A walk through customs plus a small wait for suitcases at the Keflavík International Airport plus a dip in the Blue Lagoon just about sums up the Reykjanes peninsula for many tourists who then hop on a bus to Reykjavík. But that’s glossing over the incredibly vast expanse of lava fields certainly worth closer inspection.
South Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull may have the limelight today, but there are over 100 volcanic craters and thirteen different lava fields on the Reykjanes peninsula. And what better way to romp through the rocky terrain than by ATV—all terrain vehicle.
This adventure began early morning at Reykjavík’s Iceland Excursions office, where we caught a bus to the Blue Lagoon. When we arrived, Kjartan Sigurðsson from ATV Adventures was waiting for us in the parking lot. ATV Adventures works with Iceland Excursion’s schedule to get you on a tour and back in time to catch a bus back to Reykjavík or on to Keflavík airport, which can be quite convenient.
After a short ride with Kjartan, we arrived at their home base in Grindavík. With his brother, Jakob Sigurðsson and father Sigurður Óli Hilmarsson, they got to work outfitting us for the trip. A warm blue jumpsuit, boots, gloves, helmet and we were set.
Getting the grip of it
I put my finger to the lever and with a small jolt my ATV took off down the street. A driver’s license is required to operate the vehicle, but on tandem rides, the father-son-trio told me they have had everyone from age four to eighty.
With my eye on the yellow vehicle in front of me, I focused on keeping up with the group of some obviously experienced ATV drivers. “You’re doing great,” Sigrún Harpa Einarsdóttir told me when we stopped. “For someone who has never driven an ATV,” she added.
That was nice of her to say, I thought, as I continued struggling to keep the ATV going straight, which seemed to be an effort against its will. As I approached particularly rugged lava rocks I cringed in anticipation of bottoming out. But the tires took them on, no sweat, and I began to relax.
Finally, I got the grip of it when I fully realised that I was driving the ATV rather than the ATV driving me every which way on the uneven lava. It was that simple.
A 360° lava-scape
Between Fiskidalsfjall (Fish-valley-mountain) and Húsafell (House-mountain), we climbed up to a nice lookout where we got off our ATVs to take in the panorama lava-scape stretching in all directions, the result of thirteen different eruptions in the area from 250 to 10,000 years ago.
Below us in the distance was the Blue Lagoon, slightly masked by the thick white steam rising from the geothermal plant. Kjartan told me many of their guests bathe in the lagoon’s geothermal waters before or after the ATV trip. Note: Although the ATV pick-up and drop-off is at the Blue lagoon, the price of entrance is not included in the trip.
To the left of the lagoon, at the foot of Þorbjarnarfell (Thor-bear-mountain) was a small cluster of trees they called, Selskógur (Mountain dairy-forest). Trees are especially uncommon given that area is covered with lava rock, which is suitable for little growth except moss. “We tell people if you get lost in a forest in Iceland, you just have to stand up,” Sigurður joked.
Back to the harbour
We got back on our ATVs, and as we looped down the hill, I took on the rocky path with more confidence. Upon reaching the bottom, we continued on a gravel straightaway towards the ocean, racing through the wind at 30-40 kilometres.
We were heading to the ocean to check out a shipwreck. The rusty brown ship had been ripped in two and thrown onto the shore, the bow in one direction and the stern in the other. Before a proper harbour was built in Grindavík, a large number of ships fell victim to the ocean’s powerful waves. Along with the rich history of shipwrecks is an equally incredible story of Iceland’s Rescue Team, which has saved at least 260 people off this small stretch of coastline since 1930.
After the tour, we went to Bryggjan for some lobster soup. It was a small cosy restaurant on the wharf, looking out on the harbour. As we chatted over lunch, I found out that there is far more to Reykjanes than Keflavík Airport, the Blue Lagoon and seemingly endless lava fields.
Their longer ATV trips include a number of other attractions. There’s Gunnuhver, a muddy geothermal hot spot. And, Valahnúkur, location of Iceland’s first lighthouse and a great lookout to Eldey (Fire Island), home to the world’s biggest gannet colony. Not to mention, they take people to a bridge crossing between America and Europe. Still, as we headed back to their garage, I was pretty content with the hour-long ride and pleased with the family’s personal touch.
Trip provided by Atv-adventures in Grindavík. Brook trip: +354 857 3001 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Lift from Reykjavík to Blue Lagoon provided by Iceland Excursions. ATV Adventures’ “Panorama Tour” costs 9.900 ISK. There are more elaborate, more expensive tours available.
Due to a devastating server crash, we lost all the original images that appeared with this article in its original, printed form. If you find the replacement images disappointing, feel free to browse our .pdf arcives and search for the originals.