Snæfellsnes is a peninsula about halfway between Reykjavík and the Westfjords that is an easy daytrip from either- about 500km roundtrip.
Snæfellsnes is also a place with a reputation to live up to. Jules Verne chose it as the setting of his 1864 sci-fi adventure novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. In this book, the volcanic craters and glacier of Snæfellsjökull form the secret entrance to a world of dinosaurs, magma rivers, and vast, subterranean oceans.
I cannot promise that you will find the entrance, even if you come on the last days of a certain month when a certain mountain peak is in shadow. But there are plenty of otherworldly sights to see on this side of the earth’s crust. Here’s a list:
- Snæfellsjökull: Icelanders named the area around this volcano Snæfellsnes for a reason: its massive crown of sparkling ice dominates the landscape. I haven’t yet been on an expedition across the glacier, but leaving solid ground behind to go trekking across a world of snow, sky, and ice looks and sounds pretty ethereal to me. Not to mention pretty badass. Snæfellsjökull is located on the furthest tip of the peninsula, close to Útnesvegur, the road which branches off from the N54 at Búðakirkja to run around the edge of the land. Go and climb it. I dare you.
- Effervescent spring water: That’s right, effervescent. Naturally carbonated, pure spring water, bubbling up between mossy rocks. Snæfellsnes is well known for its mineral-rich springs,all of which have different compositions and are reputed to have healing properties. You can bathe in the geothermally heated waters of Lýsuhólslaug, which is located along the N54 on the south side of Snæfellsnes, or collect a bottle of water to drink at Ölkelda and Rauðamelsölkelda. These two are also located on the south coast but are a bit harder to find: Ölkelda is located on a private farm, just off the N54. Rauðamelsölkelda is hidden away down a gravel road marked “Gerðuberg” in a lava field in the interior highlands. As with all lava fields in Iceland, be careful: the rock is sharp and the moss can hide deep cracks. Moss is also a delicate plant and, once harmed, take a long time to grow back.
- Basalt cliffs and other weird and wonderful rocks: Gerðuberg also home to a fortress-like cliff of hexagonal basalt that rears out of the soft grass around it. Near the little town of Arnarstapi, in the shadow of Snæfellsjökull, twisted sheets of basalt columns plunge into the angry sea. Snæfellnes’ coastline is littered with gigantic arches and vertical formations of rock, some of which looks so organic that they seem like they might move. Understandably, the coastline is equally littered with stories of petrified trolls, elf castles, and malevolent beasts. There’s a strange, but strong appeal to exploring these dark behemoths. You never know what you might find.
Kirkjufell: Kirkjufell is a mountain with a distinct, oblong shape which puts some people in mind of a spaceship. I can see that, I guess, but only if said spaceship that was an ancient, hulking craft, built with advanced biotechnology to hold the last survivors of a peaceful and noble alien planet. Kirkjufell is surrounded by lush fields and waterfalls which make it spectacular at any time of year. But with the Northern Lights circling and twisting above it, in my opinion Jules Verne’s imagination has nothing on it.
By Isabella Price
Isabella is Japanese by birth, Canadian by adoption, American by admission, and previously resident in India and the UK. She likes Icelandic cats and Icelandic ice-cream, but not at the same time.