Project Description

Reykjanes peninsula (Reykjaneskagi in Icelandic) is the largest peninsula in southwest Iceland, located about 40 km from Reykjavik. It has several high temperature geothermal areas, three of which are used to generate electricity. The hot springs are numerous and volcanism is very active, as evidenced by volcanic craters, caves and lava fields, all of them being an excellent introduction to geology and easily accessible from Reykjavik by the main road or from Keflavik airport directly, as it is situated at the heart of the peninsula. This area is one of the most accessible, no matter what time of the year you’re visiting Iceland.

Reykjanes Peninsula

We leave Reykjavík early in the morning towards the Sandgerði community, with just over 1,600 inhabitants and one of the country’s main fishing points. As goes our trip, we can admire beautiful scenery, dotted with fissures, lava fields and other sites of geothermal activity. After a brief stop in a relatively empty harbour (fishing time is already over, but it’s quite normal, fishing being a night-ish or very early morning activity) and having taken a few photos, our tour continues along the coast and then across the plain of Miðnesheiði. We stop again a bit latter by the church of Hvalneskirkja, built in stone in the year 1887.

The church is closed however, so we just admire the surroundings. The landscape around us is typically Icelandic: not a tree nor a bush, but some green meadows followed sooner or later on the horizon by lava fields where only stand mossy rocks. The contrast is striking, and it is one of the aspects of the country that I love. I see a small farm in the distance and I already see myself living there, at least during the summer months! It is a pity that we cannot grow much on Icelandic soil, composed in its majority by infertile and unstable lands. The visibility is very good today, as I can see the tops of the Snaefellsnes peninsula beyond a shipwreck, quite a beautiful painting. We are mid-June, but the snow is still present at the top of the mountains and that is normal, given the geographical situation of Iceland.

Our journey continues, always through the lava fields, toward Sandvík where separate the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates from one another. Here, almost no grass, but volcanic rocks, moss, sand and ash out of sight, it’s amazing! We follow a small path to a gateway for the symbolic crossing of the crack, clear proof of the continuous moving of the plates of about 2 cm per year or 2 meters every 100 years. Thus, the young island that is Iceland (in comparison with the rest of the world) will continue to grow as the distance from the plates gets bigger.

The bridge was opened in 2002, is 18 meters long and 6 meters high, and I will not deny that it’s fun to cross it while thinking “Hey, I’m on the North American plate! Now I’m on the Eurasian plate!”. Some tourists even take a picture below, with arms raised as if to “keep” the bridge over their head. Well, there is worse, like holding the tower of Pisa or pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower… Anyway, back on topic. Although we should normally not do this, I pick up a small black volcanic pumice stone that I put in my pocket: a lucky charm that will follow me during my journey on Icelandic lands. The air of the place seems almost to vibrate, but that’s not today that I will attend a volcanic eruption with my own eyes, such a shame!

We are now heading to the coast to admire Reykjanesviti lighthouse, one of the oldest lighthouses in Iceland. We also have the opportunity to have a look on the seaside, and climb two headlands made from lava with incredible forms and beautiful views of the surroundings. Needless to say I rush at the top of them! The beautiful blue sea whose waves break on the rocks, huge boulders and rocks covering the beaches and hundreds of gulls nested on the cliffside complete this enchanting setting. The sea air is invigorating and although the view is breathtaking, careful anyway not to go too close to the edge of the cliff, unless you know how to fly!

Now, off to Gunnuhver, a very active geothermal area which name if from Gunna, a witch whose ghost would have haunted the area. Temperatures of over 300 ° C have been recorded here and have made this place one of the hottest in southwest Iceland. In the past, Gunnuhver was mentioned as a hot spring area where we could watch some geysers as evidenced by Kísilhóll hill formed by silica deposits. Today, it is hardly a few fumaroles and mud pools that can be observed. These, however, are very interesting to watch, and are fed by the accumulated rain water. Therefore, it is possible that they turn dry if it hasn’t rained recently. We walk to the heart of the site along two wooden walkways that allow us to approach very closely the geothermal phenomena and it is awesome! If the wind allows it, throw yourself into the steam cloud passing on the path, the air is warm, but nothing more to fear. However, be careful with your camera or other objects that water condensation could hinder and remember to follow the marked path, because the soil can reach very high temperatures!

We take the road again towards the Blue Lagoon, a popular place among tourists and travelers in Iceland. We’ll stay a while there, time to take a dip and have a bite to eat before continuing our trip to the geothermal area of Krýsuvík and Lake Kleifarvatn in the mid-afternoon. I chose to create a separate article about the Blue Lagoon, and you can read it by clicking on the image below.

Iceland – Blue Lagoon

Krýsuvík and solfataras of Seltun

Krýsuvík is also a region of Iceland situated on the Reykjanes peninsula, in the mid-Atlantic Ridge rift that runs through the island, from the southwestern to the northeast. Like many other areas of the peninsula and as indicated by its volcanic and geothermal aspects, Krýsuvík is an area with very high temperatures. Depending on the location, they can reach 100°C at the surface and 200°C at 1,000 meters deep! It is therefore necessary to be very careful when visiting these areas, and always stay on marked trails! Whatever kind of shoes you have, I do not think they would “appreciate” very high temperatures and would probably melt!

After a very relaxing break at the Blue Lagoon, we hit the road towards the fishing village of Grindavík, where we stop a few minutes. Barely out of the vehicle, a smell literally “assaults” our nose. Indeed, all along the road are stored huge dryers where are hanging heads and bodies of cod, haddock or sea bass fish. This is a particularly popular Icelandic snack with a name as Nordic as unpronounceable, Harðfiskur.

This is done in a fairly simple preparation of dried and salted fish, an excellent source of protein, vitamins and omega 3, though the smell can be quite disgusting at first. Better to hold your nose if it is your first time trying it! Back in Reykjavik that evening, we will find on sale this appetizer and we’ll taste it. Surprising, strong taste in mouth despite quite a “paper-ish” texture. Not bad at all, but I’ll keep on some more conventional fish.

From Grindavík, we hit the road again and follow the coast to the geothermal site of Krýsuvík. Here the volcanic activity on the surface is impressive and fumaroles can be seen from afar, escaping from the ground. These gaseous emissions are produced after an eruptive activity and their temperature dictates their nature: for example, at a temperature between 100 ° C and 300 ° C, the fumaroles are composed of 90% of H2O and different components and minerals.

The contact between the gas emanation and oxygen leads to the deposition of sulfur and produces among others this very particular smell of “rotten eggs”. These fumaroles are called “solfataras”. During our walk, impossible not to be disgusted by the smell, but you better get used to it soon, especially since water from every water taps in Iceland has this feature. Of course, during my first visit to Iceland, I had no idea it would be like this… My first shower was memorable, I really didn’t feel I was washing myself! However, as with everything, you get used to the smell after two or three days, so no need to worry on this side! Hold your nose if it keeps being unbearable!

Let’s not forget to mention another highlight of this place; the “pots” of bubbling mud! I have never seen anything like this, it’s really impressive! These mud pools are made by a type of hot spring stirring sediment on its surface (eg, volcanic clay, iron oxide, sulfur,…), and characterized by perpetual lift of gas bubbles. This is a typical manifestation of volcanic origin in geothermal areas and their temperature generally ranges from 80°C to 200°C. Therefore, it goes without saying that mud baths are very strongly discouraged! But you’ll have other opportunities to try out natural bathing in the middle of Icelandic nature, no worries!

We continue our way to Lake Kleifarvatn, always within Reykjanes peninsula. The lake has a somewhat strange story: it widens or shrinks according to the geological situation! Thus, after a major earthquake in 2000, the lake began to disappear through cracks in the soil and its size decreased by about 20% within hours. Feels like emptying a bathtub! Moreover, hot springs, hitherto hidden by the waters of the lake have emerged on its shores. The cracks being partially obstructed since, the lake has regained its level before the earthquake.

We stop on a ridge to admire the lake and its surroundings, a rather isolated nature reserve. We finally take the road through a real “lunar landscape” to Reykjavik, where this wonderful day ends, a definite must-do during your trip in Iceland. Again, this tour can be done whatever the season as the access to the area is very easy. If you hire a car, take a 4WD nevertheless, it would be a shame to stay stuck in a pile of snow somewhere of the road!