June 22, 2009
The sun was very bright at 3 am, but that was only temporary. Outside the weather must have been the alternating sun, cloud, shower which we had experienced the last couple of days.
Breakfast was at 8 am, and then we were off on our trip around the Snæfellsness peninsula. We all decided that we would head back the way we had come in yesterday, which would then have us going in the direction our tour book was written in. So about 8:30 am we went down the grand spiral staircase and got into the car. First we drove past the dock, to have a look at the ships which had come in last night. Besides a couple of fishing boats there was a Danish tanker ship delivering oil.
Our road was good quality and well-signed, so it was easy to drive along. The scenery was spectacular, with great contrasts between the black lava and the various green colours of the mosses and lichens. The variations of sun and shadow changed the colours continually.
Our first stop of the day was the seal colony at Ytri-Tunga. Neil was driving, but as the only warning we got was a small blue sign pointing down a side road, we shot past it at full speed. He jammed on the brakes and, as it was impractical to turn around on the two-lane road, he just went into the opposite lane and reversed all the way back to the side road! A very effective method even though a bit unorthodox.
After parking the car we walked across the grassy fields to the beach. The wind was blowing hard, as it would all day. According to our book the seals would be numerous, and if we stood quietly they would come closer to us. Well, unfortunately the tide was out and the seals were not as numerous as we had been led to believe. Eventually we spotted a few, out on the most distant rocks, which didn’t come any closer. But we walked along the beach a bit and saw a pair of oystercatchers with two chicks.
Our next stop was Búðahraun, where there were some walking trails on a lava field. This time we identified “Búðir” on the map as the place where Búðahraun would be, so we didn’t overshoot the turnoff. The start of the walk was at a lovely church very close to the shore.
Here the gravestones were mostly quite recent, and a lot of them had little stone birds as decoration.
The walk to the lava dome in the middle of the lava field was about 2 kilometres each way, so we decided to do the shorter walk along the seacoast. It was still a beautiful day, or at least the rain showers were very short. The route took us over an area of ropey lava which was very old, as it was covered by grasses and mosses. In several places along the way the lava had collapsed, and in the exposed hollows several varieties of plants were growing, very similar to a grotto. One of these hollows had even been roofed over and had steps built down into it. We walked out to Frambuðir and then came back along the coast to the church.
Just a little farther along the road we screeched to a stop at a sign saying “Rauðfelsgjá”. Neil had been told about this by a man at the seal colony. It was a narrow gorge in the valley wall, out of which a river was flowing. We walked up the short trail from the road to its mouth, where fulmars were nesting on the cliff. Apparently in one of the sagas somebody is thrown into this gorge. There were bones in it, but only sheep bones. Neil and Christine explored the inside of the gorge and (after some discussion) decided not to climb the rope dangling down at the far end. Paul and Rosemary watched the birds and photographed the flowers outside.
Christine had been in Iceland before – that was why we were all there, in fact – and she remembered seeing a “large stone man” somewhere in this area on one of her tours. The rest of us were skeptical, but our Bradt guide did briefly mention a statue, so he was our quest. Although there was a certain amount of teasing about the stone man for quite a while.
By now it was lunch time, and we all agreed to drive to Hellnar, where according to our guide book was a little place which sold fabulous soup. We found the café quite easily, and it was indeed a lovely place, with white embroidered tablecloths on the tables. Today’s soup was fish soup. It was a little pricey at 1650 IKR but everybody had a bowl of it. Except Paul, who had chocolate cake and coffee. Everybody said the soup was very good, and so was the chocolate cake.
After lunch we headed along the coastal path to Arnarstapi, about 2.5 kilometres. The wind was still blasting out of the west but the rain showers were very infrequent; it would have been nice if the clouds had risen higher so we could have seen Snæfellsjökull, but such was not the case. The glacier remained shrouded in its own weather system all day. There were numerous gulls – fulmars and kittiwakes sitting on their nests and arctic terns shooting about in all directions, and each sea stack had a single pair of great black-backed gulls. And there were also fantastically-shaped basalt lava formations – stacks, arches, and rows of columns.
In Arnarstapi there was indeed a giant statue of a man, made out of layers of basalt blocks. A squat fellow about 5 metres high, he was meant to represent Barður, a character from one of the sagas, and had been built in memory of a local family.
Back at Hellnar we stopped at the national park’s visitor centre and looked at their informational displays, which were quite good. We watched a video about the park for a bit, then moved on. By now it was 6 pm, so we headed for home. We did stop a couple of times along the way, once to climb up a small crater named Saxhöll, and once at the sailors’ museum at Hellissandur, which turned out to be closed.
Near Grundarfjörður the sun was shining nicely on Kirkjufell and also making a nice rainbow over the town. Back at the hostel Christine made dinner while the rest of us relaxed. On and off all evening we could hear rain showers. Hoping for good weather tomorrow, we headed off to bed.