Iceland: Magical Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Mount Stapafell (Home of Elves). Rocky Point on Top is called Fellskross – a Viking Sign of Holy Powers

Svodufoss Waterfall

Icelandic Sheep in Meadow

Northern Coast of Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Seagulls on Cliff Overlooking Ocean

Arnarstapi Cliff Nesting Birds

Black-Legged Kittiwake Eggshell Dropped on Land

Ondverdarnes Lighthouse at Western Tip of Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Striking Skardsvik Golden Sand Beach in Black Volcanic Landscape

Snaefellsjokull Volcano and Orange Sky at Midnight in June

Snaefellsjokull with Dramatic Clouds

Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula is an enchanting place.  We find more places to go every time we visit.  The birds – the sky – the coast – and the ever-present Snaefellsjokull volcano make for a magical place.

In the Sjominjasafn Maritime Museum we saw a display with a beautiful quote by Halldor Laxness, World Light:

“Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there anymore, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns there, beyond all demands”.

 

Iceland: Incredibly Scenic Churches

Hofskirkja in Fairy Tale-like Setting (1 of 6 historic turf churches remaining in Iceland)

Magical Hofskirkja in Back

Hofskirkja in Front

Hofskirkja Burial Mounds

Hofskirkja Cross

Vik i Myrdal (Vikurkirkja or Vik Church) and Purple Lupines in June

Colorful Hvalneskirkja (Stone Church)

Olafsvikurkirkja (Olafsvik Church Hofsos) Shaped Like a Ship near a Fishing Village

Olafsvikurkirkja Bell Tower (triangle theme reflects holy trinity)

Budakirkja (Budir Black Church) by Volcanic Cinder Cone

Ingjadlsholskirkja (Independent Church) at End of Lonely Country Lane

The churches in Iceland are incredibly scenic and beautiful.  They often sit on a hill overlooking the ocean.  You can feel the history of the place as you stand in some of these remote locations.  “Kirkja” means church in Icelandic.  An excellent article about Icelandic churches is at:  https://guidetoiceland.is/best-of-iceland/churches-in-iceland  Previous blog posts about Icelandic churches are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+church

Return to Beautiful Iceland!

Puffin Statue near Skogafoss

Skogafoss Waterfall

Fjadrargljufur Canyon

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Svartifoss Waterfall with Rainbow

Mount Kirkjufell with Cotton Grass

Heath Orchid

Icelandic Horse Portrait

Icelandic Horse Family

Arnarstapi Lava Cliff

Midnight Sunset

In June we visited Iceland again (our third trip) – the photography opportunities are that good!  The weather was great, and the sights were amazing!  Some of our favorite photos are included with this post (click to enlarge).

Snoopy and NASA in Iceland

Snoopy at Iceland’s Moon Training Grounds

Snoopy at the Blue Lagoon

Snoopy Surfing at Diamond Ice Beach

Snoopy Napping on Black Lava Sand Beach at Jokulsarlon

Vintage 1969 Snoopy NASA Safety Poster

Snoopy’s “Greetings from Mars” T-Shirt at Kennedy Space Center

Snoopy (by Charles Schulz of “Peanuts”) is famous as being a safety mascot for NASA.  Since Snoopy was “First Beagle on the Moon”, he went to Iceland with us in June to see where the astronauts trained for the Apollo moon missions.  NASA is working in Iceland now testing the latest Mars Rover for the upcoming 2020 mission.  Astronaut Snoopy will be a featured balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade this Fall.

Happy 50th Apollo Moon Landing Anniversary from all of us here on the Space Coast of Florida!

If you want to see what Neil Armstrong’s parents said on the day he was confirmed as an astronaut, you can watch a sweet vintage 5 minute video from “I’ve Got a Secret” at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd7eWKCOk-A&t=16s

Iceland: Stunning Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Goodbye

Pink Midnight Sunset over Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Pink Midnight Sunset over Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Strawberry Moonrise over Ocean

Strawberry Moonrise over Ocean

Close-up of Strawberry Moon

Close-up of Strawberry Moon

Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Lupines

Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Lupines

Close-up of Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Close-up of Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Icelandic Mountain in Rear-View Mirror

Icelandic Mountain in Rear-View Mirror

The scenery on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is stunning!  The Snaefellsjokull Glacier there dominates the landscape and was the entrance point for scientists in the Jules Verne classic “Journey to the Center of the Earth”.  Jokull in Icelandic means glacier.  

One evening at midnight in June the sunset turned the mountain pink, while a strawberry moon rose over the ocean.  The view from our beachfront cabin was magic!  Making it even better was when three wild horses galloped by on the beach.  Some people think the mountain has high magnetic energy.  Belief is strong in the area that elves and hidden people live in the lava.  Plans are currently underway to draw a map detailing the area’s enchanted and magical places: http://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2016/06/06/belief_in_elves_very_strong_in_west_iceland/

Iceland is an amazing and must-see destination for any naturalist or photographer.  Although it is now in our rear-view window as I plan our next adventure, I am sure we will visit again someday.  I have prepared a custom Google map of places of interest to us in Iceland:   https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?hl=en&authuser=0&mid=1skvfqsNlWpCilCOaJc2tjreDGnc&ll=64.70735820733395%2C-19.523818050000045&z=7  Although we didn’t manage to see everything due to time or weather constraints, we did manage to see a majority of places.  Feel free to ask any questions you may have if you are planning your own trip.  I put together an Iceland travel guidebook illustrated with our best pictures here (PDF – click twice):  Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland: Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain and Budakirkja (Church at Budir)

Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain Water Flow to Sea

Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain Water Flow to Sea

Close-up of Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain and Waterfalls

Close-up of Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain and Waterfalls

View from Kirkjufell toward Waterfalls

View from Kirkjufell toward Waterfalls

Close-up of Waterfalls

Close-up of Waterfalls

Kirkjufell and Field of Buttercups along the Sea

Kirkjufell and Field of Buttercups along the Sea

Geological Diagram of Kirkjufell

Geological Diagram of Kirkjufell

Budakirkja (Church at Budir)

Budakirkja (Church at Budir)

Trail from Budakirkja to Coast

Trail from Budakirkja to Coast

Trail from Budakirkja Leads to Volcanic Caldera Nearby

Trail from Budakirkja Leads to Volcanic Caldera Nearby

On the north side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is famous Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain – the most photographed mountain in Iceland!  The mountain’s peak rises up like a steeple.  A diagram of its geological sediments looks like a layer cake.  The lowest part of the mountain contains 1 million-year-old ice age fossils.  This area is especially scenic with its mountain, fjord, and waterfalls. 

An actual church of historic interest is Budakirkja on the south side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  This painted black church in the wild lava landscape was built in 1848. 

Iceland: Arnarstapi Bird Cliffs and Dramatic Lava

Mountainous Landscape

Mountainous Landscape

Pebbly Beach with Whale Bone and Driftwood

Pebbly Beach with Whale Bone and Driftwood

Arnarstapi Bird Cliffs on Old Volcano

Arnarstapi Bird Cliffs on Old Volcano

Kittiwakes with Newly Hatched Chick

Kittiwakes with Newly Hatched Chick

Cliff Walk over Lava Cave

Cliff Walk over Lava Cave

Columnar Lava at Ocean's Edge

Columnar Lava at Ocean’s Edge

Seaweed Covered Rocks at Low Tide

Seaweed Covered Rocks at Low Tide

Guardian Spirit of Mount Snaefell

Guardian Spirit of Mount Snaefell

Mount Stapefell ("Home of Elves")

Mount Stapefell (“Home of Elves”)

Beautiful Home by Harbor with Snaefellsjokull Glacier in Background

Beautiful Home by Harbor with Snaefellsjokull Glacier in Background

Arnarstapi Harbor

Arnarstapi Harbor

Birds Nesting on Rock Offshore

Birds Nesting on Rock Offshore

Cafe with Turf Roof

Cafe with Turf Roof

Path through Lava to Djupalonssandur Beach

Path through Lava to Djupalonssandur Beach

Siberian Driftwood Log on Beach

Siberian Driftwood Log on Beach

Heavy Lifting Stones to Determine Strength

Heavy Lifting Stones to Determine Strength

Lifting Stones Descriptive Sign

Lifting Stones Descriptive Sign

"Elf Church" Rock Formation Nearby

“Elf Church” Rock Formation Nearby

Longrangar Lighthouse on Coast

Longrangar Lighthouse on Coast

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula northwest of Reykjavik is one of our favorite places in Iceland.  The landscape is spectacular!  Gorgeous mountains and glaciers sit next to beaches where we saw driftwood, polished stones, and even old whale bones washed ashore.  In June the Arnarstapi bird cliffs have an amazing amount of nesting activity and cacophony of sound (turn up the volume and listen to video below).  Lava flows in some places there are condensed into dramatic pillars and columns.  Nearby stands a statue of stone that commemorates the Guardian Spirit of Mount Snaefell.  The town sits at the base of Mount Stapefell (known as the “Home of Elves”, composed of pillow lava and green olivine) and in the shadow of Snaefellsjokull Glacier.  The Arnarstapi harbor is particularly scenic, and the town café serves the best hot chocolate!

A bit further west is Djupalonssandur Beach, which is famous for its protected black pebbles and remains of a British trawler shipwrecked there in 1948.  Iceland has very few trees, so driftwood there floats all the way from Siberia!  Four large stones on the beach were used in the past to test the strength of fishermen.  If you couldn’t pick up the largest stone, you weren’t allowed on the boat!  Just picking up the smallest stone is quite an effort for the average person.  Nearby are Longrangar Lighthouse and a lava rock formation known as the “Elf Church”. 

Iceland: Great for Birding!

Puffin Pair Beside Underground Nest Burrow

Puffin Pair Beside Underground Nest Burrow

Arctic Tern Flying over Field of Buttercups

Arctic Tern Flying over Field of Buttercups

Arctic Terns and Chicks

Arctic Terns and Chicks

Harlequin Ducks in Heavy Surf

Harlequin Ducks in Heavy Surf

Fulmar Pair

Fulmar Pair

Fulmar on Colorful Lava Cliff

Fulmar on Colorful Lava Cliff

Black-Legged Kittiwake Pair

Black-Legged Kittiwake Pair

Rescued Kittiwake Chick

Rescued Kittiwake Chick

Pointed Eggs of Cliff-Nesting Sea Birds

Pointed Eggs of Cliff-Nesting Sea Birds

Whooper Swan Family on Lake

Whooper Swan Family on Lake

White Wagtail on Porch

White Wagtail on Porch

Golden Plover Arrival Signals Start of Spring

Golden Plover Arrival Signals Start of Spring

Iceland is the best for birds!  Nesting there every spring and early summer are 60% of the world’s puffins, and 20-30% of the world’s arctic terns.  Arctic terns have the longest migration ever recorded.  One tern weighing a mere 4 ounces set a record this year (2016) by flying 59,650 miles pole to pole during its twice annual migration!   http://www.audubon.org/news/how-tern-broke-record-longest-known-migration  That adds up to 1.8 million miles of flight over a 30 year lifetime, which equals four round trips to the moon!  Arctic terns are diligent parents and will drive off anyone who gets in their territory.   A video showing the abundance of arctic terns in a nesting area on the Reykjanes Peninsula (southwest of Reykjavik) is below.

We were excited to see our first Harlequin ducks in the rough surf off western Iceland – a life bird for us.  They have the most striking feather pattern.  Iceland is the Harlequin ducks’ only European breeding ground.  Another unusual sea bird we saw was the Fulmar, which has tube-like nostrils to excrete excess salt.  We saw them most often on cliffs nesting next to gulls and kittiwakes.  A fun fact is that many sea birds have pointed eggs that roll in a circle, which stops them from falling off rock ledges.

We particularly enjoyed seeing Whooper swans nesting at marshes and lakes.  Their soft grey cygnets are so fluffy.  White wagtails nest in Iceland in June.  We watched a pair constantly bringing insects to their babies in a nest box on the porch.  The European golden plover is a happy bird in Iceland.  Tradition says that its arrival signals the start of spring.  One-third of the world’s golden plovers nest in Iceland!  https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/nature_and_travel/2019/05/09/

 Click on any images to enlarge for greater detail.

Iceland: Colorful Lighthouses and Coastal Scenery

Twin Gardskagaviti Lighthouses

Twin Gardskagaviti Lighthouses

Statue of Fisherman’s Lady Looking out to Sea

Statue of Fisherman’s Lady Looking out to Sea

Orange Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Field of Buttercups

Orange Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Field of Buttercups

Reflection of Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Tidepool Nearby

Reflection of Stafnesviti Lighthouse in Tidepool Nearby

Unusual Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Unusual Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Fish Themed Murals on Warehouse attached to Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Fish Themed Murals on Warehouse attached to Sandgerdi Lighthouse

Fisherman with Fish Mural

Fisherman with Fish Mural

Fisherman with Eider Duck Mural

Fisherman with Eider Duck Mural

Fishermen in Boat Mural

Fishermen in Boat Mural

Ladies Processing Fish Mural

Ladies Processing Fish Mural

Lighthouse Theme on Vitinn Seafood Restaurant Sign

Lighthouse Theme on Vitinn Seafood Restaurant Sign

Longrangar Lighthouse

Longrangar Lighthouse

Reykjanes Lighthouse on Hill

Reykjanes Lighthouse on Hill

Gunnuhver Fumerole at Reykjanes “Smokey Point” Geothermal Area

Gunnuhver Fumerole at Reykjanes “Smokey Point” Geothermal Area

Richard by Life-Size Great Auk Statue

Richard by Life-Size Great Auk Statue

We love lighthouses, and we enjoyed seeing a variety of them in Iceland.  Some lighthouses have bright colors for best contrast with the landscape.  All sit in beautiful locations by the sea.  The Reykjanes Lighthouse is particularly scenic because it sits in a geothermal area known as “Smokey Point”.  The Gunnuhver fumerole there produces a surprising amount of steam.  A life-size great auk statue stands nearby, marking the location where the last great auk lived in 1844.  A recent article discusses the possibility of using DNA to bring the great auk back from extinction:  http://www.earthtouchnews.com/all-articles/2016/september/01/can-the-great-auk-return-from-extinction/.

Mr. Ingvar Hreinsson has repaired all of Iceland’s 104 lighthouses spread out over 3,000 miles of coastline.  A recent article about him is at:  http://grapevine.is/mag/feature/2016/08/26/shine-a-light-the-icelander-who-repaired-every-single-lighthouse-in-the-country/

All of our posts about Iceland’s lighthouses are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+lighthouse.  “Viti” in Icelandic means lighthouse.

Iceland: Beautiful Historic Churches on Reykjanes Peninsula

Kalfatjarnarkirkja is Iceland’s largest rural church (built 1891)

Kalfatjarnarkirkja is Iceland’s largest rural church (built 1891)

Cherub covered with orange lichens in Kalfatjarnarkirkja cemetery

Cherub covered with orange lichens in Kalfatjarnarkirkja cemetery

Utskalakirkja sits by the sea (built 1863)

Utskalakirkja sits by the sea (built 1863)

Colorful painted design on traditional house beside Utskalakirkja

Colorful painted design on traditional house beside Utskalakirkja

Hvalneskirkja was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside)

Hvalneskirkja was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside)

Entrance to Hvalneskirkja cemetery

Entrance to Hvalneskirkja cemetery

Kirkjuvogskirkja is one of three Icelandic churches painted black (built 1860)

Kirkjuvogskirkja is one of three Icelandic churches painted black (built 1860)

Anchor from shipwrecked American schooner Jamestown beside Kirkjuvogskirkja

Anchor from shipwrecked American schooner Jamestown beside Kirkjuvogskirkja

There are several historic churches you can visit on the scenic Reykjanes Peninsula (home of Keflavik International Airport and the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, Iceland).  Each church is unique and has a beautiful simplicity and history of its own.  “Kirkja” at the end of a word means “church” in Icelandic.   

Kalfatjarnarkirkja Church is Iceland’s largest rural church and is picture-postcard perfect.  Utskalakirkja Church sits by the sea and is near the twin Gardskagaviti lighthouses.  Many shipwrecks occurred in the area, so its cemetery contains gravestones dedicated to mariners and fishermen.  Earthen walls marked property boundaries there in the past, so the town’s name is Gardur (which means garden or earth). Beautiful Hvalneskirkja Church was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside).  It sits near the bright orange Stafnes Lighthouse.   Kirkjuvogskirkja Church is one of three Icelandic churches painted black.  Next to it is an anchor from an 1881 shipwreck of the American schooner Jamestown.  The wood and cargo of lumber salvaged from the abandoned “ghost ship” were of great value to this treeless community.  An interesting article about the fate of the ship is at: http://www.leoemm.com/jamestown_english.htm.  More info about the interesting sights that can be seen on a day trip from Reykjavik to the Reykjanes Peninsula is at:  http://www.visitreykjanes.is.   All of our posts about Icelandic churches are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+church

Iceland: “Pompeii of the North” Museum

Ferry Approach to Island of Heimaey

Ferry Approach to Island of Heimaey

Cliffs at Entrance to Harbor

Cliffs at Entrance to Harbor

Wall Mural Near Ferry Terminal

Wall Mural Near Ferry Terminal

Ash-Filled House on Display at Eldheimar Museum ("Pompeii of the North")

Ash-Filled House on Display at Eldheimar Museum (“Pompeii of the North”)

1973 Photograph of Fissure of Fire By Town

1973 Photograph of Fissure of Fire By Town

1973 Photograph of Church and Erupting Volcano

1973 Photograph of Church and Erupting Volcano

Nature Display at Saeheimar Aquarium

Nature Display at Saeheimar Aquarium

Mineral Chalcedony at Saeheimar Aquarium

Mineral Chalcedony at Saeheimar Aquarium

Permanent Resident Toti, Rescued Puffin at Saeheimar Aquarium (nonbreeding colors)

Permanent Resident Toti, Rescued Puffin at Saeheimar Aquarium (nonbreeding colors)

Wild Puffin Landing at Cliffside Nesting Colony

Wild Puffin Landing at Cliffside Nesting Colony

Sheep Grazing in Volcanic Landscape

Sheep Grazing in Volcanic Landscape

If you travel to Heimaey in the Westmann Islands off the south coast of Iceland, you can visit the Eldheimar Museum.  It is known as the “Pompeii of the North” because it displays houses that were buried by volcanic ash in 1973.  For months before the eruption began, a little girl told everyone in the village that she dreamed an eruption was coming.  Her mother told her that was ridiculous because the volcano had not erupted in over 5,000 years.  On January 23 at 2 am, though, her mother looked out the window and saw a fissure of fire on the ridge above the house.  The lava was coming!  Fortunately there had been poor weather earlier that day so all the fishing boats were in port. The people were quickly evacuated and the fight was on to save the town.  One man’s crazy idea to spray sea water on the advancing lava to divert its flow actually worked, and the harbor was saved. 

We enjoyed our visit to Heimaey and highly recommend the trip (30 minute ferries to the island are available in summer).  Highlights were the Eldheimar Museum (http://eldheimar.is/en/), a spectacular puffin colony (http://visitwestmanislands.com/page/birdwatching-in-vestmannaeyjar-iceland), and of course the island’s abundant natural beauty (http://www.visitvestmannaeyjar.is/).

UPDATE JUNE 2019:  A new outdoor beluga whale sanctuary and museum was constructed here in the Westman Islands.  The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary is the first of its kind in the world!  Two beluga whales named Little White and Little Grey were rescued from a small concrete aquarium in Shanghai and arrived in Iceland on June 19, 2019:  https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2019/06/20/beluga_sisters_have_arrived/  They are adjusting well to their new home.  These “sea canaries” will live life in an open sea pen in the harbor, with access to an enclosed pool if weather conditions temporarily warrant it.  Their lives will be greatly improved under the best possible conditions, since they could never survive in the wild.  You can follow updates about them at:  https://belugasanctuary.sealifetrust.org/en/

Beluga whales are extremely intelligent, calm, inquisitive, and social animals.  Sea Life Trust boat tours will take visitors to see the bay where the belugas live, so we hope to see them next time we visit Iceland!

Iceland: Fragile Moss Fields and Tiny Wildflowers

Moss Covered Lava Field

Moss Covered Lava Field

Moss Covered Lava Ridge

Moss Covered Lava Ridge

Alpine Mouse Ears in Moss

Alpine Mouse Ears in Moss

Sea Campion

Sea Campion

Purple Saxifrage

Purple Saxifrage

Moss Campion (cushion pink; lambagras)

Moss Campion (cushion pink; lambagras)

Angelica Flowers

Angelica Flowers

Lupines

Lupines

In Iceland there are vast areas of pillow-like moss covering the black lava landscape.  This unique moss is rare outside Iceland and extremely fragile.  It grows less than an inch per year, so you must never step on it.  Walking on it would be hazardous anyway, because the moss covers up lava with unseen crevices and jagged edges. 

Wildflower peak is in June and July.  Many of the flowers are tiny and grow close to the ground in response to the arctic climate.  Fields of lupines in early summer are spectacular! 

Iceland: Rainbow Colors of Seltun Volcanic Area and Graenavatn Lake

Seltun Volcanic Area Basin

Seltun Volcanic Area Basin

Seltun Volcanic Area Colors

Seltun Volcanic Area Colors

Seltun Volcanic Area Trail

Seltun Volcanic Area Trail

Seltun Volcanic Area Steaming Creek with Cotton Grass

Seltun Volcanic Area Steaming Creek with Cotton Grass

Graenavatn Lake

Graenavatn Lake

Drive to Seltun Volcanic Area by Kleifarvatn Lake

Drive to Seltun Volcanic Area by Kleifarvatn Lake

Field of Purple Lupines in Volcanic Landscape

Field of Purple Lupines in Volcanic Landscape

Outdoor Fish Drying Racks

Outdoor Fish Drying Racks

South of Reykjavik you can walk on the Seltun Hot Springs Boardwalk through an active geothermal field of hissing steam vents, bubbling mud pots, and boiling hot springs.  This colorful volcanic landscape sits on a fissure zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  Nearby is unusual blue-green Graenavatn Lake, which formed in a crater left by an explosion of overheated ground water over 6,000 years ago.  Its beautiful color is the result of minerals and warmth-loving algae in the water.  Also nearby is Kleifarvatn Lake, which is one of the deepest lakes in Iceland.  Legend says it is the home of a giant serpent. In June the road to this area near Krysuvik passes by fields of purple lupines – it is a gorgeous drive! 

Close to Reykjavik the road passes by huge outdoor fish drying racks  – you can both see and smell it!  Dried fish (hardfiskur) is a favorite snack of Icelanders.

Iceland: Golden Circle Fun

Blue Bubble of Strokkur Geyser Eruption

Blue Bubble of Strokkur Geyser Eruption

Birthplace of Icelandic Parliament in 930 AD

Birthplace of Icelandic Parliament in 930 AD

Outside of Historic Thingvellir Church

Outside of Historic Thingvellir Church

Inside of Thingvellir Church (1683 Pulpit)

Inside of Thingvellir Church (1683 Pulpit)

Silfra Fissure at Junction of Tectonic Plates (popular diving spot in crystal clear water)

Silfra Fissure at Junction of Tectonic Plates (popular diving spot in crystal clear water)

Close-up of Gullfoss Waterfall Gorge

Close-up of Gullfoss Waterfall Gorge

Trio of Beautiful Icelandic Horses

Trio of Beautiful Icelandic Horses

Although we toured Reykjavik’s Golden Circle when we visited Iceland previously in 2014, we decided to revisit the area again to see old favorites and things we missed the last time around.  First stop was the geyser Strokkur, which erupts about every 10 minutes.  Our slow-motion video below shows how it swells into a churning blue bubble before erupting skyward (the first few seconds are amazing!).  Rain or shine it never disappoints. 

We also stopped at Thingvellir National Park.  Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best place in the world to see the junction of tectonic plates.  This location is the birthplace of the Althing, the world’s oldest existing parliament where Icelanders first assembled in 930 AD. 

Within view is beautiful Thingvellir Church.  It was built in 1859 and its pulpit dates to 1683. 

A popular activity in the area is to dive in the Silfra fissure, which straddles the North American and Eurasian continents.  The water is pristine and exceptionally clear (https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/).

After walking the trail at spectacular Gulfoss waterfall, we stopped for a picnic lunch along the road.  A friendly herd of Icelandic horses kept us company in this scenic landscape.

Iceland: Harpa Concert Hall and Sun Voyager Sculpture

Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa Concert Hall

Close-up of Harpa Concert Hall Windows

Close-up of Harpa Concert Hall Windows

Stairway Inside Harpa

Stairway Inside Harpa

Tiered Sitting Areas Inside Harpa

Tiered Sitting Areas Inside Harpa

Looking up at Cubic Ceiling Pattern

Looking up at Cubic Ceiling Pattern

Looking Down Harpa Atrium

Looking Down Harpa Atrium

Looking up at Harpa Glass Wall

Looking up at Harpa Glass Wall

Close-up of Geometric Colored Glass

Close-up of Geometric Colored Glass

Looking at Marina through Colored Glass

Looking at Marina through Colored Glass

Dark Theater Stage with Purple Lighting

Dark Theater Stage with Purple Lighting

View of Harbor from Harpa

View of Harbor from Harpa

Sun Voyager Statue Nearby

Sun Voyager Statue Nearby

Back of Sun Voyager Statue

Back of Sun Voyager Statue

Reykjavik’s modern Harpa Concert Hall is a wow!  We took a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about its interesting blend of art and architecture. The building’s overall dark color is meant to mimic Iceland’s volcanic landscape.  Transparent geometric glass panels make up the walls of the building and invite the outside in.  Dichroic glass colored yellow, green, and orange on the inside reflects back blue, red, and purple on the outside.  Perceptions both inside and outside the building constantly change with the light and weather.   More info is at: en.harpa.is

The Sun Voyager is a short stroll east of Harpa along the waterfront.  The steel sculpture was created by Jon Gunnar Arnason in 1990. Although it looks like a Viking ship, it is meant to be a dream boat voyaging to the sun – symbolizing a journey forward into light and hope.

Iceland: Famous Hallgrimskirkja Church

Entrance to Hallgrimskirkja Church

Entrance to Hallgrimskirkja Church

Statue of Leif Eriksson in Front of Hallgrimskirkja Tower

Statue of Leif Eriksson in Front of Hallgrimskirkja Tower

Pipe Organ with 5,275 Pipes

Pipe Organ with 5,275 Pipes

Candelabra Inside Church

Candelabra Inside Church

Icelandic Pancakes Nearby

Icelandic Pancakes Nearby

A prominent feature of Reykjavik’s skyline is Hallgrimskirkja Church.  It is the largest church in Iceland and contains a pipe organ with 5,275 pipes.  The outside of the building is fortified with cement to withstand the fierce storms of winter.  Its design reflects the volcanic basalt columns found in nature.  In front of the church stands a statue of Leif Eriksson – Viking hero and first European to visit America.  The statue was a gift from the United States in 1930 to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament (Althing).  The inside of the church has soaring columns that beautifully enhance the sound of a choir singing.  More info about Hallgrimskirkja is at:  en.hallgrimskirkja.is

Before an afternoon concert there we enjoyed fluffy Icelandic pancakes at Café Loki across the street.  The pancakes are similar to a crepe filled with light-as-air whipped cream.  The hot chocolate has whipped cream so buttery thick that it barely melts!  Mmmmmm. 

Iceland: Gorgeous Waterfalls

Seljalandsfoss  Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Flow into Basin

Seljalandsfoss Flow into Basin

Skogafoss Waterfall with Angelica Flowers

Skogafoss Waterfall with Angelica Flowers

Mighty Skogafoss Waterfall

Mighty Skogafoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall with Dandelions and Buttercups

Gullfoss Waterfall with Dandelions and Buttercups

Gullfoss Waterfall: Tourists on Rock Ledge

Gullfoss Waterfall: Tourists on Rock Ledge

Close-up of Gullfoss First Tier Waterfall

Close-up of Gullfoss First Tier Waterfall

Iceland is filled with gorgeous waterfalls – the variety and beauty are amazing!  Our favorite waterfall is Seljalandsfoss (on the south coast).  You can walk behind its curtain of water.  Another favorite nearby is Skogafoss.  A short stroll there leads up to the base of this mighty waterfall.  The most powerful waterfall of all is Gullfoss (along Reykjavik’s Golden Circle Tour).  This waterfall generates more power than Niagara and features a double tier of falls.  Many other beautiful waterfalls can be seen by simply driving around the Icelandic countryside.

Curious Icelandic Sheep

Cute Lamb on Hill

Cute Lamb on Hill

Mother Sheep and Lamb Grazing

Mother Sheep and Lamb Grazing

Mother Sheep and Twin Lambs

Mother Sheep and Twin Lambs

Sheep Approaching Car

Sheep Approaching Car

Lamb Face

Lamb Face

Lamb's Long Eyelashes

Lamb’s Long Eyelashes

Sheep in Iceland are purebreds that are direct descendants of those brought by the Vikings over 1,000 years ago.  They are very hardy and cold-tolerant animals. Sometimes they are curious and approach cars and people!

Iceland: Dramatic Viking Movie Set and Black Sand Dune Beach

Viking Cafe

Viking Cafe

Viking Village Panorama

Viking Village Panorama

Approach to Viking Movie Set

Approach to Viking Movie Set

Viking Long House

Viking Long House

Viking Turf Houses

Viking Turf Houses

Viking Catapult

Viking Catapult

Viking Hut with Horns

Viking Hut with Horns

Black Sand Dunes and Misty Vestrahorn Mountain

Black Sand Dunes and Misty Vestrahorn Mountain

Richard and Dunes for Scale

Richard and Dunes for Scale

Dune Covered with Green Grass

Dune Covered with Green Grass

Sideswept Dune

Sideswept Dune

Windswept Dunes

Windswept Dunes

Single Blade of Grass in Black Volcanic Sand

Single Blade of Grass in Black Volcanic Sand

Departure on Stokksnes Exit Road

Departure on Stokksnes Exit Road

Mist Flowing Down Mountain

Mist Flowing Down Mountain

Mist Flowing Over Mountain

Mist Flowing Over Mountain

Descriptive Map of Vestrahorn and Stokksnes Area

Descriptive Map of Vestrahorn and Stokksnes Area

Viking Cafe Map of Area

Viking Cafe Map of Area

An especially great place for photography in southeastern Iceland is Vestrahorn Mountain.  The 8-10 million year old gabbro and granophyre rocks are the remains of an ancient magma chamber of an extinct volcano.  To get to it, drive on Ring Road 1 about one hour east of Jokulsarlon and exit to Stokksnes (an old World War II NATO radar base).  The exit is just before the tunnel entrance east of Hofn.  Drive about 3 miles on the dirt road until you reach the remote family-owned Viking Café and pay a small entrance fee. 

A short hike through this stunning landscape leads to a former Viking movie set.  This Viking village was initially planned to be revived in 2017 to film the movie “Vikingr” by Universal Studios.  The movie is about epic Viking sagas by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur.   An initial article about the movie in October 2014 is at:  http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-iceland-viking-movie-baltasar-kormakur-20141008-story.html   In a follow-up article dated September 2016 Kormakur says that he expected to start work and filming of the Viking movie in 2017:  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/baltasar-kormakur-returning-iceland-oath-926795   An update in 2019 said that Vikingr is still under development by Universal Pictures.  

UPDATE:  Meanwhile, in October 2019 it was announced that Baltasar Kormakur will begin production in 2020 on the supernatural volcano drama “Katla” for Netflix.  This eight part series “begins one year after the violent eruption of the subglacial volcano Katla….Mysterious elements that have been deeply frozen into the glacier from prehistoric times start to emerge from the melting ice and cause consequences that no one could have ever foreseen.”  Exciting!  Read more at:  https://grapevine.is/news/2019/10/10/baltasar-kormakur-making-supernatural-volcano-drama-series-for-netflix/

Drive a very short distance in the other direction from the Viking Village to the sea to photograph the black volcanic sand dunes and mist-covered mountains.  The dunes are shaped by the wind and topography.  This place is stunning and embodies the wildness and drama of the Icelandic landscape – the owners consider it “Heaven on Earth”

Iceland: Stunning Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon!

Stunning Jokulsarlon Ice Beach

Stunning Jokulsarlon Ice Beach

Wave Crashing onto Ice

Wave Crashing onto Ice

Blue Iceberg

Blue Iceberg

Stunning Blue Ice

Stunning Blue Ice

Close-up of Blue Ice

Close-up of Blue Ice

Iceberg on Black Volcanic Sand

Iceberg on Black Volcanic Sand

Rippled Ice

Rippled Ice

Ice with Fish-like Shape

Ice with Fish-like Shape

 

Ice with Cat-like Shape

Ice with Cat-like Shape

Ice Completely Full of Frozen Bubbles

Ice Completely Full of Frozen Bubbles

Close-up of Ice with Volcanic Sand and Pebbles

Close-up of Ice with Volcanic Sand and Pebbles

Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon

Striated Glacial Icebergs

Striated Glacial Icebergs

Long Exposure of Ice #1

Long Exposure of Ice #1

Long Exposure of Ice #2

Long Exposure of Ice #2

Long Exposure of Ice #3

Long Exposure of Ice #3

Long Exposure of Ice #4

Long Exposure of Ice #4

Jokulsarlon is one of those places you never forget.  The glaciers, icebergs, and crystalline ice on the volcanic black sand beach are stunning!  If the weather turns rainy, it only serves to make the blue ice even bluer (click on any of the images to enlarge).  If you visit Iceland, don’t miss this incredible place!   More info is at:  http://icelagoon.is/

Return to Iceland: Puffins are the Best!

Atlantic Puffin's Colorful Face

Atlantic Puffin’s Colorful Face

Puffin Nesting Cliff

Puffin Nesting Cliff

Puffins by Nesting Burrows

Puffins by Nesting Burrows

Puffin Profile

Puffin Profile

Puffin Pair

Puffin Pair

The Little Puffling Children's Book

The Little Puffling Children’s Book

We recently visited Iceland in June.  All Iceland photos (including those from another trip two years ago) are at https://naturetime.wordpress.com/category/travel-2/iceland/

Iceland is a nature photographer’s paradise!  The country is famous for its seabirds.  Most of the world’s Atlantic puffins nest there, totaling 8-10 million birds.  We photographed these puffins at the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), which is home to half of them. 

Atlantic puffins are nicknamed “sea parrot” or “clown of the sea” for their bright colors.  Pairs dig nesting burrows and lay one egg per year.  Pufflings fledge in August, and sometimes get confused by street lights.  When that happens, children of Heimaey (Westman Islands) go on patrol to rescue them.  Pufflings are then released to safety from cliffs nearby. 

Puffins are a real favorite of ours and great fun to watch!  More info about puffins is at:  http://projectpuffin.audubon.org/birds/puffin-faqs  Here in the United States you can watch a live cam in summer of Atlantic puffins in Maine at:  http://explore.org/live-cams/player/puffin-burrow-cam

Iceland: Magical Landscapes

Stunning Low Altitude Rainbow in Landscape

Stunning Low Altitude Rainbow in Landscape

Low Altitude Rainbow Close to Ground

Low Altitude Rainbow Close to Ground

Close-up of Low Altitude Rainbow

Close-up of Low Altitude Rainbow

Glacial Mountain with Field of Lupines

Glacial Mountain with Field of Lupines

Close-up of Fragrant Lupines

Close-up of Fragrant Lupines

Farm with Hay Bales in Field (looks like giant marshmallows), Northern Iceland

Farm with Hay Bales in Field (looks like giant marshmallows), Northern Iceland

Dalvik Peninsula Mountains with Glacial Stream, Northern Iceland

Dalvik Peninsula Mountains with Glacial Stream, Northern Iceland

Tabletop Mountain Formed When a Volcano Erupted Under a Glacier, Northern Iceland

Tabletop Mountain Formed When a Volcano Erupted Under a Glacier, Northern Iceland

Old Volcanic Plug, South Coast

Old Volcanic Plug, South Coast

Volcanic Cone, Northern Iceland

Volcanic Cone, Northern Iceland

Bjarnaflag: Country's First Geothermal Power Station, Northern Iceland

Bjarnaflag: Country’s First Geothermal Power Station, Northern Iceland

Volcanic Moonscape Used for Training Apollo Astronauts, Near Reykjavik

Volcanic Moonscape Used for Training Apollo Astronauts, Near Reykjavik

Three Rock Pillars Said to be Trolls Turned to Stone at Sunrise, South Coast

Three Rock Pillars Said to be Trolls Turned to Stone at Sunrise, South Coast

Laufskalavarda: Tradition Calls for Travelers to Pile Up Rock Cairns to Bring Good Luck on Journey, South Coast

Laufskalavarda: Tradition Calls for Travelers to Pile Up Rock Cairns to Bring Good Luck on Journey, South Coast

Isolated Home with View of Snowy Mountains, Northern Iceland

Isolated Home with View of Snowy Mountains, Northern Iceland

Reykjavik Harpa Concert Hall

Reykjavik Harpa Concert Hall

Close-up Reykjavik Harpa Concert Hall Windows

Close-up Reykjavik Harpa Concert Hall Windows

Departure:  Fly-Over Greenland's Glaciers

Departure: Fly-Over Greenland’s Glaciers

Iceland is one of the top places we have ever visited – we can’t wait to visit again someday!  We were constantly surprised by the stunning natural beauty of this magical land.  And the people are truly wonderful too – they have been voted the friendliest in the world.  It was a great trip all around!

Iceland: Best Bird Sightings

Puffin with a Beautiful Colorful Bill

Puffin with Colorful Bill

Puffin Pair on Water

Puffin Pair on Water

Arctic Terns (baby eel in bill)

Arctic Terns (baby eel in bill)

Arctic Tern Calling

Arctic Tern Calling

Arctic Tern Flying

Arctic Tern Flying

Arctic Tern Chick

Arctic Tern Chick

Black Tailed Godwit

Black Tailed Godwit

Greylag Goose and Buttercups

Greylag Goose and Buttercups

Male Eider Duck

Male Eider Duck

Female Eider Duck with Chicks

Female Eider Duck with Chicks

Red Shank on Post

Red Shank on Post

Red Shank and Lupines

Red Shank and Lupines

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Mating Pair of Whooper Swans

Mating Pair of Whooper Swans

Whooper Swan Sitting on Nest

Whooper Swan Sitting on Nest

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

White Wagtail on Volcanic Rock

White Wagtail on Volcanic Rock

Great Auk Memorial (stands 5 feet tall)

Great Auk Memorial (stands 5 feet tall)

Birds on Roadway Caution Sign

Birds on Roadway Caution Sign

We visited Iceland the last 2 weeks of June, and the bird watching was incredible! Over half of the world’s Atlantic puffins breed there in summer. One of the easiest ways to see puffins is take a short boat ride out of Reykjavik Harbor to a nesting colony offshore. Arctic terns are abundant along the coast. The 4 ounce birds have the longest annual migration of any animal. They travel from the north to south poles round trip every year – over 40,000 miles!  Arctic terns live up to 34 years, so they travel a tremendous distance over a lifetime.  A website about arctic tern migration is at: http://www.arctictern.info/  Golden plovers are famous among Icelanders for heralding spring.  Many bird sightings can be made simply in the course of driving around. This country is a must-do for bird watchers!   A handy website on the most commonly seen Icelandic birds is at: http://www.iceland-nh.net/birds/background_birds.html  

Iceland: Charming Glaumbaer Sod Farmhouses/Folk Museum

Glaumbaer Farm-Skagafjordur Folk Museum Complex, Skagafjordur, Northern Iceland

Glaumbaer Farm-Skagafjordur Folk Museum Complex, Skagafjordur, Northern Iceland

Herringbone-Patterned Turf

Herringbone-Patterned Turf

Outside of Three Rooms in Sod Complex

Outside of Three Rooms in Sod Complex

Outside Windows Surrounded by Grass

Outside Windows Surrounded by Grass

Inside Window Looking Out (dandelions growing on roof)

Inside Window Looking Out (dandelions growing on roof)

Main Central Corridor (light beams come from glass skylights)

Main Central Corridor (light beams come from glass skylights)

Inside Closeup of Sod Walls

Inside Closeup of Sod Walls

Cookware on Stone Fireplace

Cookware on Stone Fireplace

Painted Glassware (middle jug features a swallow)

Painted Glassware (middle jug features a swallow)

Colorful Painted Chest (inscription says Year 1859)

Colorful Painted Chest (inscription says Year 1859)

Beautiful Driftwood Bureau

Beautiful Driftwood Bureau

Teapot and Box (inscription says Anna 1796)

Teapot and Box (inscription says Anna 1796)

Traditional Icelandic Instrument called the “Langspil” (similar to a violin)

Traditional Icelandic Instrument called the “Langspil” (similar to a violin)

Sheep Horn Display

Sheep Horn Display

Historic Drawing of Glaumbaer Farm

Historic Drawing of Glaumbaer Farm

The Glaumbaer Farm/Skagafjordur Folk Museum is located next to the Glaumbaerjarkirkja Church in Skagafjordur, Iceland. This charming sod farmhouse complex is preserved as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries. The houses are built from sod laid in herringbone patterns with a stone base, and reinforced inside by imported lumber or driftwood. The farm complex contains 13 buildings or “rooms” connected by a central corridor leading to sleeping and communal areas, dining room, kitchen, pantry, blacksmith shop, storerooms, and guest rooms. Turf was used as a building material because it was readily available, provided excellent insulation, and could easily last a century. Lumber was used sparingly because it had to be imported (Iceland has few trees).   Volcanic stone was not used because the cost of mortar was too high. The antique furniture and household goods are especially interesting. More info is at: http://www.glaumbaer.is/is/information/glaumbaer-farm/glaumbaer-english-1

 

Iceland: Beautiful Historic Churches

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church) Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church) Wooden Pipe Organ

Glaumbaejarkirkja Wooden Pipe Organ

Thingeyrarkirkja (Stone Church), Northern Iceland

Thingeyrarkirkja Stone Entrance

Thingeyrarkirkja Historic Altar

Thingeyrarkirkja Blue Ceiling with Gold Stars

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Wheel Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Wheel Memorial

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Every town in Iceland, no matter how small or isolated, seems to have its own historic church. Usually it is perched high on a hill or overlooking the water. We loved the attention to detail and beauty of these unique churches. Some of the buildings are made of concrete or colorful corrugated iron to withstand the harsh weather and winter wind; others are made of stone or turf (sod).  Christianity was adopted in this country around 1000 AD, and 80% of the population is Lutheran. That said, Icelanders are free thinking and embrace people of all faiths.  “Kirkja” at the end of a word means “church” in Icelandic.   Click on any of these pictures to bring up further details and traveling advice.

Iceland: Colorful Lighthouses

Siglufjordur (Seal Fjord) Lighthouse on Arctic Ocean (North Iceland)

Siglufjordur (Seal Fjord) Lighthouse on Arctic Ocean (North Iceland)

Nordurgardi (North Mole) Reykjavik Harbor Light

Nordurgardi (North Mole) Reykjavik Harbor Light

Stafnes Lighthouse. Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Stafnes Lighthouse. Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Engey Lighthouse on Engey Island in Reykjavik Harbor

Engey Lighthouse on Engey Island in Reykjavik Harbor

Gerdistangi Lighthouse on Private Property Behind Old Stone Wall. Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Gerdistangi Lighthouse on Private Property Behind Old Stone Wall. Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Reykjanes Lighthouse. Iceland’s Oldest Lighthouse near Reykjavik.

Reykjanes Lighthouse. Iceland’s Oldest Lighthouse near Reykjavik.

Reykjanes (Smokey Point) Lighthouse Sits on Hill Overlooking Gunnuhver Gothermal Area

Reykjanes (Smokey Point) Lighthouse Sits on Hill Overlooking Gunnuhver Geothermal Area

Close-up of Reykjanes Lighthouse

Close-up of Reykjanes Lighthouse

Grotta Lighthouse (west of Reykjavik Harbor)

Grotta Lighthouse (west of Reykjavik Harbor)

Sea Glass Collected on Grotta Lighthouse Beach

Sea Glass Collected on Grotta Lighthouse Beach

Lighthouses in Iceland sit in incredibly scenic locations. Over 100 lighthouses and harbor lights can be found along the country’s rocky shores. Although some of the lighthouses are painted classic white, many are painted bright orange or yellow to contrast best with the black volcanic landscape and white snow in winter.  Another post about Icelandic lighthouses is at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/iceland-best-climb-up-a-lighthouse/

Iceland: Best Climb Up a Lighthouse!

Pair of Gardskagaviti Lighthouses (the “brothers”).  Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik

Pair of Gardskagaviti Lighthouses (the “brothers”). Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik

Gardskagaviti Lighthouses and Old Fishing Boat

Gardskagaviti Lighthouses and Old Fishing Boat

Looking up Gardskagaviti Tower (Iceland’s tallest lighthouse)

Looking up Gardskagaviti Tower (Iceland’s tallest lighthouse)

Key to Gardskagaviti Tower (says ­­­­­"Thanks for Your Support" in Icelandic)

Key to Gardskagaviti Tower (says ­­­­­”Thanks for Your Support” in Icelandic)

Richard at Bottom of Stairs

Richard at Bottom of Stairs

Gingko Leaf Circle

Gingko Leaf Circle

Leaf Art Design

Leaf Art Design

Row of Saved Thermometers

Row of Saved Thermometers

Richard Unlocking Trapdoor Bolt to Top of Tower

Richard Unlocking Trapdoor Bolt to Top of Tower

Pam Climbing onto Viewing Balcony

Pam Climbing onto Viewing Balcony

Fresnel Lens in Gardskagaviti Tower

Fresnel Lens in Gardskagaviti Tower

Coastal View Looking East

Coastal View Looking East

Coastal View Looking South

Coastal View Looking South

View from Tower of the Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

View from Tower of the Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

One of our favorite experiences of our trip was visiting the pair of Gardskagaviti lighthouses on the Reykjanes Peninsula (near Reykjavik).   The taller lighthouse of the pair (known as “the twin brothers”) was built by U.S. servicemen who were rescued from a sinking Coast Guard ship. It was presented as a gift to the Icelandic people for saving their lives. At the museum next to the lighthouses we were given a key to climb up to the top of the tower (the tallest in Iceland). As instructed, we unlocked the door, went in, and then relocked the door behind us. We had the entire place to ourselves! The acoustics were incredible – the tower is essentially a giant tube that acts like an echo chamber. I remember reading once that lighthouse keepers often sang inside their towers because the sound was so amazing.

As we climbed up we enjoyed art displays on the walls and a display of saved thermometers. The top of the tower was especially unique. Richard had to unscrew a bolt to unlock the trap door leading to the balcony surrounding the Fresnel lens. What a view!

Afterward we locked everything back up and turned in the key. The smaller and older red and white striped lighthouse beside the tower was once used for bird migration studies.  Birds commonly seen at rocky Gardskaga Point include eiders, turnstones, gannets, red shank, and sanderlings. This lighthouse experience was one-of-a-kind and great fun!

Iceland: Whale Watching Near the Arctic Circle

Scenic Dalvik Marina

Scenic Dalvik Marina

Arctic Ship with Snowflake Design

Arctic Ship with Snowflake Design

Wooden Boat in Harbor

Wooden Boat in Harbor

House Nestled in Valley

House Nestled in Valley

Fjord's Snowy Mountains

Fjord’s Snowy Mountains

Humpback Tail

Humpback Tail

Humpback Surfacing

Humpback Surfacing

White Beaked Dolphins

White Beaked Dolphins

Icelandic Whales Poster

Icelandic Whales Poster

Icelandic Fish Poster

Icelandic Fish Poster

Iceland is a great place for whale watching in summer!  Marine wildlife commonly seen includes humpback whales, minke whales, white beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises. We went whale watching out of Dalvik in late June (at the edge of the Arctic Circle – 30 miles north of Akureyri).  The day of our tour seemed to be one of the best weather days of the year – temperature was 65°F with sunny skies, calm winds, and flat seas.

The humpback whales were impressive to see!  Interestingly, humpbacks are widely known for protecting other animals from orcas.  Between 1951-2012 there are 115 scientifically documented cases of humpbacks shielding from killer whale attack various species including Weddell seals, gray whale calves, dolphins, sea lions, and ocean sunfish.   There is even a documented case of a humpback protecting a diver from a shark.  Dolphins are also well known for aiding other species.  The sea holds many secrets and surprises! 

After watching humpback whales and white-beaked dolphins in the fjord, we stopped to fish on the way back. Within 10 minutes there was enough pollack and cod to feed everyone on the boat. That fresh-grilled fish dripping in butter back at the harbor was unbelievably delicious!  This area was one of our favorite places of the entire trip – it is unbelievably scenic!  Info on Arctic Sea Tours is at:  https://www.arcticseatours.is/

Iceland: Stunning Crystalline Ice on a Volcanic Black Sand Beach!

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon:  Ice 1

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: Ice 1

Ice 2

Ice 2

Ice 3

Ice 3

Ice 4

Ice 4

Ice 5

Ice 5

Ice 6

Ice 6

Ice 7

Ice 7

Ice 8

Ice 8

Ice 9

Ice 9

Ice 10

Ice 10

Ice 11

Ice 11

Ice 12

Ice 12

Ice 13

Ice 13

Ice 14

Ice 14

One of the most amazing sights we saw in Iceland was crystalline ice on a volcanic black sand beach at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.  The ice floats out to sea with the tide from the lagoon, and some of it washes onto the volcanic black sand shoreline.  The interplay between ice, light, waves is ever-changing.  Nature’s beauty here is stunning!  Do you have a favorite?

Iceland: Glaciers in “The Land of Fire and Ice”

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Iceland contains the largest glaciers in the world outside of Greenland and Antarctica. This “Land of Fire and Ice” has 11% of its landmass permanently covered in ice.  Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon on the country’s south coast is especially beautiful. The icebergs in this lagoon come from the Vatnajokull ice cap (jokull at the end of a word means “glacier” in Icelandic).  The colors and beauty of this area are stunning!  A live webcam is at: http://www.livefromiceland.is/webcams/jokulsarlon/

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