I’ll try not to make this blog post sound like a love letter to Iceland, but in all honesty, I left my heart here on my first trip out here in 2014 and uh, I’ve been desperately lovesick ever since.
Sometimes you see too much of something and you become immune to it. But Iceland? This place is just too damn beautiful for its own good. I feel sure this country will never bore me with its endless cobalt mountains, thundering waterfalls, miles of gnarly coastlines, insanely bizarre moon-scapes and lava fields. Each time I go back there’s a niggling anxiety that it couldn’t ever be as fantastic as my memory tells me it was, but then I touchdown in Keflavik, my stomach screws itself up and I have to remind myself to pick my jaw off the floor. Jesus Christ… Iceland!
This time around was my third time in Iceland and was my first time in summer, and now having visited during two of the four seasons I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite. It’s just as stunning iced in snow as it is in when it flaunts the entire spectrum of colours in early September. However, summer is road trip season, and I couldn’t deny I was definitely enjoying the freedom the clear roads gave us.
Cue a road trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula!
Often referred to as mini-Iceland, this westerly point to the north of Reykjavik promised us a ‘best of’ tour with black beaches, mountain ranges, glaciers, waterfalls… – the lot! Plus it was an ‘easy’ eight to ten hour round trip from the capital and back. (Comparatively this journey should be a breeze when I remember our epic 12 hour trip to Jokulsarlon in a particularly bad February through snow, thick fog, black ice…)
Kicking ourselves out of our Airbnb flat at the rather decent hour of 9am we set off on Route 1 around the base of Mt Esja. It wasn’t long until we’d eased into the drive, flown through the Hvalfjardagong Tunnel (paid the 1,000 kr toll), and began to drink in the views from the other side as we cruised north.
We pulled up for a swift stop off at the gorgeous town of Borganes. Borganes is a small settlement that juts out on a sheltered peninsula; civilization with some wonderful views! We just had time for a stroll along the coastline and it was time to get back on the road.
First of our official ‘attractions’ and one that I was most eager to see, were the basalt columns of Gerduberg. I had been forewarned on a few websites that they are quite easy to miss due to the fact that they aren’t clearly seen from the main road, but maybe it was because I was keeping a keen eye out for them or that it was such a sunny day, that it wasn’t altogether difficult to spot the belt of basalt columns bursting up from the hillside on the right. Taking the gravel turn off, we were able to park beneath them and venture up take a closer look.
Compulsory to any Icelandic driving tour is a good roadside nuzzle with a pack of Icelandic horses! We had loads of opportunities but these friendly guys were my favourite, and seemed to have picked a rather fantastic grazing spot. Cue obligatory horse pictures; a must for any Iceland blog post!
Cutting across peninsula on route 56 we reached a peak in the road and discovered a cluster of cars parked up and admiring the panorama. If I’ve learnt anything from Iceland, if you see more than a couple of cars by the side of the road, you make sure to pull over too. It’s a gamble between a show-stopping view or a flock of sheep (us tourists go mad for the sheep!). On this occasion it paid off spectacularly; hello lava field!
Iceland has a knack for knocking up picnic tables in the most amazing places. Pulling out the lunch gear from the car we prepared our tuna sandwiches in the sun whilst gawping at some of the craziest scenery I’d ever seen. It was pretty much a ‘pinch me, is this actually real life?’ moment.
Cruising towards the north coast of Snaefellsnes, our next stop was going to be Kirkjufell mountain which is just past the bay of Grundarfjörður. Living up to the hype, this pyramid shaped mound cut a fantastic silhouette against the blue sky.
Driving up to it, it was feelings of both awe churned up with quite a lot of jealously for the residents of this adorable fishing village that get to wake up to this view every single day! Wow!
Only a mile or so from Kirkjufell we found ourselves pulling over at a Black Beach. It was this unplanned stop that just went ahead and stole my heart all over again. (Iceland, you just can’t quit!)
Scrambling down the sand dune, following three rogue sheep as they trotted away towards the hillside, we promptly forgot that this was September and a chilly 10 degrees outside and ran barefoot into the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s waft aside for a minute that my toes were near frostbitten from the shock and I spent the rest of the trip with black sand in my boots, being on that beach with the Icelandic sun in my face = Total happiness!
Having spent a little longer at each stop than we’d planned, we decided to cut corners, literally. We chose to take the 54 back down towards the south of the peninsula rather than swing around the tip. As far as I know we missed out on some pretty fabulous coastlines (gutting!), but probably gained an hour on our journey; we needed to to get to a few of the other stops along the way, and get back into Reykjavik before nighttime.
The 54 started off gravelly, so we had to creep down this road in fear that we’d slide halfway down the mountain. Thankfully gravel turned to tarmac and we were soon coasting across the breadth of Snaefellsnes.
If it’s one thing Iceland does well, it’s waterfalls. Bjarnarfoss is pretty epic; a 260 foot drop cascading down the cliff face, with basalt columns stretching out from either side.
Some brave souls had scaled the steep hillside for a better look. “...Its awesome up there” a solo traveler advised us, as he walked past.
Well, why not get a closer view of this?
Half way up, thighs burning, out of breath, flirting with the real possibility of going home with a broken neck and being all too ready to give up and conk out, we were thinking, ‘okay, yeah, but how awesome?!
Figuring we couldn’t just turn back now, we powered on to the top, and after allowing ourselves a few minutes to regain feeling in our legs, were able to enjoy the panorama from the Bjarnarfoss with the spray in our faces.
Yeah. It was awesome!
The next stop was tentative, it all boiled down to whether we could locate the turn off.
As a huge hotpot lover, I’d been to local pools and swimming baths around South Iceland but I was so keen to find a totally natural ‘hole in the ground’ hotpot, and after a bit of research, Landbrotaslaug seemed like it!
Our offline map came up trumps and sent us down the right road. Following the tight gravel track we then flung a left after spotting a small sign for ‘Hot Springs’. Abandoning the car we then walked the last few meters across a shallow pond towards Landbrotaslaug.
Stripping off in the middle of a field was a rather bizarre experience, then shivering in our swimming costumes until we got up enough courage to sink our bodies into the tiny hole in the ground.
At 44 degrees Landbrotaslaug was more than a bit toasty! We went from chilly to roasting in a matter of a few minutes, but my god… it was amazing! It doesn’t get more ‘Icelandic’ than bathing in the middle of a lava field, watching the sun set around you.
Top Tips for an Icelandic Road Trip
- Keep your juice up: leave on a full tank and take note of where your petrol stations are en-route so you’re not in danger of running dry. When in doubt – top up.
Icelandic petrol stations are incredibly easy to use, and even when they are not manned, you can use the self-serve pumps. As with most of Iceland, you can use your debit or credit card.
- Snacks: It’s not only your car that can run empty, you need to be keep energy levels at a high so visit Bonus and stock up on crisps and drinks. Take picnic food with you for lunch as you’re bound to find a picnic table with a show-stopping view.
- Map it: You need to know where you’re going, of course! Your car rental company can probably hire you a SatNav. We downloaded Co-Pilot Nordics which worked really well. We also had a couple of offline maps downloaded on our iPhones (Ulmon Offline Maps) and had a spare paper map in the boot for dire emergencies.
- Pack a plug: We purchased an in-car iPhone charger – a life saver. Now I could Tweet all day without feeling guilty!
- Stay safe and be aware: Most importantly – follow the rules of the road, and be careful. The speed limit is lower than back in UK and for good reason, especially on the gravel tracks where your tyres can lose grip. Stay safe when pulling over for photographs – only park where it’s wise to do so and check when getting in and out of the car for other traffic.
Have you ever been to Iceland? Driven the Snaefellsnes Peninsula yourself? Do you have another favourite place in Iceland? Or have I inspired you to make a journey of your own?