Iceland Unraveled: Heading Northwest

April 8, 2018

 

 Welcome back to the third chapter of Iceland Unraveled - on our third full day in Iceland, we braved the drive up northwest to the Snaefelles Peninsula, which holds a miscellaneous bundle of waterfalls, fjords, crater lakes, and cozy villages. We only had a few specific destinations in mind, but my Dad and I were delighted by all the amazing sights we found just exploring the peninsula!

 

In order to brave the long drive, we left early after a small breakfast, both of us still exhausted from yesterdays hiking and aurora hunting. Ultimately, the drive up to the Snaefelles Peninsula held very similar sights to the drive South; we rode along the coastline for the majority of the trip, dipped over hills and around mountains, and even took a tunnel beneath a river! The tunnel was over four kilometers in the ground; my Dad and I were completely shocked when we rounded a bend, expecting a long, low bridge and found ourselves underground.

 

 

 

 It was on this day that my wish of meeting Icelandic horses finally came true! I was so scared I'd never find the perfect opportunity to meet them; their pastures seemed endless, and oftentimes we could only seem them huddled together in the distance. But on our drive north, we passed a small pullover lane, and a few horses were settled just next to the fence.I let out a squeal of excitement as we pulled over, and climbed out of the car to meet them!

 

 They were so friendly, and loved to be pet! I was so surprised that there weren't any other tourists around doing the same thing I was; these horses loved the attention, and they were scattered all around their pasture, some laying, some grazing, some playing. It was such a lovely moment and I was far beyond excited to find them!

 

Once the horses wandered back away from the fence, I was back in the car and my Dad and I continued our drive North. Our next stop wasn't for an hour or so, but the drive was unreal. We actually drove through and immense mountain pass -it literally felt like we were in some sort of story. We ended up pulling over twice in the pass - once, to climb a snowy cliff and glimpse the mist shrouding a frozen glacier lake, and the second time to glimpse a river winding through the cliffs. These sights just can't be described with words - sometimes not even with pictures! If I haven't convinced you yet, Iceland is a country worth exploring.

 

 We had finally reached the Snaefelles Peninsula! I remember both my Dad and I being quite drowsy from all the driving; in contrast to the past two days, the stops we had on our way North didn't involve as much hiking, and we hadn't truly woken up yet! When we reached the town of Grundarfjordur and saw the striking mountain Kirkjufell rising from the sea, we felt newly invigorated once more! We had finally reached the first destination on our list.

 

 Kirkjufell - and the accompanying Kirkjufellsfoss - means church mountain, and was an iconic filming location in Game of Thrones! We actually saw quite a few Game of Thrones Tours during our journeys, but I think my Dad and I agreed that doing things ourselves was a much better journey.

 

Kirkjufellsfoss is a pretty popular tourist destination, and we were assuredly not the only people exploring the area. In order to reach the emblematic shot of Kirkjufellsfoss, we had to climb up a fairly steep slope that wraps up to a bridge on top of the waterfall, then walk down the other side. There were plenty of other photographers taking the same shot, but for a good reason - it's just beautiful!

 

 It was hard to take a shot without any other travelers in the image, but this was the best I could do, and I'm still pretty happy with it! The scenery was so dramatic - I'm sure in summer when it's green and bright, it's a different kind of beautiful, but I didn't mind the dark clouds. They provided the perfect contrast to the photo! My Dad and I really liked the area around Grundarfjordur. It was just really simple, beautiful, and I love how every town in Iceland was right on the water.

Once we had seen our fill of Kirkjufell, we decided to drive all the way around the Snaefelles Peninsula to see the sights! The route ran right up along the ocean, climbing up cliffs and dipping down next to sandy beaches. We kept a sharp eye out for whales on the drive, but didn't spot any. Soon enough we were pulling up in the absolutely adorable town of Olafsvik! We stopped here for lunch at a bakery called Brauðgerð Ólafsvíkur. This place was absolutely delicious; my Dad and I split an excellent sandwich and be both dined on gorgeous pastries. Bakeries are a must-do in Iceland!

 

 After we left Olafsvik, we found ourselves driving through the Snaefellsjoekull National Park. Based on the research I've done on this sight, it's quite a bit more explorable in the summer, when the whether isn't so dangerous! The sights we saw were mostly on the coast, but the National Park also holds a hike-able volcano and several waterfalls. We saw quite a few people just hiking about the area on their own - I think it would make a really lovely day trip!

 

Our first stop-off belonged to these beautiful cliffs rising from the sea; they're allegedly leftover formations from a volcano! The amount of birds nesting along the cliffside and ducking into the waves was astounding. I love seabirds quite a bit, and it was so amazing that, as long as there was water nearby, there would be birds!

 

 The cliffs had a nice little overlook for other photographers and travelers to view the swooping birds and immense cliffs. We finished up here after a little bird-watching - the wind was absolutely killer, and my hands were red walking back down - and hopped back in the car. We drove my our next stop by accident at first, but it just looked too interesting to keep driving. A small abandoned farmhouse sat alone in a wind-flatten field. My Dad stayed in the car, but curiosity got the best of me so I gave it a look around.

 

 The entire top floor of the house was gone, along with the roof, though you can see that the chimney was still standing perfectly tall. I was expecting to be creeped out by the empty home, but with all the natural light coming in from the exposed roof and open windows, it was very peaceful, but somber. There was just a tiny bit of grafitti on the opposing wall, but I personally don't feel that it ruined the ambience. It was a nice stop on our journey.

 

 Our last stop was undoubtedly my favorite! We drove on for a little while longer; we left the national park and began to drive through the last leg of the Snaefells peninsula. Off to the left of the road, my Dad and I could both spot a waterfall spilling over the upper cliffs of a mountain. As per usual, we couldn't just NOT pull over to take a look, and found a road that took us to an overgrown and empty parking lot. There was a house directly at the base of the mountain as well; what a perfect spot to live that would be!

 

 Quite by accident we had stumbled upon the beautiful Bjarnarfoss! We were delighted at the lack of other adventurers; we were even surprised that nobody saw us climbing up the mountain from the road and had their curiosity piqued! The hike up was steep, and the path was small, but it led to an adorable little bridge that crossed over the cascade down the mountainside. If you look at the above photo, you can see the actual waterfall in the top right; in the water, it would be lacking those sheets of ice, and the water would come down as a whole. Despite this, we had an amazing time on this climb. My Dad found a nice place to sit and I continued walking up beside the waterfall, stepping over rocks and through the water.