“Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jökull of Snæfell, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth. I did it”. – Arne Saknussemm, excerpt from Jules Verne “Journey to the Center of the Earth”
When asked what is the primary reason why I choose to go and spent my hard earned money in an expensive country like Iceland, most of my colleagues have easily conclude that it was because of the Northern Lights. The truth is, seeing the Aurora was the least of my priorities, if the sky illuminated with dancing colors one night, I will consider it as a bonus. But the motivation and perhaps the main reason why I venture out to Iceland in the first place, is because of one image alone, to be specific because of one mountain- Kirkjufell.
The 463 meter high beauty, isolated from the mainland, as if it is newly created and just freshly jutted out of the sea, is considerably one of the country, if not, the most beautiful mountain. The uniquely shaped and symmetrical mountain depending on which angle you view it is unlike any mountains in the world, it looks unusual and surreal, as if a product of one’s imagination and to finally be standing in-front of it is truly dreaming with my eyes open.
Kirkjufell is located in the charming fishing village of Grundarfjörður, an easy 2-3 hours drive from the city of Reykjavik. It is an easy drive for those who rented their own transport and for solo traveller like me who decided to better see Iceland by joining tour groups with local agencies (I used Grayline on all my trips), a stopover to Grundarfjörður and Kirkjufell is included on their Western Iceland trip.
Truly, there is more to Iceland than the Northern Lights and the Blue Lagoon, and in order to see what makes this country unique landscape is perhaps to take cue from Jules Verne and travel to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Often refer to as “Iceland in a Nutshell”, with its diverse landscape of waterfalls, ice capped volcanoes, lava fields, magnificent mountains, fishing villages and black sand beach, travelling the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is like touring the whole of Iceland, hence the nickname.
A week or two could easily be spent discovering the many wonders of the peninsula, but a day trip will allow you to at least discover some of the highlights of Western Iceland, though it will be a long day, perhaps, the longest day trip out of all the trips available from Reykjavik.
I still remember clearly how early we started the day driving out of Reykjavik, when all are still dark and quiet. It was raining, gloomy and cold, with low road visibility, perhaps, not the most ideal condition for a day trip but for a country known for weather unpredictability, as the tour guide mentioned, who knows maybe there will be a bit of sunshine along the way.
By mid-morning we finally enter the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and the first stop was the Ytri-Tunga Farm for seabird viewing and to spot seals at the local beach. This is my first glimpse of Iceland out of the confines of the city of Reykjavik and the view of vast open spaces, empty roads, and those tiny, isolated houses is a great introduction on what to expect along the road.
The next stop is the Arnarstapi, a small fishing community highlighted by its striking shorelines. Given with ample time to walk along the shorelines and discover the extraordinary landscapes of basalt columns and cliff formations, Arnarstapi is a magnificent place to discover. It is beautiful beyond words, regardless of any weather, and in this case I have to say that the gloomy weather somehow added dramatic intonation to the environment.
I remember the tour guide telling us folklore about ogres and trolls as we made our way to the peninsula, and I think my imagination was running wild when I started to give meaning to every rock shape along the Arnarstapi shores. I am pretty sure that one of the distant rock formation resembles a head of an ogre.
From Arnarstapi, we made our way to the village of Hellnar for a lunch break at a small cafe. The one thing that I remember the most about Hellnar is the quaint view of the solitary church amidst the golden field, fenced with a broken white wood gate, it is Icelandic in every aspect, architecture and location wise.
By afternoon, shall I say, that we finally traveled to the Center of the Earth.
The dormant strato-volcano of Snæfellsjökull glacier is hardly visible, though hiding behind thick fogs, one can sense its towering presence. There are so many stories associated with Snæfellsjökull and the magnetic energies it radiates, some believe it is one of Earth energy centers and while some believes it is the meeting place of extra-terrestrials, but without a doubt, the most popular story will always be the one written by Jules Verne.
The real journey we took is not towards the top of the volcano, but one that will take us underneath it, closer to where Verne’s located his entrance to the “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, the Vatnshellir Cave.
With the help of an expert guide who distributed helmets and lamps, together with information about lava caves Do’s and Don’ts, our team descended into the 8,000 years old lava tube cave which span 200m long and goes up to 35m below the surface. Inside the cave is a subterranean world of stalactites and stalagmites, there are no bats or any other creatures creeping behind the darkness, but just strange lava formations.
If I would take one unforgettable memory about the whole lava cave experience it will be when the guide asked us to switch off our lamps, close our eyes, stand still and keep quiet. It was pitch black, there is no hint of light entering the cave, no other sound except our breathing and the cool wind inside, it is such a unique thing to experience, at least for a moment that degree of detachment in the world, which somehow makes me wonder whether if this is how it feels like to be really physically be at the center of the earth.
From the Vatnshellir Cave, it is a short drive to the black sandy cove of Djúpalónssandur. The beach shorelines covered with black pebble stones shaped by the forces of both the ocean and the wind, while surrounded by frozen lava formation adding dramatic flair to the scenery.
Djúpalónssandur is another subject of folk tales, on how fishermen during the olden times use the rock formations to measure their strength, but I have to say basing on the landscape alone, Djúpalónssandur is a place taken not from folklores but straight out of science fiction novel. There is something eerie and strange about this beach, maybe because of the black color shores and the hardly visible view of the ocean from afar. If I ever write a story about some distant alien planet, I will surely use Djúpalónssandur as an inspiration.
Out of the village of Grundarfjörður, on the route back to Reykjavik is the final stopover on the trip, the glimpse of Berserkjahraun lava fields. Another interesting landscape with a fascinating story behind it, about a two “Berserk” who becomes victim of love .
A lot of people often ask me to describe the Iceland landscape, and in order to answer this question, I tried to remember as much as I could about the magnificent beauty that can be found at Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
The best way to describe it perhaps is to imagine Earth on Day 1, when it is newly created and formed. It is such an exaggerated description I know, but this is the only way I know how to describe the out of this world landscape of Snæfellsnes Peninsula.