Saturday, June 18, 2011

Þingvallavatn, Reykjanes

Photos: (1)Þingvellir; (2) Öxarárfoss; (3) Farm on road 360: (4) Mosfellskirkja; (5) Reykjanestá; (5)Gunnuhver geothermal area

Þjórsárdalur, 7am, strong gusts of wind, dry weather but mostly cloudy, 12°C (54°F). After packing up, I have a closer look at the church across from the campsite. Then I’m on the road again. The first stop is Selfoss (pop. 6574), where I really want some coffee. The café I was at yesterday is closed so I have some along with a sandwich at the gas station. I sit on one of the stools at the back of the store with a couple of locals, flipping through newspapers, and enjoy the morning.

It’s my last day in Iceland, and the weather is turning out good, so I spontaneously decide to drive up road 36 along Lake Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, towards Þingvellir. Þingvellir is a site of historical importance to the Icelanders, being the spot where their Parliament was held. It’s now a national park. Again I was only here once before 10 years ago in horrible weather and in my memory it wasn’t very spectacular. But the landscape in the sun is much more attractive that I remembered. A mixture between lush vegetation and dusty highland mountains off in the distance. At the north end of the lake I meander down the small road 361. It follows right along the lake and it’s really a pretty drive. I get out for a short walk in one pretty spot since the weather is absolutely beautiful – 15°C (60°F), sunny and no wind. The lake is a fishing lake as lots of signs indicate. It’s full of bugs and green slime and summer houses dot the banks as far as the eye can see.

Finally I reach Þingvellir, but I have no intentions of leaving the car yet. I see the diving team getting ready to take a group down into the Silfrá rift. This rift marks the place where the American and Eurasian continents meet, called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. These tectonic plates are moving apart at about 2.5 cm (1 inch) per year and this is a popular site for divers, especially since the water is particularly clear. Þingvellir itself is packed with people and busses so instead of getting out, I drive to the north end and walk to the waterfall Öxarárfoss, which is not so overrun.

Back in the car, I head down the other side of Lake Þingvallavatn on road 360. It’s a very pretty mountainous drive along the lake, and in one spot there’s a lamb napping right in the middle of the road, basking in the sun and not willing to budge. I think it might be injured, but it’s mom is near so I drive on with a slightly heavy heart. The back road (Nesjavallaleið 435) through the Hengill mountains is still closed due to wintry conditions, so I have to turn around and go back the way I came. This gives me the chance to check on the lamb, which is now standing at the roadside, grazing away.

After being in the countryside for a week, the way to Reykjavík seems like a racetrack. I stop for a quick look at the church Mosfellskirkja since it has unusual architecture. Then I race right on through Reykjavík and back out the other side, heading to my peaceful little campsite at Garðaskagi. I have a quick look at the campsite, but then go straight to the swimming pool since it’s about to close. I don’t need much time to get clean though and enjoy a few peaceful minutes in the hotpot. It’s still fairly early and the weather is beautiful, so I decide to make the most of the day. There are a few things in this area on my list that I didn’t manage to do at the start of my trip.

I head towards Hafnir down road 44 and stop for a quick photo of the church Kirkjuvogskirkja. Next stop is the bridge over two continents, which has an unusually large concrete parking lot that seems foreign to the moonlike landscape. indeed the concrete has attracted several campers who can comfortably park there. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs through Reykjanes here in Iceland, where it is also called the Reykjanes Ridge, and causes frequent earthquakes. I make a much longer stop at Reykjanesviti, which is Iceland’s oldest lighthouse. The cape here, Reykjanestá, is beautiful with its basalt cliffs, birdlife and view of the ocean. After a lengthy stay here, lying in the grass atop the cliff, I continue on to the source of the steam spewing from the earth. Gunnuhver, a geothermal area with fumaroles and mudpots, differs from other geothermal areas since the water here is 100% seawater.

In general, this southwestern-most tip of the Reykjanes peninsula has a lot to offer and actually surprised me. Many people who land at Keflavík see the desolate moonscape and want nothing but to get as far away from it as possible, and head immediately to Reykjavík and further inland. One could easily spend an entire week exploring Reykjanes, and the beautiful campsite at Garðaskagi offers a good base camp for sightseeing. There are plenty of opportunities for good swimming at the local swimming pools too, if you want to avoid the Blue Lagoon (which I generally try to do) ;-).

Back in Garður, it’s time to fill up the car and give it a quick wash, pack my suitcase, and then settle in for a terribly uncomfortable night in the back seat of the car at the campsite.