I live in Los Angeles. There are more cars there than any other place in the United States. I wouldn’t list driving as one of my top 10 skills, in fact probably not top 20. I hate to drive and I kinda suck at it. I’m good enough to prevent major accidents (most of the time), but my judging of distances sucks pretty hard. My car has a name. Pinball. Why? Because it’s small, silver, and bounces off of everything! But the freedom a car provides is second to none! And since Iceland has the common sense to drive on the right side of the road, not the wrong side (like Scotland and Ireland where I’ll be the rest of the month), I figured I would give it a whirl! So buckle up, Icelanders! And avoid the Reykjanes Peninsula today! Because that is my destination!
I researched the heck out of car rentals. I always hear these horror stories about how they wind up finding some .005mm scratch under the front bumper when you come back and retroactively charge your credit card like a zillion dollars. Brian and I have managed to avoid that scam in Panama, Cuba, El Salvador, Malaysia, France, and South Africa so far, mainly because I’m super anal about taking pictures of EVERYTHING before we leave. I make sure the guy marks down EVERY scratch, dent, piece of dirt- no matter how small it is. I don’t take, “Oh, that’s so small it’s not a problem” for an answer. Mark it on the sheet. And I research, research, research. I read tons of reviews. If there’s any kind of a track record of scamming from a company, I steer clear. If they all have a track record of it (side eye at you, El Salvador), I just go by price and get a car from one of the big chains. In Iceland, the best reviews I found where Blue Car Rental. A local company that includes ALL of the insurance in your quote (except sand and ash). Knowing how much gravel and such there is on the road here (and my penchant for bouncing off of things), I figured maximum insurance was the best bet. Yes, my credit card has rental coverage, but I’m traveling for 2.5 months and I don’t want to deal with that. $185 for 3 days, full insurance, automatic transmission. Not terrible! And a hell of a lot cheaper and more flexible than if I took tours to the areas I wanted to go….
Wow. Easy driving! Hardly anyone on the roads this early on a Sunday. Seriously, the biggest problems driving here are a) the center divider line and lane divider is like the equator in most places…imaginary. Just stay to the right. b) Don’t stay too far to the right, because you have like 6″ of shoulder and that’s it. What you’re supposed to do if you have a flat, I have no idea… Navigation was set to the geothermal park. Scheduled arrival, 9:06. It was 12 minutes from the lava tunnel, so I’d have about 30 min there. I was kicking myself, because I could have gotten a 10% discount if I booked online. I had planned to do it this morning, but forgot! Ugh! Oh well… As I drove, periodically I’d see smoke billowing out of the ground, and occasionally catch a whiff of sulphur. So cool! Followed Google maps and turned into the parking lot at precisely 9:06. Um, this didn’t look like a tour kind of place… I pulled up my itinerary. %/#&$@* this was the wrong place! I had passed the geothermal EXHIBITION (not park) about five minutes ago! I didn’t have time to go back, so headed straight to the lava tube. This is when I was happy I didn’t book the geothermal exhibit online! Everything happens for a reason…
Once we were inside of the tunnel, I was just amazed at all of the colors and the formations of the rocks. So intricate and beautiful. The reds were just…I don’t even have the words for it! We’d walk for a ways, the guide would then stop and give us a 5-8 minute talk about what we were seeing, then we’d move on. Everything was just so FASCINATING! The information, the tunnel- I was just in awe of the whole thing. At one point, he had us turn our headlamps off and he flipped the switch to the main bulbs. Absolutely, unpenetrable blackness. All too soon we reached “our” end of the tunnel. It continues back quite a ways, but you have to be on the “extreme tour” to do that. A lot of climbing over rock rubble instead of walking on a nicely groomed path, and no fixed lights to show you the features- just your headlamp. Nah. By the time we got to the end, I had kind of worked my way up to the front of the line. I was first to get my picture taken, and that meant I could be the first one back out of the tunnel- with no people interrupting my shots!! Of course, I took so many shots that by the time we reached the entrance again, I was back at the end of the line! Seriously, this tour was fantastic and so much greater than I expected. Honestly, and this is hard to say, if you have to choose either the Into the Volcano tour or this lava tunnel tour because of time or money, do this one. We were inside of the tunnel for a little over an hour (we ran long!), but only inside of the volcano on the other tour for about 25 minutes or so. And there was a lot more to see in here. I seriously could do it again. It was that good. That said, I’m glad I did both. For $64, I feel this tour was the best value I got in Iceland for my tourist dollars. BOOK IN ADVANCE! It fills fast.
Got out of the cave at 11:15. I couldn’t believe my luck! I knew from the website that the first Geothermal EXHIBITION (not park!) guided tour was at 1130. I had wanted to do it, but I really wanted to just go there first, even if I had to do it without a guide, then go to the lava tunnel. Well, since I had made that mistake earlier, now I was at perfect timing to get there for the guided tour! I had 15 minutes… Navigation said 12. I’ve got this! Pulled in with a couple of minutes to spare. Here’s what I’ve learned in my travels- everything happens for a reason. It’s why I don’t sweat it when something gets messed up and doesn’t go exactly to my pre-ordained, pre-scheduled, pre-spreadsheeted itinerary!! That said, if you want to go to this, book online in advance. You’ll get 10% off. I paid my $15 and waited for the tour to start. The lady was really nice, and you could tell she was excited about geothermal energy, but I didn’t feel like the explanation was clear enough. I was on this tour for 20 minutes and still really don’t understand what they do, except that they are located on a very geothermally active area at the base of a volcano, and they utilize that heat to create hot water to heat people’s homes and for their taps, and to create electricity. How, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. 🙁 There were a lot of videos you could watch, some various exhibits, etc… I was kinda short on time, so I did a quick run through, snapped some pics of signs, and will figure it all out later to tell my students. Honestly, unless you’re really interested in geothermal energy production, I’d skip this one.
Next top was a little “gem” (pun intended!) of a destination that I heard about on one of the Iceland Facebook groups- the Ljósbrá Stone and Mineral Museum in Hveragerdi. It was on the way to my next stop in the Reykjanes tour, and it was FREE, so why the heck not?? 🙂 Navigation showed that it should be on the left when I exited the “freeway” (I’m from Los Angeles. Any major “freeway” in Iceland will be in quotes!). Um, I didn’t see it. Maybe google maps was wrong (shocking), and it was really in the strip mall on the right. I looked there and didn’t see it. Google maps insisted it was on the left, by the gas station. I entered the gas station area on the right of it, drove around to the back, and to the left, where google said it was. There was no building on the left of the gas station! Argh! Oh well. I drove around the front to leave, and there it was- INSIDE the N1 gas station. Derp. Parked and went in. A really nice collection of minerals and stones and fossils and things. Fun to look around for about 15 minutes. And free, so there’s that!
The next stop was purely for research for an upcoming class on weird creatures around the world. And I had high hopes, because it was kinda out of the way. But no where as near out of the way as the Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum and the Sea Monster museums I really wanted to see waaaaaaaaayy up in the Westfjords. Cue Icelandic Wonders– the Elf and Ghost Museum in Stokkseyri. I walked into the Elf Museum, and paid $25 to do both museums. I was given a headset to walk me through. Ok…..I am going to describe this the best way I can. I think someone with either an a) serious interest in the paranormal or b) serious interest in tourist money or c) serious interest in getting some traffic into Stokkseyri started this museum. Possibly, all of the above. However, it was pretty damn cheesy, I hate to say. You walked into these different areas that had a scene set up with some decor and a mannequin elf, and a story was told over the audio guide. The stories had no continuity, no flow. It’s not a museum, as much as a walking audio “experience” (I’m trying to be polite, here). I was all alone in there. There were a few rooms, then a room with a movie about elves, but the audio didn’t really match the screen. Then, the thing that almost killed me. The Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights room. You sat in a chair and stared at a large screen with a pretty poorly projected image. It was just video images of the northern lights. The audio seemed to be from some kind of movie or documentary about the lights, as you could hear sounds like horse hooves and flowing rivers that weren’t on the screen. And it went. on. and. on. for. ever. Oh my god. I was ready to tear my hair out, but I didn’t know how to fast forward my headset without messing it up. Had I known that the rest of the museum was literally like two more stories, I would have just left. I was in that museum for about 40 minutes. Easily half of it was that lame ass movie that had NOTHING to do with elves. I was not pleased. I literally learned NOTHING. Sigh. Oh well, maybe the ghost museum would be better!
The ghost museum was in the same complex, but around the other side. You got a nice ocean view from there, as it’s literally right on the water. The lady at the front desk was so happy to see me! I was her first customer of the day. Seriously, meeting her was the highlight of this whole stop. She asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes. She was very intrigued, and said she wanted to travel alone, but wasn’t sure, and that she had joined the Solo Women Traveler’s facebook page. I told her I was a member there, too! She hugged me and we talked for several minutes. Very, very sweet young lady. She gave me my audio headset, and told me to make sure to lift up the stone in room 19. That sounded ominous…. I will say this, the ghost museum is much more interesting than the elf museum! It’s still kinda cheesy, but there are some pretty interesting stories that are told at each stop (and, some that kinda sucked). You’ll be in this one for almost an hour if you listen to the whole headset. There are 25+ rooms to go through (much bigger than the elf museum). Basically, you go into a room, it’s decorated to represent the story, and you listen to the story. Again, all alone in this place, and I won’t spoil it, but there are some “surprises”! 😉 I didn’t go into room 19- frankly, I didn’t want to be scared! And I kinda skipped past the rest because it was taking so long and I needed to get back on the road. Said goodbye to the nice lady and headed out.
The weather was kind gray and not so great, and it drizzled off and on as I drove along the south coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula on the 427. It was all lava fields. A really surreal landscape with weird lava formations rising up through the mossy grass type stuff that covered everything. It was a pretty long drive to get to my next stop- the Brimketill Pool. Legend says that a troll bathed here a little longer than she should have…and got caught by the sunrise, which turned her to stone. The sea has eroded away her body, but the pool is still there. Actually, there are 2 of them- one on the left that you can only see part of, and this one on the right. Very cool, and a fun little story for my students!
Next stop, research for Earth Science (you people think I’m just wandering around on vacation? Heck no, I’m working here!! 🙂 )- the Gunnuhver Geothermal Area. I could see the smoke rising in the distance- this really is the land of fire and ice! I parked at the lot and walked in (FREE!). There’s one extremely active boiling pool, that is the largest in all of Iceland. Water and steam are just constantly boiling out of the ground, with water shooting up a few meters. There’s a really nice boardwalk, and you can walk around the entire area- doesn’t take more than about 20 minutes or so. The oranges and yellows and reds on the ground are so beautiful.
Next stop, more Earth Science! The Bridge Between Two Continents (FREE!). There is a bridge that literally spans the North American and Eurasian plates. I got a lot of video for the class, but didn’t take an actual picture of the bridge (oy). However, here I am standing on it, looking at the sandy rift where the continents are slowly pulling apart almost 1″ per year. Eurasia is on the left and North America on the right. Fun stop- takes 5-10 minutes. There are some other hiking opportunities in the area.
So let’s see- so far I had seen elves and ghosts and trolls. What’s left? A giant!! A giantess, to be exact! This was a fun little detour into the city of Reykjanesbær. I hear word on the street that if you go to the tourist center here, you can get a certificate stating that you had crossed the bridge. I was kinda worn out, still had a ways to go, so didn’t search for the tourist center. Anyway, I came here to visit the giantess (FREE!)! Google maps wants to take you up into a neighborhood. Don’t do that. Park in the marina. You’ll see the footsteps leading to Skessan’s home! The hours said it was open from 10-5, but I guess she had to run out and do giantess errands, because her door was locked. 🙁
The final stop for the day was to the Seltún Geothermal Area. Now this one was REALLY tricky with Google Maps. Google was showing it off of some unnamed road on the right between Vogar and Hafnarfjörður. Fortunately I had posted my proposed itinerary on a facebook group, and someone said it isn’t on that road- it’s off of the 42 out of Hafnarfjörður. Why I didn’t clarify which end of the 42, I don’t know. I just assumed that since google was showing it on the north side of the Peninsula, that’s where it must be. Oh google, always making an ass out of me. I started driving down the 42, looking for signs. Nothing. Nothing. For a really long time, nothing. Then, my pavement turned to gravel! I got a little nervous- I’m back in the middle of no where, 2 wheel drive, no cell signal, hmmmmmm. The only thing I didn’t have to worry about was it getting dark (cuz it never gets dark!)! 😛 In typical throw all caution and common sense to the wind, I decided to go for it. The gravel didn’t last long, and it eventually turned to pavement again. The drive went along what I would assume is a stunningly beautiful lake when it’s not cloaked in cloud cover. Finally I reached Seltun (FREE!)! Where was it? Literally at the very end of the 42- almost all the way down to the coastal road I drove in on from the ghost museum! Ugh! Had I known that, I would have gone here before Brimketill Pool and saved myself a lot of driving. It was gorgeous. Very Yellowstone National Park-like. I had a great time exploring the boardwalks and watching mud boil, water spew, smoke rise, and holes hiss! Much more extensive and beautiful than Gunnuhver in my opinion, although both are worth a stop. I spent a little over 30 minutes here, and there are a lot of additional hiking opportunities.
You’ll notice there is no mention of the Blue Lagoon, even though it’s smack dab in the middle of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Why? Because I’m not interested in it. For one, I’m not one to sit around in water. For two, it’s stupid expensive. For three, it’s super touristy. I kind of liken it to the Eiffel Tower. I went to Paris twice, and really didn’t care to see it. I just kind of stumbled upon it around a corner one evening. It was pretty, but…eh. I’d never pay to go to the top. Same with Blue Lagoon. It’s kind of the national iconic tourist stop of Iceland, but in my opinion….eh. Plus, anything with “spa” or “yoga” or “retreat” or “resort” in the name generally gets a firm NOPE from me. 🙂
I drove back the way I came and headed back to Reykjavik. I had kinda planned to see if I could find the elf garden in Hafnarfjörður (this is the town of the elves, after all!), but was pretty worn out. I had been on the road for almost 12 hours already. I would definitely recommend the Reykjanes Peninsula if you have an interest in geothermal things (which I do). Honestly if you aren’t geothermically driven and have only 3 days with a car (like I have), I’d do the Snæfellsnes peninsula north of Reykjavik instead Reykjanes. I haven’t seen that area, but I hear amazing things about it. Spoiler alert: if it’s anything like the scenery I saw on days 9 and 10, it would be worth it!!