The Snæfellsnes ring route, part 2

The Snæfellsnes, part 2.

In our last blog post we started discussing the Snæfellsnes peninsula as an ideal destination for your 2-3 day mini camper trip. We suggested some interesting spots to visit along the southern side of Snæfellsnes and left off at Arnarstapi and Hellnar, which are close to the westernmost tip of the peninsula. In the following post we will continue around the Snæfellsjökull glacier and make our way along the northern side of Snæfellsnes and point out some interesting destinations along the way. As for maps, road conditions and other specifics please refer to the websites vegvisir.is, road.is and vegasja.vegagerdin.is. Moreover, we at Iceland mini campers can equip your rental motorhome with a GPS navigator for a small fee.

Rock, stones and fishing.

Dritvik.Vesturland.

Dritvik. Vesturland.

So, lets get down to business. The first interesting stop is Dritvík, from where open fishing boats would set sail by the hundreds back in the days. Dritvík has some really peculiar rock formations and four rocks that were used to decide what sort of cut the sailors would get from the day’s fishing. Since the boats were both propelled by oars and the fishing lines pulled by hand, the strength of each individual sailor was of the essence. The stones are Fullsterkur (Full-strong), Hálfsterkur (Half-strong), Hálfdrættingur (Half-dragger) and Amlóði (Lightweight). Try for yourself and see how you would have fared as a pre-industrial Icelandic fisherman.

Djúpalónssandur Vesturland

Djúpalónssandur Vesturland

Next stop is Öndverðarnes, which has an old picturesque lighthouse and some really impressive seaside cliffs and some angry surf beneath. Keep an eye out for seals, killer whales or even the white-tailed sea eagle, which is very rare but nests at a few locations in Snæfellsnes. Near Öndverðarnes you will also find Skarðsvík, which is a small white-sanded beach–a real sweet spot.

Öndverðarnes lighthouse and killer whale.

Öndverðarnes lighthouse and killer whale.

Ólafsvík, Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur

On the northern side of Snæfellsnes you will find three large towns, with population numbers ranging from 800 to 1000 inhabitants (very large towns indeed!), these are Ólafsvík, Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur and are all worth a visit and provide all sorts of services and entertainment. All of these towns have quite nice swimming pools and quite nice camping sites.

Stykkishólmur

Stykkishólmur

Whalewatching tours are also on offer in the towns of Ólafsvík and Grundarfjörður. These are take you around Breiðafjörður bay which has a spectacular seascape of countless islands and skerries and an abundance of all sorts of sea birds. Stykkishólmur also harbors a ferry called Baldur that takes both passengers and their cars across the Breiðafjörður bay and to the southern side of the Westfjords (see here http://seatours.is/). The ferry also stops in the small island of Flatey which is well worth a visit.

Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell

Sharks and horses.

The final absolute must-visit place on the northern side of Snæfellsnes is Bjarnarhöfn, where shark is processed. Bjarnarhöfn has a small museum of its history as a shark fishing and processing station and guided tours of the grounds are provided by larger-than-life character Hildibrandur who also provides samples of his shark. The taste is, well, unforgettable.

Beyond the places we have talked about there is an abundance of activities on offer on Snæfellsnes. First of all, there are a number of farms that offer horseback riding tours, just look out for this sign:

These come highly recommended on either the north or the south side of Snæfellsnes. Also, if you like fishing Snæfellsnes has a lot to offer. Many farms have some small lake or stream that usually contains some type of trout (brown trout, sea run trout or arctic char being the most common) so keep your eyes peeled for this sign here:

Road sign

Usually the fishing permits are quite cheap and some of the lakes are included in the Veiðikortið fishing permit, which is grants access to 35 lakes around Iceland (see here http://veidikortid.is/en/?lang=en). The trout is perfect for barbecued or seared on a pan and can be cooked to perfection with the cooking equipment in your Iceland Mini Camper.

To conclude, there are some gravel roads in the area so you are advised to drive slowly. Also, this far up north you are advised to bring lots of warm clothes regardless of the season. Most importantly, drive safely, make meny stops and have lots of fun!

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The Snæfellsnes ring route: a microcosmic Iceland. Part 1

The Snæfellsnes ring route: a microcosmic Iceland. Part 1

In the past installments, we at Iceland Mini Campers have shared with you some of our favorite destinations in Iceland with an emphasis on motorhome friendly areas and the road less traveled. Now we will continue in the same vein and describe one of the most beautiful and most interesting parts of Iceland: the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Snæfellsnes peninsula.

If you ever find yourself in Iceland with 2-3 days to spare, a mini camper trip around Snæfellsnes is truly an excellent idea. The glacier itself is probably best know from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and is reportedly a source of great spiritual and cosmic energy. Moreover, it is said that on this single peninsula you can find most types of geographical formations that exist in Iceland. Simply put, by driving around Snæfellsnes you will be able to experience most types of landscape Iceland has to offer and plenty of interesting places to discover along the way.

Snæfellsjökull

Snæfellsjökull

Snæfellsjökull

The very picturesque Snæfellsjökull, from which Snæfellsnes takes its name, is often visible from Reykjavík on clear days and driving to the roots of the glacier takes a little over two hours. First of all, make your way northbound on highway 1 or the Vesturlandsvegur (for more information refer to vegvisir.is, vegagerdin.is and vegasja.vegagerdin.is). Shortly after you’ve passed the small town of Borgarnes you turn left onto highway 54. Along this road there are many interesting stops but there are a couple that we really need to mention.

Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Snæfellsnes peninsula.

First off, the Eldborg crater is quite impressive and beautifully shaped and has a number of hiking paths around it. We recommend the short walk to the top edge of the crater which should provide some excellent photo opportunities.

Second, the Gerðuberg cliff and its surroundings are well worth a stop. Gerðuberg is a very symmetrical cliff made out of trap-rock basalt columns. Gerðuberg has inspired a number of buildings in Iceland, such as the University of Iceland’s main building. However, before arriving at Gerðuberg you can make a right at highway 55 and a left at Syðri-Rauðamelur. Drive along that road for circa 6 kilometers and you will find the natural hot pool Rauðamelslaug, which has a temperature of around 40°C which makes it perfect for bathing. (As often is the case with well kept secrets it can be a bit difficult to spot but the coordinates are Lat: 64.87010000, Long: -22.28368333).

When you continue on highway 54 out onto the Snæfellsnes peninsula our best advice is to keep your eyes peeled for this sign here:

Road sign

It simply means interesting place and Snæfellsnes has quite a lot of them. As you make your way further out onto the peninsula there are a few that deserve special mention. The first one would be the farm Ölkelda, which has a natural mineral water spring, and last time we knew they offer cups for free so that you can try a sip of the wholesome drink. If you want to go all-in and bathe in mineral water as well that can be done at Lýsuhóll, which you will find a little further down the road.

Further still, highway 54 splits and allows you to take a left on route 574. That road will take you around the Snæfellsjökull glacier and has at least three stops that are an absolute must. The first is Rauðafeldsgjá, a narrow gorge or a cleft on the right hand side. You can walk into it and enjoy it’s eerie atmosphere with moss covered walls and seabirds hovering above. Next stops are Arnarstapi and Hellnar. We recommend that you stop at Arnarstapi and take a look at the weird rock formations there and then walk to Hellnar, which only takes about 10-15 minutes.

Arnarstapi landmark in West Iceland.

Arnarstapi landmark in West Iceland.

The area has a lot to offer, stunning scenic views of tousled cliffs, the impossibly clear ocean and the quaint little houses. The camping grounds at Arnarstapi are, in our honest opinion, the most beautifully situated in all of Iceland and perfect overnight stop for a mini camper journey. Barbecue on the beach, look out for seals and, if you’re not afraid to get wet, go for a swim!

Next week we’ll continue to list some of our favorites.

Drive safely!

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Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Snæfellsnes mountains.

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Sorcery, seafood and the world’s smallest Icelandic fishing village.

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Sorcery, seafood and the world’s smallest Icelandic fishing village

While the last post suggested lesser-known sweet spots along the popular Golden Circle route, the following segment will continue in the same vein and introduce some of our favorite locations. 

Iceland is often presented as divided into four regions–the north, the south, the east and the west–and these four regions each have their special landscapes and attractive locations. However, there is also a fifth quarter, a bonus round if you will, which is the Westfjords. Because of its distance from Reykjavík, the Westfjords region is largely overlooked by mainstream tourism. However, it is also secluded, sparsely populated and contains some of the most exciting views and locations Iceland has to offer. Covering everything the Westfjords have to offer could easily take up several hundred pages but for this occasion we at Iceland Mini Campers would like to suggest a trip to the most accessible place in the Westfjords and one that’s perfectly suited for a 2-4 day getaway in a motorhome. (For more general and practical information about the Westfjords see here).

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West Iceland

The best way to get to the Westfjords is to drive straight to Hólmavík. The journey should take a little under three hours of driving but we would of course encourage campervan travelers to take it slow and keep their eyes peeled for interesting stops along the way. Once in Hólmavík there are at least three activities that we must recommend:

First, check out the seafood that is on offer. The local stores often sell locally caught fresh fish, mussels, prawns and other delicacies. These are also usually on offer at the two local restaurator Café Riis and Kaffi Galdur.

Second, visit the local witchcraft and sorcery museum (see here), which has on display a replica of the bone chilling “necropants” which were worn only by the most ruthless sorcerers in the past. The Westfjords and the area around Hólmavík in particular has an interesting history of magic and sorcery. To this day people are advised not to make enemies in this region because of this fact so we suggest that visitors tread lightly and treat the locals with utmost courtesy.

Third, Hólmavík has, in our humble opinion, the thickest, warmest, and prettiest hand knitted woolen sweaters in Iceland. Be sure to visit the town’s little arts and crafts store for a closer look.

Once you have reached Hólmavík the rest of the Westfjords are at your fingertips but for now we would like to suggest share one of our favorite spots in Iceland, the small town of Drangsnes, which is only a 25 minutes drive from Hólmavík. (see here) Drangsnes is the smallest fishing village in Iceland with around 60 inhabitants and has a some really interesting attractions to offer. There is a restaurant there and boat tours that include fishing and sightseeing around the surrounding islands. The area is chock-full of all sorts of life; fish, whale and seabirds, which serves to explain why there has been a town thriving at that remote spot for hundreds of years. Another interesting benefit is the town’s three outside hot pots located at the shoreline. In 1996 the township of Drangsnes tried to drill for cold water but instead stumbled upon a geothermal spring. Because of this Drangsnes has all the hot water it could possibly use and more. Therefore the three hot pots were installed and at a short distance a small house with showers and changing facilities, all free of charge. At night you can soak in the hot pots and watch the locals waddle over in their bathrobes for a late night dip. The town also has a very nice swimming pool and an excellent camping site for the tired but happy campervan traveller.

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Westfjords road.

To conclude, it is worth stressing that if one is to venture further into the Westfjords there are a few practical things to keep in mind. Beyond Hólmavík there are many gravel roads where one must drive extra carefully (and perhaps consider getting extra insurance coverage). It is at least advised to drive considerably slower (no faster that 75 km/h) and try the brakes every now and then to get a feel for the grip of the tires.

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Puffin.

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Westfjords road.

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Sunset in the Westfjords.

Moreover, there are long stretches of road without shops, restaurants and gasoline- or service stations so it is advised to plan ahead. Finally, no matter the season it can get cold up there in the Northwest so the motorhome traveller should come prepared.

Have a safe trip!

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The Golden Circle: The alternative stops

The Golden Circle: The alternative stops

The Golden Circle tour, with its mandatory stops at Þingvellir, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir hot spring area, is by far the most popular excursion for anyone visiting Iceland. These destinations are only a little over an hour’s drive away from Reykjavík and therefore make for the perfect short sightseeing tour. As a result, theses places tend to get a bit too crowded and a bit too “tourist-y” if you will. However, in the general area around Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir there are many other very interesting places to visit that are fortunately mostly overlooked by the big bus companies. So without further ado, Iceland Mini Campers-our motorhome rental company-proudly presents The Golden Circle Alternative Stops, with or without the more mainstream stops.

Þingvellir – National Park

When heading from Reykjavík it is best to take the highway 1 main road straight out of Reykjavík and through the neighboring village of Mosfellsbær, then take a right turn at highway 36 or Þingvallavegur (all these roads should be clearly marked but for better information such as roadmaps, distances and gasoline costs etc., refer to the websites vegvisir.is, vegagerdin.is and vegasja.vegagerdin.is). Highway 36 takes you straight through the Þingvellir national park and has some beautiful scenery along the way such as lake Þingvallavatn and the surrounding mountains.

Þingvellir National Park - Iceland

Þingvellir National Park

After passing through the Þingvellir area you should take a left at highway 365. If you stay on this road you will see a sign pointing left towards the Laugarvatnshellar caves. These are two sandstone caves that were people used to live until 1922. Interestingly enough, the last people who lived there had two children while living in the caves, one of whom is alive and well and reportedly has her own Facebook page. That in itself says a lot about the fast development of Iceland in the past century or so: being born in a cave and being on Facebook can happen within the space of a single lifetime. After Laugarvatnshellar take a left at highway 37 which takes you the small village of Laugarvatn. There you can find a swimming pool, some shops with local design and produce and a couple of restaurants. If you proceed towards Geysir there are a number of interesting places in the surrounding area. First of all is the farm Efstidalur, which is on the left hand side 15 minutes after passing Laugarvatn village. This cow farm has set up a restaurant on top of its barn and makes delicious ice-cream (more info here).

Geysir.

Strokkur Geysir - Waiting for the eruption. Click to zoom.

Strokkur Geysir – Waiting for the eruption.

Further down highway 35 (highway 37 changes to 35 between Laugarvatn and Geysir) you will reach the Geysir hot spring area. A little further on the left hand you find Haukadalsskógur, a beautiful forest with many marked hiking paths of various distances and a facility for barbecuing.

Gullfoss waterfall.

If you continue on highway 35 (past the road to Gullfoss) you will end up in the small village of Reykholt, which has an excellent swimming pool with a waterslide and hot pots. In this general area there are many greenhouses that produce a wide range of vegetables and berries. Often these are sold in little boxes by the roadside. Some greenhouses welcome visitors such as the tomato growers at Friðheimar, which offer delicious tomato soup and a wide range of juices, jams and sauces made from tomatoes. Nearby you can also find the waterfall Faxi which has camping facilities right next to it (information and coordinates here).

Gulfoss in the winter time.

Gulfoss in the winter time.

Gulfoss in the summer time.

Gulfoss waterfall and a rainbow in the summer time.

The closest village to Reykholt is Flúðir which has a grocery store and a very good Ethiopian restaurant, called Minilik. To finish the Golden Circle, people typically drive through the Grímsnes and stop at the picturesque Kerið crater (see here) and to the small town of Selfoss and from there back to Reykjavík via highway 1. The route from Selfoss to Reykjavík takes circa 45 minutes and offers a view of mossy lava fields and other strange landscapes. Along these places mentioned above there is a wide selection of places to camp, with or without service (these can be explored better here).

To conclude, this general area offers great many locations, shops and stops not mentioned here above so our advice is to drive slowly, have plenty of time and make discoveries on your own.

Have a safe trip!

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