It turns out you don’t need to travel as far as Reynisfjara to kick off your shoes and luxuriate on a black sand beach. The Reykjanes Peninsula has its very own: Sandvík, located just 49 kilometres southwest of Reykjavík. And whilst we—the British interns of the Grapevine—might not like interpersonal closeness in the COVID-era, we certainly do appreciate nearby places.
You’re in for a bumpy ride
Sadly, for most of our time spent in Iceland’s third wave that appreciation of the nearby has only applied to the neighbourhood Bónus or the local coffee shops that still let you in. COVID restrictions have meant less domestic travel of late, so it was good to get out of the city and finally do some of that sightseeing everyone keeps going on about. We may have been cold, but we were certainly not disappointed.
Off the beaten track, the road that leads to this black beach is more than a little bumpy and it’s pretty hard to spot if you’re not looking for it specifically. In fact, it’s pretty hard to spot even if you are looking for it. Our designated driver, loyal travel companion and personal photographer, Art Bicnick, delivered our first near-death experience of the day by swerving his Mini between rocks as if he were navigating Mario Kart’s Koopa Troopa Beach.
We arrived at Sandvík beach just as the sun was rising, casting a golden glow across the ocean. The beach was absolutely freezing, but we could at least appreciate the sunrise without having to get out of bed any earlier than usual–one perk of the Icelandic winter, perhaps.
We strolled along the black sand beside the waves, delighted to see that ours were the only footprints on the entire beach, naturally inspiring semi-ironic photographs of said footprints and the sunrise in the background. “How romantic!” we thought, as the soundtrack to Pride and Prejudice played softly in our heads.
Outlined by grassy dunes and boasting some of the most impressive waves we’d witnessed during our time in Iceland, Sandvík is a favourite place for avid surfers and bikers, who take advantage of the seclusion to practise their sports. Our lonely footprints were therefore quickly destroyed by the addition of several dirt bikers, who spoiled the peace, but added some free entertainment.
Re-enacting battle scenes
For the film buffs out there, Sandvík has the added excitement of standing in for the beaches of Japan in the two Clint Eastwood movies ‘Flags of Our Fathers’ and ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’. Walking the dramatic and surreal landscape, it’s easy to see why so many filmmakers are drawn to Iceland. The black sands, bright green grassy dunes and sparkling waves really do create a scene like no other—both beautiful and, dare we say it, a little apocalyptic? No doubt many hours could be spent exploring the one-kilometre stretch of beach, re-enacting battle scenes and bravely dipping your toes into the chilly waters.
Reykjanes has far more to offer, however, particularly when your fingers are numb and you’ve left your supermarket chicken wrap in the car. In fact, just a short drive away from Sandvík is the bridge between continents, a footbridge spanning the fissure between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. At this point, we’d moved from Koopa Troopa Beach to DK Jungle Parkway vibes, but without the palm trees.
Iceland is the only place in the world where the Mid Atlantic Ridge is visible above sea level, and the gap between the two plates is growing at a rate of about 2.5 centimetres per year. This spot is particularly good for standing one bridge-walk away from your friend and shouting humorous witticisms like: “How’s America?”, “How’s Europe?”, and “Oh my God, how are my shoes so full of sand!?” We also tried running down the sandy slope into the rift itself, which is all fun and games until you want to get out again.
Speaking of not being able to climb out of holes, you can also drive over to Gunnuhver, Iceland’s largest hot spring, a pool of seawater boiling at temperatures of over 300°C. Legend has it that the ghost of the witch Gunna is trapped in this spring—others believe that she hangs onto its edge. Gunna was an unpopular old woman, whose murderous ghost wreaked havoc throughout the peninsula until the locals cunningly tricked her with a ball of wool. It happens to the best of us.
Whatever the truth behind the geothermal attraction, we welcomed the warmth the spring provided and, careful not to lose our footing on the damp walkways, enjoyed frolicking in the thick plumes of steam that wafted from the water. Be warned though, wearers of glasses or heavy makeup will walk away half-blinded and looking like they just broke up with their significant other, watched ‘The Notebook’ and then realised they’d run out of Ben and Jerry’s. We’d like to suggest that time spent in Iceland’s diverse landscapes, exploring with mates is a much healthier way of getting over an ex.
If you need to get out of the city but aren’t feeling intrepid enough to brace yourself against the frigid weather in order to explore, there’s a lot to be said for enjoying the views from the comfort and warmth of your car. A late afternoon drive back to Reykjavík provided stunning panoramas, the roads lined by snow-capped mountains and the sky lit by the winter sunset—ending the day as it started, with Iceland showing off its true colours and awesome nature.
Sandvík lies 49 kilometres Southwest of Reykjavík, on Highway 44.
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