This is part of a set of posts on a trip to Iceland by our family of 5.
This is our 4th day in Iceland and our last day before we head to the capitol city of Reykjavik. Our trip over the mountains yesterday had caused me some concern about the road conditions for today’s leg. I was sure the roads would be tolerable but blowing snow would slow us down. In the end, the roads were quite clear and the day became very warm. It was another example of how quickly a small change in location in Iceland could lead to a dramatic swing in the natural conditions.
We had a bit of a lie-in and didn’t start until about 9am. It would be a leisurely drive to Olafsvik (vik=bay) then to the head of the peninsula where we were hoping to go for a quick, easy hike. Snaefellsjokull National Park has a remarkable science fiction reputation that I hadn’t known about until reading up for this trip. The park service provides a great trail guide and there are plenty of walks for any age and ability.
Almost as soon as we left the cottage and turned northwest, we had our first animal encounter for the day. Something darted out of the snow on our right and I slowed down to see what it was. I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t seen much in the way of animal life: birds, mostly, and an occasional horse. My daughter and I took photos and tried to figure out what on earth this was. Fortunately, since Iceland has few native wild animals, it was relatively easy to identify this as an Arctic fox. He was having a bit of a fisticuffs with a large black raven.
The drive west was uneventful although provided beautiful views of the water and a variety of sites as we went along. In some places we were within feet of nesting colonies of birds – kittiwakes, I think – and in others we just saw a different type of village from the ones further south. For example, the towns along the northern edge of this peninsula seemed to have more small houses packed more closely together than the more spread out regions further south.
Even up here, it is possible to see how the island was shaped by volcanic and other forces pushing the rock up. As we stopped to look at some birds, I noticed this odd shape in the rock and realized that the strata were undulating. Where we usually see, in North America, bands of rock in relatively straight lines, these were bent like pretzels. I still find the idea that the island was formed through such pushing and pulling fascinating.
Snaefellsjokull National Park
We entered the park and followed the highway through it. We ended up missing the turnoff for the Eyrar trail, the one we’d planned for. Rather than turning around, we picked an alternate and drove down to the beach at Dritvik, the home of the Djupalon “pearls”. In fact, when we arrived in the parking lot, we had no idea about how well known this beach was. Our immediate concern was the lack of a bathroom. Although there were two washrooms there, they had been locked up for the season and so we were reminded that, like getting gas for the car, bathrooms should be used when found, regardless of need!
There was a nice easy path down to the beach from the parking lot. Or it would have been easy if it wasn’t still covered in snow and ice. We slipped a bit getting down but once on the beach itself, the snow was left behind. As far as you could see, there were these small black rocks polished extraordinarily smooth by the waves that had washed them up onto the beach. There is also the twisted metal of a boat that wrecked here nearly a century ago and that has been left as a kind of memorial.
We climbed up the trail and headed north towards Dritvik. We were not going to complete the entire hike but instead just decided to walk for about 30 minutes north and then back again. As we came up onto the headland, we felt the full burst of the sun on us and it was amazingly warm. Where we had been in coats at the parking lot and tramping through snow, now it felt warm enough to drop all coats and even the breeze in from the ocean was light. We saw animal tracks in the remnants of snow in the rocks, mostly mice or small rodents and an occasional rabbit.
On our walk back to the car, we saw a group of sheep down on the beach so we decided to get a closer look. The boys and I walked slowly towards a cluster of about 5 hairy rams at the end of the beach. They watched us but didn’t make a move. We thought we saw hoof prints coming down the side of a quite steep cliff beside the beach, about 20 feet tall. It was funny to think of these friendly-looking beasts making that kind of a climb. We left them alone after having a look and to take a photograph.
Reykholt and Snorri Sturluson
We continued around the peninsula, past Vegemot, and on to Borganes. Instead of following Highway 1 back towards Reykjavik, we turned east and headed towards one of the sites that held a lot of cultural interest for us. We had missed Snorrastofa, the home of Snorri Sturluson, the day before because we’d run out of time. Now we would drive over and make up for that omission.
Sturluson is believed to have written what’s known as the Prose Edda. It wasn’t the only set of saga tales we came across; in particular, Njal’s Saga was much in view in the southwestern part of Iceland. But anyone who has read J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings or, more importantly, The Silmarillion, will find the Eddas interesting. We had downloaded free copies of a Kindle version and our 11 year old and I both started reading it. It turned out to be an excellent introduction so that, when we arrived at Reykholt, some of the exhibits were obvious because the Edda had described them so well.
The Snorrastofa Web site is rather unattactive. Don’t let that dissuade you from visiting and seeing a really well done exhibit about his life and the Edda. Once you’re finished, you can look into the beautiful church that has been built there and visit his pool, Snorralaug.
We had the good fortune to ask a docent a question that led her to showing us around the church and giving us a quick peek to the academic quarters for researchers. She was really delightful and you could tell how proud she was of the site. She also mentioned another waterfall we had not heard of so we headed a bit further east in order to take a peek at it. The Hraunfoss (hraun=lava, foss=waterfall) is described in our guidebook as being formed by “springwater” flowing over lava for about a kilometer before emerging over the rocks. The water is remarkably clear and the blue color is hard to believe. There is a second waterfall about 200 yards along, the Barnafoss (barna=children, reminds me of bairns), and shares a boardwalk with the Hraunfoss.
Now we turned ourselves towards Reykjavik after another filled day and looked forward to changing gears and spending the next two days walking instead of driving.