The Snæfellsnes Peninsula 26-28 Aug 2012
We awoke to a bright blue sky after a freezing night - it was down to 3° C in the van in the morning! Our thermals are getting much use lately, even at night.
At the start of the Snæfellsnes peninsula is a little town called Borganes. Here was a small museum called the Settlement and Saga Museum. This was one of the best presented exhibitions we have seen with an audioguide included. Surprisingly the voice sounded distinctly Australian and we were informed by the staff that indeed it was!
At the end of the peninsula is one of the small glaciers atop an old volcano - Snæfellsjökull. The clear skies meant we could see it from afar and could watch it get bigger and bigger as we approached. Along the way we stopped for lunch in a small forest. Another car pulled up next to us and out hopped a family laden with empty buckets. We watched as they bent over picking small berries. So we searched ourselves. Once we had spied the tiny purple-blue berries looking like tiny blueberries (and tasted them to check…), we managed to fill a plastic bag. We had them for the next two nights for dessert with an Icelandic fermented milk called Skyr (somewhat like yoghurt but without the sharpness). They were delicious.
The drive took us through more fields of twisted moss-covered lava stretching from the volcano right into the sea. A narrow canyon called Rauðfelsagjá, which was steeped in myths of trolls gave us our good exercise for the day. We even managed to step from stone to stone in the riverbed to get right into the depths without getting wet. Here inside were some poor gull fledglings that had obviously fallen from a great height from their nests and were now doomed to die in here.
The guide books all talked about the sea-bird life at a couple of places, the Arnarstapi Cliff, the Þúfubjarg Cliffs and the Lóndranger Sea Stack. Hardly a bird to be seen, but oddly those same guidebooks never mentioned what fantastic formations these places held. Natural bridges, large circular holes through the cliffs and huge sea caves made the place worth a visit even without any birdlife at all.
The north coast of the peninsula, unlike the sparsely populated southern coast, is dotted with fishing villages, each with substantial harbours and crowds of small and large fishing boats. At Olafsvík, we found a small fish market inside a marine museum which sold us fish straight off the trawlers. We bought some monkfish, surely one of the ugliest fish in the sea, which we have had and so know to be delicious, and a fish called Witch Flounder that we have never heard of.
We turned off on a gravel road which took us to the top of Snæfellsjökull. It was a painfully slow trip since the van is anything but a 4 wheel drive, but eventually we got all the way to the edge of the glacier and were rewarded with fabulous views over both coasts.
We headed off on another side road to find the Shark Museum. At the end of the road, it seemed that we had stumbled into someone's farm, but there on one of the farm buildings was the sign 'Museum'. We paid our entrance fee and were let into a huge barn with an eclectic collection of old stuff: everything from old fishing and farming implements to old sewing machine and typewriters. A young girl, the owner's daughter who had obviously contributed all her childhood handicraft to the collection, told us about how her family had always caught sharks and preserved them the Icelandic way. We had heard about this so-called 'putrified shark': the shark is cut into pieces, put into barrels and buried for about a month so that it rots, then is hung up to dry for about 5 months. There was some to taste… The small cubes of white rubbery flesh have an intensely strong flavour. It tastes salty but not that fishy or of ammonia which we had read. Not exactly our cup of tea; we won't be rushing out to buy any…
We finished up in Stykkhólmur where we stayed a day looking around while we waited for the ferry. We decided to take the car ferry across to the Western Fjords rather than drive after we heard that the road from this point to there is mostly gravel in poor condition. The poor old van has taken a beating lately and we thought this would be the best way to get up to the north-west.
The ferry travels across Breiðafjödður, a very wide bay which was a cold steel-blue and, with the wind, a mass of white-caps. However the journey was smooth and we ventured out on deck when the boat called into Flatey Island about half-way across. This tiny island, which could be walked around in half an hour or less, has about a dozen houses, not a tree to be seen and would be no more than a metre or two above sea level. What a remote place this must be in winter.
On the other side, the ferry disgorged its small cargo of cars and trucks into a port that was no more than a small harbour, an office building with a farm complex at the side. The Western Fjords is the most undeveloped region in Iceland, seldom visited by either tourists or Icelanders. We are now over 65° north - we just hope the weather continues to hold!