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.  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/), Saeheimar Aquarium (http://saeheimar.is/en), 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 2018:  A new outdoor whale sanctuary and museum is being constructed in the Westman Islands of Iceland.  The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary will be the first of its kind in the world.  Two beluga whales are being rescued from a small concrete aquarium in Shanghai and will be flown to Iceland in March 2019.  There the pair of whales, commonly known as “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.  We hope to see them when we visit Iceland again in June of next year!

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