Thursday, July 14, 2011

Iceland Chronicles: Part II (Snæfellsnes Peninsula)

We started the day by having a breakfast in our RV. The campsite did not have picnic tables, and we felt it was somewhat a shame that we are sitting inside when it is a nice bright sunny day outside.

After breakfast we drove into the harbor at the end of the town (Stykkishólmur). It is a natural harbor sheltered by a massive granite rock. The rock is made of lava that cooled down inside the volcano, and as it did, it "crystalized" into rods. The cliff side had very distinct geometrical shape with vertical hexagonal rods.

We sent into the boating company, and learned that they had a bird watching tour in less than an hour. We registered. One quaint fact is that kids 15 or less (not 16 yet) have free ticket in most event, and teenagers (16-20) are half-price. This was the second time we run into this rule, and so I guess it is a common practice here. (Lior is still technically 15, yay!)

The boat ride took us into the fjord (Breiðafjörður), which is populated by ~3000 islands (these are defined as ones that grow grass or other plants, others are characterized as simple rocks). We made our way toward islands with similar basalt cliffs, where different sea birds nested. We saw a lot of puffins, as they dived into the sea, or flew around the rocks.

After few Islands, we came to a place where the notorious Eric the Red (the discoverer of Greenland) hid while he was an outlaw. The island is marked by two round hills, the heights in the archipelago of the fjord, and distinct in their roundish shape.

We then got to an island with stranger formation. Apparently the lava flow in this crater was convoluted (but I am not a geologist).

On the way back the crewmen threw a small trolly into the sea, and run it for about 10 minutes or so. When they pulled it up it was full of sea urchins, crabs, and shellfish, as well as few sea stars. They poured the catch on a big wooden table, and started to open scallops and hand them out. From some perspective it was interesting to see the diversity in this area, and the fresh scallops were tasty. In contrast, this was a stark demonstration how trolling is non-selective and damages a whole range of other species. In this case it was a really small trolly, much smaller than the commercial ones.

After the tour ended, we boarded the RV, and set on the road to explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula. This is a long peninsula going westward, with a small glacier on the mountains at the very end. The ride was along an impressive coast line on very blue and clear day. 

We crossed a lava field, and as I went down to photograph it, I realized that the whole surface is covered with a deep layer of moss, which made walking on it feel like walking on a thick mattress.

As we continued we saw that throughout the area there are waterfall. Some of them high an impressive, others strong and rushing. In general, the people here do not view these as anything special, as there are so many of them. We stopped next to one that was across from a mountain called Church Mountain. There were two cascades of falls, surrounded by plush grass.

We searched for a place we can have lunch (as it was getting late in the afternoon). Then next time we found a picnic site (with a table), we stopped. This was atop a high cliff overlooking the ocean. Majestic views, although eating was complicated by the wind.

We then reached the town of Olafvik which is the biggest town in the Snæfellsnes national park. We stopped at the information and got a map and some tour suggestion from our guide.

Driving on toward the tip of the peninsula we saw many Arctic Terns. These birds nest in the grass and are somewhat violent toward visitors who come close to their nests (their definition of close is quite broad).

We drove up a gravel road that run toward the glacier. We then did a short hike through moss covered lava slope to see a deep ravine that was dug by the flow of water from the glacier. As expected there were impressive falls and nesting birds.

Satisfied with our hiking experience, we drove back down to the road, and south. We reached a sea shore called Djúpalónssandur which means "deep pools". Indeed the rock formation here formed two pools that are separated from the sea.

The area near the pools was littered with the rusty remains of a shipwreck. The shore itself was covered with black pebbles of different sizes. The family immediately set out to find perfect balls or very flat ones to stack up as towers.

In the sea there was a big rock that reminded me of a troll head. The waves crashed fiercely and the strong gusts of wind added to manes of spray to their dramatic shapes.

After spending time on the beach, we continued our circumvention of the mountain and ended on the south coast of the peninsula. We found a camping ground that was not too fancy but had the essentials. Outside a the wind was blowing strongly, and so we had dinner inside once again.

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