Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Waterfalls, volcanoes and horses: The dramatic scenery of the Snaefellnes Peninsula

After the buzz of scuba diving at Silfra, and a mad dash afterwards to see Gulfoss waterfall and the famous geyser that followed it before the dark set in, we were ready for a slightly slower pace. Hiring a car, we loaded up and set up for one of Iceland's literary claims to fame - the Snaefellnes Peninsula, home to the Snaefellsjokull volcano, immortalised in Jules Verne's 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth'. Being a huge fan of the author, we were keen to catch a glimpse, although the weather was not on our side and the peak were completely shrouded in mist (in fact, when we first arrived, it was so foggy we hadn't realised the volcano was basically right beside us...).

However, even the weather couldn't dampen our spirits when we began discovering the beauty of this seemingly desolate part of the country. If anything, it actually made it more beautiful and dramatic. Driving a complete loop around the Peninsula, we stopped off whenever anything looked vaguely interesting (resulting in many stops...), the car quickly halting whenever either of us shouted 'that looks exciting/odd/cool' or 'more Icelandic horses!'. It was a very good job we were the only traffic on the road.

The craggy coastline of Snaefellnes is wonderfully rugged - steep cliffs revealing sheer drops; fascinating 'black sand' beaches tucked away; trails leading inwards under the shadow of hills and the great volcano - you could easily spend days getting lost. Waterfalls gushed thick and fast, the recent rain spells adding to their energy. We stopped off at one beach - tiny smooth stones, dark and shiny, giving the coastline its dramatic black colour, and watched the waves crashing with huge force into the already-eroded rock arches and pillars and sweeping halfway up the beach towards us. Remnants of Iceland's history were dotted around, including the 'Fisherman Stones' found on the beach - a nearby sign informing us that these huge mounds of differing sizes were a test of strength for the sailors. Naturally, I only just managed the rock aptly named 'weakling', with F succeeding with the next stage up, but utterly failing beyond.

Being low season, combined with the poor weather, we were alone for most of the day, looking out to sea on deserted beaches and struggling up hills against the increasing wind. We clambered over rocks and across fields to reach waterfalls, not wanting to miss anything.

After unsuccessfully seeking dinner (tip: there are very few, if any, restaurants open outside of the biggest towns during the winter. Small supermarkets don't have much either - it's more sensible to stock up beforehand), we spent a comfortable night in our lovely guesthouse before heading north the following morning. The weather continued to deteriorate, and although we passed stunning landscape, fast-flowing streams and more horses, the wind soon had us ducking back into the car. By the late afternoon the rain had set in, and after a soggy walk back from yet another gorgeous waterfall, we called it quits and spent a lovely evening cooking and watching the rain collect on the sill.

The downpours had benefits - the colours were drawn out of the landscape and glowed, the remaining ice had almost melted away from the roads making for better driving, and we didn't see another soul. However, there was one big problem for us - with rain, came clouds. Obviously. With clouds, came an overcast sky. Obviously. With an overcast sky, came... well, actually, it was what didn't come that was more important to us by now.

And so began the great hunt for the Northern Lights...

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