On Friday, our time in the West Fjords was over and it was another day of driving with many sights mixed in. Mark got up early and got some nice pictures around Ísafjörður while the rest of us slept in (we had stayed up until past 2 AM streaming Game of Thrones' "Battle of the Bastards" huddled around an iPad) and packed up the car to hit the road.
Our first pit stop, just a short drive from Ísafjörður, was Súðavík, a very small town (Pop: 212!) and home of the arctic fox center. Súðavík has a sad history; in 1995 an avalanche killed 14 people and most of the town was declared uninhabitable in winter due to the ever-present danger. The entire town was basically relocated a little bit to the south, out of harm's way. Any buildings that remained are rented out to tourists in the summer but left empty in the winter.
We got to see an adorable, napping arctic fox, as well as this cute little library in a phone booth. Then it was off to the next stop...
Behind the Arctic Fox Center in Súðavík.
Súðavík from across the fjord. The "new" village is to the left, the old one to the right, with steep mountains looming behind. The gap in the middle where the avalanche of 1995 swept through.
We had to cover 500 km this day, so our stops were quick but we tried to make the most of them. Here are a few highlights:
We think this turf house is an emergency shelter. It's on a highland pass between the main island and the West Fjords and is the only structure for miles around. A spontaneous, five minute stop.
We had a late lunch in Hólmavík but didn't visit the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. We did, however, stop at this cute little gift shop.
Stykkishólmur harbor. We have reached the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. If this town looks familiar, it stood in for Nuuk, Greenland in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This is where Ben Stiller jumped onto the helicopter.
While the weather was beautiful the entire time we were in the West Fjords, it was awful the entire time we were on Snæfellsnes. We never even got to see the iconic Snæfellsjökull volcano up close.
Unique church in Stykkishólmur.
Our next stop was one of the most photographed spots in Iceland; Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) and its accompanying waterfall Kirkjufellfoss.
There are countless iconic pictures of this mountain; at sunset, under the northern lights, in the snow, reflected in the bay, etc. But I thought it looked pretty cool and spooky in the gloomy weather, too.
Horses by the ruins of an old farm near Kirkjufell on Snæfellsnes.
At this point, we had finally reached the far end of Snæfellsnes peninsula; a national park and home of the Snæfellsjökull volcano. The landscape and coastlines in this area are incredible, with rugged and recent lava flows and crazy basalt formations. We stopped at Djúpalónssandur beach, home of the famous "Lifting Stones."
The path to the beach.
Debris from a 1948 shipwreck off the coast. A sign implores visitors not to disturb the wreckage.
The Yin and Yang of the landscape of Snæfellsnes.
And here we see Badger proving his worth. On this beach are four Icelandic Lifting Stones, which legends say were a test of strength for would-be fisherman. In order to earn a job on a fishing boat, you had to lift the heaviest stone you could manage. The lightest, called amlóði ("useless") weighs 23 kg. I think that one is just to warm up. Next is hálfdrættingur ("weakling") at 49 kg. I personally couldn't get this one off the ground but I was still recovering from a back injury. I'm sure I could have lifted it with one arm when healthy. The third stone is hálfsterkur ("half strength"), which weighs 104 kg (229 lbs!) and Badger actually managed to lift it waist high, thus qualifying him to be an oarsman on a fishing boat! The final stone, the one on the beach next to Jeff, is fullsterkur ("full strength") weighing in at a whopping 155 kg. Since we didn't have Hafþór "The Mountain" Björnsson with us, that stone stayed where it was.
After a very long day of driving we arrived in Arnarstapi where we had rented a great little cottage for the night. It had a kitchen, so earlier in the day we had made a pit stop at the Bonus🐷 for groceries and actually had a home cooked dinner of pasta and sausage that evening, along with some pie we had picked up at the turf house/gas station/bar/restaurant in town.
Our cozy little place for the night.
It also had a Nintendo!
And a hot tub! And since it was our second to last night, we thought it prudent to finish all the alcohol we had been carting around the island with us for the last week. By the way, this picture was taken at 2:20 AM.
Sadly, Saturday was our last full day in Iceland for this trip. We started off exploring the coast around Arnarstapi; just as wild and rugged as the beach we had visited the day before, full of arches and coves and twisted basalt columns.
A lovely house and farm in Arnarstapi.
Lighthouse, basalt columns, and a cave on the coast.
Mark looking down into a... I don't even know what to call this thing. Pit of doom? The seagulls seem to like it.
An arch on the coast.
This picturesque little house shows up in many pictures of Arnarstapi. Usually with the volcano and glacier looming behind it. But not on this day.
This sign commemorates the Jules Verne novel "Voyage to the Center of the Earth" in which the journey starts by entering the Snæfellsjökull volcano, which is visible on a clear day from this spot, or so I've been told. The titular line is displayed in 11 different languages, which is a nice touch. I thought it was a little odd that the most prominent was in English, considering that it's a French novel and we were in Iceland. C'est la vie, je suppose.
Not far from Arnarstapi is Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, a very narrow fissure in a mountainside with a little stream running out of it. The gorge is said to be haunted by the ghost of Rauðfeldur, who was killed here in the Icelandic Sagas by a half-human, half-giant named Bárður because he accidentally pushed Bárður's daughter Helga all the way to Greenland on an iceberg.
Yep, definitely looks haunted. Let's take a closer look...
It's like Mordor with seagulls.
Exploring inside the gorge.
Our last stop on Snæfellsnes was Búðir, home of a fancy hotel, a beautiful black church, and some cool beaches and lava flows. I would love to come back and spend a few days here. But I say that about every spot in Iceland.
Our last adventure of the trip was a hike up to see Glymur, a waterfall that at 198 meters is one of the tallest in Iceland. It's a few miles of hiking from the parking lot and it is quite a fun and interesting hike. You pass through a cave and then cross the Botnsá river on a tree trunk before climbing the rim of a narrow, scenic canyon. Considering it's not too far from Reykjavik, it's a must-see sight.
Of course there were fields of lupins here too.
Passing through the cave.
View up the canyon towards Glymur. You can see the log bridge across the river.
Vantage point for the previous two pics.
In the cave. It was very buggy so we're sporting our head nets.
The river crossing...
Crossing a tributary.
Mark & Lisa.
And then, suddenly, Glymur.
I absolutely love this picture looking back down the canyon. Check out that hiker sitting alone on the rim. I wish I could share this with him.
The trail continues up and around the waterfall, then back down the other side of the canyon. Unfortunately it was getting late and we had to turn around here. We also got a little silly on the hike back.
Sadly, our trip was mostly finished. We drove back to Reykjavik and stayed at the same AirBnB from the weekend before. We hit the town for some cocktails and a fabulous (like, really, ridiculously good) dinner at Sushi Samba. And we closed it all out with a 90's DJ Dance Party at The Lebowski Bar, where the playlist could only be described as "A 21 year old Icelandic person's idea of what was popular in the 90's." A little shopping on Sunday and then we were off to the airport. Another Iceland trip in the books.