Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Vik, Iceland

A beautiful beach, only an hour drive from a volcano, with sand made of pebbled lava. Only in Iceland…

Last year, on the morning of my birthday, I woke up in Iceland. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to the Buubble, where we’d be spending the night. But before that, I wanted to get back to this beach for one last visit. That photo above was taken around 10am, when the sun was finally coming up for the day.

Those huge rock formations in the water are known as the Reynisdrangar Columns. Legend says they’re all that remains of a two-troll battle that involved a ship; nature says they’re parts of the surrounding mountain that became eroded and separated from the main bulk. Either way, they’re an impressive sight.

They’ve got some killer basalt columns, too – having seen Giant’s Causeway before these, I have to say Iceland’s were a hell of a lot more impressive – less tourists, no entry fee, and more than safe enough to climb over. We heard that in summer, it’s not uncommon to see birds nesting up on top of the columns. We were there in winter, though, so we made do climbing the huge steps and hanging out in the cave when the wind got strong enough to almost knock me on my backside. Bonus tip: don’t visit without a wind- and water-proof jacket, and water-proof boots. I felt really sorry for one group of tourists who neglected all of that and spent a fair bit of time huddled in that cave.

The “sand” ranges from fist-sized, smooth black stones, to tiny little grains of lava. Walking from the carpark to the beach, you’ll go through a field of large, volcanic rocks – when they’re blanketed in snow like they were when we visited, it’s an alien landscape that absolutely takes your breath away. Iceland is one of the few places where all of the lame travel clichés like “the quaint little cottage” and “the landscape was an assault on the senses” and “it just took my breath away” are actually valid. There couldn’t have been a  better place to spend the morning of my birthday.

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A One Day, Self-Drive Guide to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

Iceland’s a small country, which means it is the perfect place to ditch the organised tour groups and drive yourself around. Now, we visited in winter, which made the driving conditions challenging on a few occasions. Like the night we arrived just before an Arctic snowstorm hit, and our projected 2.5 hour drive ended up taking 5 hours and we almost died. That’s a story for another day. But Arctic snowstorms aside, it’s actually a really easy place to drive yourself around, so I’m going to show you how you can day trip the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a day without a tour guide!

I’m sure you’ll be able to get your paws on a slightly more accurate map, but this is the one I drew in my travel journal at the end of our day, which should (hopefully) give you a pretty good indication of where things are – the area isn’t too big so you should be able to find everything!

Airbnb in Hellissandur
We stayed in Hellissandur, which is a tiny little village which is starting to get a bit more attention from tourists. The Airbnb we stayed in was a beautiful two bedroom home with wonderful amenities and really lovely hosts, which I’d highly recommend –  if anyone wants the details, just email me! While the village itself is really small, the location makes it a perfect place to base yourself while you tour the Peninsula.

 

1. Ruins by the water

These had no signposts or descriptions, and I couldn’t tell you what they were from, but there were some remainders of old stone structures with a view out over the water. The area was completely deserted, so we figured we’d stop for a look around.

 

2. Djúpalónssandur Beach

Like so many other parts of the Peninsula, Djúpalónssandur used to be populated by fishermen. You’ll find a pebbly shore, lava formations and a beautiful view. Just stick to the paths, as much for your own safety as for the flora around the area.

 

3. Lóndrangar Cliffs
Volcanic basalt columns popping up out of the water in a castle-looking formation, you can walk down to get a little closer (as long as you’re careful!), and if you visit at the right time of year, you may get to see some puffins.

 

4. Arnarstapi

Another little fishing village sitting below Mt Stapafell, Arnarstapi is one of those places worth visiting just to look at. The little houses look like doll houses under the massive mountains and endless sky, the basalt cliff faces make for a pretty imposing sight, and the sculpture of Bárður looks like something straight out of the sagas.

 

On the drive…

Honestly, we took a lot longer to drive the Peninsula than we needed, because we just kept pulling over when we came across sights like these.

 

5. Búdir

Not even a town, Búdir is a tiny hamlet located on lava fields, and is probably best known by tourists for it’s black church – which is especially striking in winter, when almost everything around it is white.

 

6. Bjarnarfoss

Iceland is known for it’s incredible waterfalls, and Bjarnafoss is another shining example. Around 80m high, it’s easily seen from the road, but you probably won’t be able to get too close because the waterfall is actually located on private property.

 

7. Grundarfjörður and Kirkjufell
At this point in the day, we were getting a little cold and tired, and decided we’d need a time out if we were going to stretch the day out a little longer. On the way to see the 463m high Kirkjufell, we stopped in the little town of Grundarfjörður, where we found Kaffi 59, a cute little bistro that had hot tea and coffee and delicious chocolate cake for us to recharge with.

 

8. Ólafsvík
Last stop on our way home was in Ólafsvík for a grocery run. Eating out in Iceland isn’t cheap, so grocery stores were essential for us. With enough instant noodles, frozen veggies and snacks for dinner and the following day’s road trip stacked up in the back seat, we were on our way back to a hot shower after a long day on the road.

 

We obviously only just skimmed the surface, and there’s plenty more to see and do around this area, but we had to skip a few things because of spotty weather. But following that path should give you a great taste of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and allow you to discover a few more treasures on your way!

Bárður Snæfellsás, Arnarstapi, Iceland

Bárður Snæfellsás, Iceland

The morning after we arrived in Iceland, we hit the road for our drive around Snæfellsnes Peninsula a little later than intended. We were exhausted, because we arrived in the middle of an Arctic storm and had to drive around 300km through it. But that’s a story for another day.

One of the stops we planned to make was at Arnarstapi, a little fishing village and old trading port. It’s an odd little place, full of contrasts – there are large area of flat, grassy land – then there are towering basalt columns and cliffs. Small, modest cottages dwarfed under mountains. And then there’s the Bárður Snæfellsás sculpture that sits at the top of the hill against the grey sky.

Iceland is steeped in mythology and stories, and it isn’t just confined to story books. There’s a small plaque at the sculpture, I’ll let you read from it directly…

The imposing figure seen here was made in 1985 by the sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson. This work is Ragnar’s representation of the guardian spirit Bárður Snæfellsás, Deity of Mt. Snæfell.

Bárður’s story is told in the saga of  Bárður Snæfellsás. He was descended from giants and men.  Bárður was the son of a king from Northern Hellaland in Scandinavia. He staked claim to the land of Laugabrekka by the Glacier at the end of the 9th century. Later in life  Bárður’s giant nature became ever more apparent. In the end, he disappeared into  Snæfell Glacier, but did not die.  Bárður became a nature spirit and the local folk around the Glacier petitioned him in matters large and small. 

This work commemorates the couple Guðrún Sigurðardóttir (1878 – 1941) and Jón Sigurðsson (1876 – 1956), who lived here, and their son Trausti, who died of exposure on Jökulshals mountain pass in 1928, only 19 years of age.

We visited in winter, on a particularly overcast day where we were the only visitors, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine the sculpture as a giant. And it feels fitting to have it sitting there up on a small hill, because once you’ve walked around it and taken it all in, you realise there’s a gentle sloping path leading down behind it to a view over the cliffs…

Stay here: The Bubble Hotel, Iceland

The Buubble, Iceland
http://www.buubble.com/

While husband was flicking through a travel magazine on a flight we took in early 2016, he came across a picture of a bubble, and a few lines describing it as newly built ‘bubble’ accommodation somewhere in the middle of Iceland…

Upon landing, I started Googling, and found it to be Buubble, the self-proclaimed 5 million star hotel. Basically, a “hotel room” that’s one giant, clear, bubble, where you can rest your head and enjoy a non-stop 360 degree view of the Icelandic night sky, and hopefully catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. “I’m concentrating on offering the accommodation during the wintertime, so that people can see the Northern Lights and the starry sky,” Róbertsson explained in the website not long after it launched. That sounded pretty good to me!

My birthday happened to fall in the middle of our Icelandic stay, and I decided then and there that if I had to be another year older, I wanted to stay in one of these bubbles for my birthday. I braced myself for what I was sure would be a ridiculously high price, and was more than pleasantly surprised to find out it was only going to set us back AUD$300 for the one night. Wanna take a look around?

 

WHAT’S IT LIKE IN THE BUBBLE?
Despite the fact that they are a self-proclaimed 5 million star hotel, given that the ‘hotel’ is actually a giant bubble in the middle of a forest (the exact address and location is not revealed until you’ve booked, for safety and privacy reasons), don’t expect 5 star facilities. The bubbles themselves (there were only 2 when we booked ours, but it’s now grown to 8!) just contain a big, comfy bed, a little coffee table, a lamp, and a power point (yes, devices can be charged, no there isn’t WiFi in the bubbles, but there is WiFi available in the communal service house). There was no TV or sounds system, and no lights – just a small lamp for dim light; you won’t need it, because once it gets dark (sunset is around 4 – 4:30pm in November) and the stars come out, you won’t be able to look away!

HOW DO I STAY WARM?
How on earth are you going to keep warm in the middle of winter inside one of these guys? As the website will tell you, “The bubble structure is kept inflated by a slight over-pressure from a noiseless ventilation system. It permanently renews the air inside 2-7 times the volume per hour and this way it prevents humidity. The system has heating elements with thermostat so the bubble stays warm all winter.” That system, combined with an extra little plug in heater, kept us pretty cosy despire the snow and frost outside. Oh, and electric blankets. Thank goodness, because the temperature fell to around 10° C overnight! That said, a middle of the night toilet run isn’t real fun…

WHERE’S THE BATHROOM?!
In terms of facilities, there is a shared service house tucked away on the property, containing showers and toilets (toilet paper and shower towels are provided) – they’re centrally located, so only a 2 – 3 minute walk from any of the bubbles. But when it’s below freezing and you need to pee in the middle of the night, it’s hard work getting your layers and snow boots on!

ARE THERE ANY OTHER AMENITIES? WHERE CAN I EAT?
There is free car parking available, and the service house has a small kitchen space with a dining table, coffee machine and elecrtric kettle, sink, microwave, dishwasher, and even a small stovetop – as well as pots, pans, cutlery and crockery! Once you get there, you’re probably not going to want to venture back out to look for a restaurant because a) driving at night in Iceland is scary when the weather can change at the drop of a hat, and b) Iceland is expensive beyond what you’d expect (as in a margherita pizza and a vegetable salad cost us AUD $55.00. Yup, seriously). Your best option is to stop at a supermarket like Bónus or Krónan (there’ll be a ‘how to do Iceland on the cheap’ post coming soon, because it actually IS possible!) and BYO dinner – we took a cup of instant noodles each and bought 2 capsicums – we chopped them up and cooked them in a fry pan in the share kitchen, then stirred our noodles through! And shared a small bag of M&Ms for dessert!

UMMM… PRIVACY?!?
This was one of my concerns, given that there are actually several bubbles on site. Above is a photo of the path we walked from our bubble to the share service house, and if you scroll back up, you’ll see the thicket of trees behind the bed. Yes, there are other bubbles around, but at best you’ll only see a peep of them through the trees if their lamps are on. When we visited, there were only 2 bubbles occupied by independent travellers (us and another couple), and a few more occupied by tour participants, and we didn’t see or hear any of them except for a brief crossing of paths making dinner. And, there are no animals other than the odd bird.

WORTH IT?
Absolutely!!! While we didn’t see the Northern Lights, we saw the stars like we’ve never seen them before. We lay on the bed and watched a snow flurry slowly dust the dome. We woke up to a winter wonderland you couldn’t even conjure up in your dreams (see below – the snow actually shimmered and sparkled in the morning sun). It was one of those experiences that although it cost money, I couldn’t put a price on, and I’ll remember forever.

Click here to see what it’s like to walk to the bubble we stayed in from the service house. And head on over to their website for answers to more of your questions and to book your bubble. You know you want to.