It’s early day four in Iceland and we’ve already seen so much of this stunningly beautiful country. I’m not sure that I can do it justice through my writing or photographs but will give it a go.
I’m travelling Iceland by car with my brother and two friends. From the airport we headed straight to the Snaefellsnes peninsula, often referred to as ‘Iceland in miniature’ as it features so much of what makes Iceland unique.
At the western end of the Snaefellsnes peninsula is the majestic snow-capped, dormant volcano Snaefellsjokull, with a glacier at its peak. It is famous for being the setting for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and dominates the entire peninsula. Water rushes down the huge crevices of the volcano creating some truly stunning waterfalls.
Smaller ancient volcanos are dotted along the peninsula, and the surrounding lava plains are an interesting mass of grey rocks covered with green moss. Very close to Snaefellsjokull large, abstract, jagged rocks sit exactly as they would have landed when they were spewed from the volcano more than fifteen hundred years ago. It’s eerily beautiful and truly fascinating. As you move away from the end of the peninsula, the rocks becomes browner, and are covered with brown grass and a small, pretty green and pink ground cover.
Sheep and horse-riding farms, with small sway-backed ponies are dotted across the peninsula. It is also not uncommon to see a paddock filled with swans, lazing around in the long grass. A tiny black church surrounded by a graveyard sits near the southern water’s edge at Budir. The beaches are black, filled with small volcanic stones or larger pebbles adding to the stunning landscape.
After spending the night and eating one of the nicest lamb dishes I’ve ever tasted, we explored a little more and then headed north-east to Akureyri.
As we drove away from the peninsula and into the valleys of the north, the countryside turned very lush and green. We drove past farm after farm – neat and compact and filled with sheep grazing on the thick green pasture. They have long thick wool and are mostly white although most farms (like families) have at least one black sheep. The farm houses are white with a red or blue roof and accompanied by a massive barn – painted to match the farmhouse – used to house the stock over the winter. Alongside each barn was a mountain of hay bales, shrink-wrapped in white, pink, green or black plastic. We pondered whether the colours represented the type of hay (wheat, oats, barley) or its age. Or maybe they didn’t mean mean anything at all! These are the questions that get asked when you drive for hours taking in the landscape.
The lush green valleys were surrounded by jagged, snow capped mountains. As we got closer to Akureyri these turned brown and grey – we were clearly back among dormant volcanoes.
Aside from the black church we saw so many other tiny churches along the way, in small towns or dotted amongst the farms. They were mostly white with a red roof but occasionally we would come across a stunning church that looked like it had been architecturally designed.
We arrived in Akureyri early evening. We’d booked a small two-bedroom apartment with the intention of cooking dinner at home. There was no wine at the supermarket so we asked the woman at the check-out where we could buy some. She replied that you can only buy alcohol at government-sanctioned outlets and they are closed on Sunday!! She finished by saying ‘sorry, things are a bit archaic here’.
We spent the next morning exploring Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest town with a population of around 17,000 people. Akureyri sits on the north coast nestled beside a large inlet. The town runs down the side of a hill so residents enjoy great views across the water with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop. Dominating the town centre is a very unique, white Art Deco style cathedral with a large number of stairs leading to its entrance. The beautiful botanical gardens were also a highlight as well as the town’s circular shaped concert hall, built in grey stone, and sitting beside the water’s edge.
In the afternoon we drove for about an hour into vast, barren lava plains to the geothermal alkaline springs perched on a hill overlooking Lake Myvatn for what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. We spent the last few hours of the day and into the evening bathing in an open-air, hot lagoon, surrounded by ancient volcanoes, watching the sun go down until the sky turned a spectacular pink. It felt like we were sitting on top of the world. It was a very special experience and is going to be hard to beat although I’m sure this amazing country has many more treats in store for us.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula and road to Akureyri