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: “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: 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: 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.  Its 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 WWII 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 is going to be revived next year (2017) to film the new movie “Vikingr” by Universal Studios.  The movie is about epic Viking sagas by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur – watch for it in the future!  

An initial article about the movie dated 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 expects to start work and filming of the Viking movie sometime in 2017:  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/baltasar-kormakur-returning-iceland-oath-926795   

An update in 2017 said that Vikingr is still under development by Universal Pictures.  Meanwhile, Baltasar Kormakur is negotiating with Studiocanal on production of his upcoming TV drama series “Katla”.  The series is set two years in the future after Iceland’s volcano Katla erupts and causes destruction, mutations, and strange occurrences in Reykjavik and beyond.  Scientists converge on the Icelandic capital to confront the crisis.  The series will start filming in Fall 2017 in Baltasar’s newly built studio in Reykjavik.  More info is at:  http://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/culture_and_living/2017/04/03/studiocanal_co_producing_katla_the_epic_volcanic_tv/

Drive a very short distance in the other direction 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/

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