stop every 5 minutes to take a quick photo or two. As we arrived in Grundarfjordur the amazing Kirkjufell mountain towered over the town. I think it is the nicest town we visited, the mountains behind are covered in snow and the views from the bay are fantastic. The view from the hotel window wasn’t quite so good, overlooked an oil drum and fish factory, ah well you can’t have it all.
Once we checked in it was back to the
Thing or Ping?
Thingvellir/Pingvellir, spell it how you like, but has two claims to fame.
car and a drive around the peninsula. We took another dirt road cutting across the peninsula south to Budir and then slowly made our way clockwise around the volcano at the end. The volcano was made famous by being in the Jules Verne classic ‘Journey to the centre of the earth’. In the book they enter the volcano at the start of the journey and pop out somewhere in Italy at the end of the book. It is a fine example of a volcano although classed still as ‘Active’ it hasn’t erupted for a very long time. I tried to anger the volcano to start an eruption but to no avail, he still sleeps.
The peninsula is so beautiful and well worth a visit, sadly we didn’t have time for a trip up the glacier on the volcano but we did have time for a ‘Vodcano’ later that evening. As the sun didn’t go down past the yard arm, it was cocktail hour anyway and so the with some duty free vodka and a bit of imagination the ‘Vodcano’ was born.
The following day, it was back down south and we returned the same route towards Reykjavik. The
It was home to the first ever Parliament
wind had finally abated and the sun was shining, it finally felt like June. By this time I was far too confused with all this midnight sun business. It felt like I was still in one long day but just having a few naps in between. Still there are lots of advantages to such long days, you can really fit in a lot and since most sights in Iceland are free you can pop along anytime to see something.
Our final hotel was an old American army base near the airport at Reykeynes, after a little confusion in finding it we dropped off the bags and headed to the famous ‘Blue lagoon’ in the lava field close by. I hadn’t done my homework and thought it was a natural pool but it turns out we were actually bathing in industrial effluent. Doesn’t sound so appealing now does it?
Still it is effluent of the good kind, just water which is pumped down in to the ground by the nearby power station and then once they have used it, the waste water was left to flow in to the lava field. The side effect of all this was silica deposits
it is also on top of the continental divide, the land is splitting before your very eyes.
which created the famous blue pools. A bit pricey (and smelly) but certainly worth a visit, I look at least 10 years younger now so it was £25 well spent and it is so cool swimming outside in a lava field.
So the epic saga was almost at an end, my comrade in arms had an early flight back to the north of England the next morning but my flight wasn’t until later in the day so for my final few hours I took the faithful jeep down the Reykeynes lava field to the end of the continental divide and stood on the bridge between the two continents. I cannot stress enough HOW COOL it is to cross continents via a footbridge. Total geological geek out I can tell you.
Iceland is incredible, there is so much more to see, we didn’t even get close to the erupting volcanoes in the east, or do any of the exciting activities on offer. I shall certainly try and go back for more exploring. However I was quite glad to get back to proper nights, that whole daylight thing is just a bit too weird, but then it is a rather
Trip Trap, Trip Trap
Troll spotting at Thingvellir, they are a bit camera shy but if you make like a goat, you can usually draw them out.
There are more photos below