Winter road trip on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Peninsula reads like a historical record of Iceland’s geological backstory,
with nearly every chapter of its past represented in unique terrestrial
features. And just like a fine wine, it’s matured into an absolute stunner.
Only a three-hour drive from Reykjavik on paper, the 100-kilometer-long peninsula could be ticked off in a day. But we recommend allocating two days to drive around a compact smorgasbord of pensive fjords, ancient lava flows and black-sand beaches. Not to mention the snow-covered volcanoes, such as Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano crowned with a glacier sitting at the western end of the peninsula.
When the sun finally rises it throws light across a landscape more lunar than terrestrial. It’s desolate, raw and rugged out here, and completely captivating too: a stark beauty of jagged volcanic rock under a blanket of spongy moss in front of pyramid-shaped mountains. Stay still and listen to the howl of the winds blowing across the serrated surfaces of basalt. Now breathe!
Going to church
Further along on the northern coast, near the town of Grundarfjörður, towers the 463-meter-tall Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) and its three-pronged waterfall that channels the glacial water of Snæfellsjökull Glacier. The photographic-gravitational pull here is too strong to resist, and you will probably spend some time trying to take the perfect shot of Kirkjufell—Iceland’s most photographed mountain, and recently, a cameo star in Game of Thrones. Kirkjufell might also be the most perfect backdrop to any Northern Lights photograph. Come back at night in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky on top of the free-standing, symmetrical mountain.
After lunch, stop by Djúpalónssandur Cove at the base of Snæfellsjökull. It’s a short, rocky walk through a lava field down to the black sand and pebble beach, past two small freshwater lagoons said to have magical healing properties.
The edge of the world
Before driving back to Reykjavik head to Lóndrangar, a pair of 75 and 61-meter-tall basalt pinnacles that are the remains of a crater that once stood here. Warning signs around the cliff edge explain in no uncertain terms that Iceland is in a continual process of change. Even seemingly solid rock ledges can crumble in an instant. Seagulls glide under drifting puffs of cloud above, while Atlantic swells smash against the craggy rock and cliffs below, churning the frigid sea like cream and spraying it in the air like a geyser. This is the end of a land mass—the outstretched arm of a volcanic beast.
Text and photos: Shaun Busuttil