Traveling from West to North Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015

It’s a 4 hour journey by car from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsjökull Peninsular to Siglufjordur in North Iceland. A lot of dirt track but a good sound surface. Great views of the sea, mountains, big pebble beaches and waterfalls on the way. Plenty of horses with no names. Be aware that there is a 6 km single track tunnel under the mountains just before your reach Siglufjordur. At the end of the ride is a pretty little Siglufjordur, surrounded by snowy mountains and water and with an award winning Herring Museum. The recently opened Silgo Hotel is very pleasant, as is dinner at the affiliated Hannas Boy restaurant. 
    
    
    
    
       
    
    
 

Snæfellsjökull National Park, West Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

We awoke to a wet and cloudy day, but the circular Stykkisholmur – Snæfellsjökull National Park – Stykkisholmur was on our itinerary for the day, so off we set in our 4WD. This route has much to offer, including many spectacular – wait for it – yes, waterfalls and mountains!

First stop was Grundarfjordur fishing village, where the Saga Center folk offered some nice hot coffee, with free refills, and sound advice on what to see/do in the area (should you be so lazy as not to already have a detailed agenda for the day). There are many local hikes. It is important to listen to the center’s advice about individual hike difficulty and safety – these are dangerous mountains.

Next up was pretty little waterfall close to the towering Kirkjufell. While Kirkjufell translates to Church Mountain, I think the mountain looks more like the talking Sorting Hat from Harry Potter – Griffindor! It was 8 C with a brisk wind so we were freezing – for Icelandic Summers remember to bring your woolly hat and gloves; thermal underclothes probably not a bad idea. 
    
 
Even though it was only 11.25 am, it was time for some of Anna’s famous fish soup at Gamla in the very small town of Rif – delicious!

The main scenic route in the National Park starts at Route 574 at Hellissandur, where you begin to skirt the rugged slopes of Snaefellsjokill volcano. We started to see lots of lava spurs coming down from the mountain, and many lava fields. We then took Route 579 (dirt track) to Skardsvik golden sands. As it was August, there were hundreds of Arctic Terns feeding their babies – quite the sight! 

    
   
We continued on the dirt track and then took a left onto another dirt track for Vatnsborg crater carpark. From the carpark, we walked for about 2 km through a somewhat tortuous lava field, spotted with mosses and alpine plants, until finally reaching the crater. It’s small but you get the feeling that something big happened here about 1000 years ago. 
    
    
 
After returning to our car, we went back to first dirt track and turned left and drove to the end of the road to Svortyuloft bird cliffs – impressive! And a nice light house. 

    
 
After the cliffs, we turned around and went back to Route 574. We went south on Route 574 and then followed the marked turn off to Saxholl crater. It is a quick 100m climb to the top for great views of lava flows. 
    
 
We continued south on Route 574 and then turned onto Route 572 to the black sand beach at Djupalonssandur (car park and toilets). 
   
We continued on Route 574 to Arnarstapi, which is the best place to organize snowmobile or snowcat glacier tours up the volcano/glacier. As there was quite a bit of cloud and the real possibility of hypothermia, we decided not go up the volcano and instead we walked part of the beautiful Arnarstapi to Hellnar coastal hike (3km return).  We had good views of the volcano below the cloudline, with lovely twisting lava tubes. 
    
    
    
 After that we continued West on Route 574 and headed back to Stykkisholmur.
The day was completed with an excellent dinner at Sjavarpakkhusid (we had fish soup followed by local blue shell mussels).
So, that was Snæfellsjökull National Park and Surrounds. 

Stykkisholmur, West Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

Two hours from Reykjavik is the small fishing town of Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsular. The trip to Stykkisholmur is quite spectacular. Initially, you are close to the coast with high mountains immediately to the West. After a 6 km tunnel that takes you under the Hvalfjordur, the countryside starts to get pretty desolate with big lava fields and huge volcanic mountains visible in all directions. Some of the lower hills are very red in color, which contrasts nicely with the sage colored moss/lichen coating the lava fields. Small alpine plants appear here and there; they seem quite lonely.

   
  
Stykkisholmur itself sticks out into the Breidafjordur, with views to the distant mountains of Westfjords. While the town is small with only about 1100 inhabitants, it boasts some great accommodations (including the best hostel in Iceland) and restaurants, notably Narfeyrarstofa and Sjavarpakkhusid.  

 There is not a huge amount to do in the town itself, but two “musts” are the short walk over to the basalt island of Sugandisey, where you can sit and enjoy great views of the fjord, and the Vikingsuchi Adventure Tour operated by Seatours. On this tour you approach a number of small uninhabited islands – note the very strong ocean currents – and get to see lots of seabirds, including pretty Puffins, regal Shags, Fulmars, Kittiwakes.  

    
   
You also get to eat seafood straight from the sea. The crew drop, trawl and then hoist a net which comes back up from the seabed full of creatures – colorful starfish and sea urchins, slightly scary looking sea cucumbers, crabs and lots of scallops. The fresh scallops and sea urchin roe were excellent, especially when accompanied with a little soy, wasabi and ginger!  

   
   
   
After the tour, you might like to pop into the Volcano Museum. 
So, that was Stykkisholmur – definitely worth a visit.

Beautiful Views on the Golden Circle Tour, Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

After two days of exploring Reykjavik city, it was time to head out for some lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The Golden Circle tour is one of the most popular day excursions from the city. The tour takes you to Geysir to see small, bubbling thermal pools and, well, geysers, and then to Gullfoss too see tremendous waterfalls, and finally to Pingvellir for some in-your-face geological education. There are many companies which offer the Circle tour. We used Iceland Horizon and had Gerta as our very knowledgable and talkative guide.

Our first stop was not on the classical tour – why not I don’t know as it was spectacular – the Tungufljot waterfall. It was a beauty! Make sure you view from both the upper and lower car parks.      
 

Next stop was Geysir. This was a bit disappointing in comparison to Yellowstone, as most of the geysers don’t shoot off that often. However, there was one which went off every 4 – 5 mins and it was pretty spectacular. View the water spout both from beside the thermal pool and from the red rock hilltop about 100 m above the pool. If you want to eat, get the delicious lamb soup from The Cantina.     

 

Then we were on our way to Gullfoss. However, as we approached the entrance to the waterfalls, our guide whipped us straight past to view the barren landscape of the Highlands and a distant glacier. It was worth it, more or less. 

Gullfoss is an incredible sight – OMG amounts of water per second fall from one cascade to another until finally plunging into a volcanic rift. Make sure to view from both the top and lower pathways. On the latter pathway you will get a wee bit wet, but it’s worth it. And watch out for the lovely Icelandic horses in the vicinity – small and cute, but also hardy.    

   

Our final stop was Pingvellir, site of the Icelandic Parliament from 930 until 1798. Pingvellir National Park is located in an active volcanic area (OK, so is most of Iceland) and covers approx. 24,000 ha, of which about 9,000 ha constitute the World Heritage property. If you have heard about continental drift and wondered “what does that actually look like?”, then this is the place to come. Its best-defined feature is a major rift, which has produced dramatic fissures and cliffs demonstrating inter-continental drifting between North America and Europe in a spectacular and easily understandable way. It did not come as any surprise that some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here – those naughty Lannisters! The National Park is enclosed by mountains on three sides, featuring grass-covered lava fields, and Lake Pingvallavatn lies at the southern end of the park.     

   

After Pingvellir, it was a short ride back to Reykjavik. So, that was the Golden Circle!

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Reykjavik alive!

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

Reykjavik is an amazing city! 

Like the country and the island upon which it resides, and despite its ancient and rich history, Reykjavik is best described as “youthful”. The surrounding sea is fresh and clean, the mountains are high and show little signs of aging, the buildings are mostly modern, the architecture is angular and sophisticated, and folks of all types are made welcome.   
    
   

On the latter point, it was Gay Pride while we were there, and everyone seemed to be very excited about the 4 day event, with rainbow flags proudly popping up everywhere, and a street was turned into Dorothy’s yellow brick road – well OK, Dorothy’s rainbow road….Dogs and trolls were made to feel at home, and even puffins wanted to get in on the fun.   
   

On your first day in the city, take the free walking tour, which lasts about 90 mins, cover about 1.5 km and introduces you to the main sights. This tour was very informative, and with our guide, Lolly, was fun as well – he had a good sense of humor – you have to when you have green hair – and he will tell you about local politicians and the sex lives of elves. In any case, meet your guide at the starting point at Clock Tower on Laekjartorg Square at 12 or 2 pm. If you are in a group you will need to book at info@freewalkingtour.is. The tour includes Parliament, Old Cathedral, Hallgrimskirkja Church (very tall church which can be glimpsed from many parts of the city), City Hall, National Theater, and views of the huge Harpa Concert Hall. Lolly peppered our tour with anecdotes and fact that only a local would know. I would say this short tour is a must!   

   

After the tour, be sure to walk along the sea front to visit the glass covered Harpa Concert Hall and enjoy the great views of the mountains to the North.    

   

And that was Reykjavik!

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