Finding Paradise: The Hidden Highlands Of The Reykjanes Peninsula

Finding Paradise: The Hidden Highlands Of The Reykjanes Peninsula

Alina Maurer Brittnee Kiner
Photo by
Art Bicnick

As if the Icelandic landscapes already famous on social media weren’t enough, Mother Nature added a freshly blazing volcano to the roster of awe-inspiring scenery. However, the recent eruption in Geldingadalur isn’t the only reason to visit the Reykjanes Peninsula. If you can’t manage a multi-day venture into the Highlands during your drive around the country, we have a hidden gem for you only 30 minutes away from Reykjavík.

A little Landmannalaugar

The Reykjanes Nature Reserve—part of the UNESCO Global Geopark—is home to “Sogin,” an area that resembles a mini Landmannalaugar, one of the highlights of the Highlands. Nearby, there’s also “Lambfellsgjá,” an astonishing lava canyon in the midst of the peninsula’s seemingly endless lava fields. Both mystical treasures promise an escape from the masses, as only sheep accompanied us on our journey through the reserve.

Dancing in a duster

Journeying around Iceland, it’s easy to question which century you’re in. Paved roads can be a treasure to come by and hidden gems are no exception. Travelling to less popular spots like the Reykjanes Nature Reserve certainly doesn’t promise to be the most comfortable, but we didn’t come for comfort. There’s nothing quite like bouncing around in a Dacia Duster on the pitted, gravel road to the reserve—it almost feels like a dance. Be sure the vehicle you’re traveling in is a 4×4 with high clearance because the rocks show no mercy.

But with palms sweating and tires crawling, we eventually made it to the end of the path. While there were previous (unsuccessful) attempts to harness the area’s geothermal energy, there’s now a gravel lot at the end of the road, Vígdísarvellir, featuring the abandoned drilling area. If you’ve made it this far, give some kudos to that Duster that everyone picks on—no one said it would be easy.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Winding through the valley

Stepping out of the car, the bright green scenery astonished us with sharp mountain tops sprinkled here and there. Compared to other Icelandic landscapes though, it was nothing unusual—or so we thought. We set off and after hiking around the edge of a luscious green hill and following a couple of munching sheep, a steamy geothermal patch blessed us with that beloved sulfur smell, which can’t help but make one wonder what slumbers below the earthly surface under your feet. Making our way through the narrow valley, following a small rippling water stream—quite an atypical occurrence on the peninsula—we were met by colourful clay patches covering the ground as we moved towards Sogin.

The clay shone in numerous dazzling shades of orange, whites and blues at the entrance of the natural depression of Sogin. It’s, to put it simply, otherworldly. The vibrant natural colouring of the ridges surrounding the landmark stands in stark contrast to the typical green grasses and desolate lava fields lying beyond the site. But apart from some grazing sheep leaving their trails around the area, not a single human soul lied in sight, emphasising just how lonesome and remote are the wilds we stood in the midst of.

Putting the ice in Iceland

Iceland hasn’t always been as warm and cozy as it is today—it actually used to be cold, believe it or not. Or well, it used to be cold-er.

The last ice age began around 2.6 million years ago, ending just 10,000 years ago, which led to most of Iceland being covered in an ice sheet. During that time, much of the island was covered in an ice sheet, but there were a lot of eruptions going boom beneath the vast glaciers. The diverse hues of Sogin, a depression in hyaloclastite ridges, were developed from such a subglacial eruption. As magma met ice, it led to a thermal shock and cacophony of colour.

After exploring “Little Landmannalaugar,” we drove back down the pitted road to Eldborg crater and set out on another hike as a storm began to roll in—how typically Icelandic.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Disappearing into the depths of lava

As rain began to call, we reached Lambafellsgjá, an open fissure in an oval hyaloclastite mount named Lambafell, literally meaning “lamb’s mountain.” Luckily, the gorge offered us some refuge from the typically Icelandic weather (“skítaveður”).

“Apart from some grazing sheep leaving their trails around the site, not a single human soul is in sight, emphasizing the lonesome wilds we are in the midst of.”

Weirdly enough, the opening to Lambafellsgjá is at ground level—the same as the rest of the endless lava fields shaping the scenery. But once in the canyon, the pure height of the lava rock walls dwarfs you into breathlessness. Approximately 20 metres of rock stood beside us, framing a narrow path through the hazy gorge. Gentle mist falling down on us made the whole place even more mystical.

While essentially showering inside the basaltic canyon, we explored the unique formations of its walls. The sides of the canyon are dotted with basaltic pillows—basically blobs of lava that cooled underwater during an eruption. The shadows and sheer size of the gorge make the hike even more eerie on a rainy, hazy day. Since the canyon is quite shallow, we decided it was time to face the storm that awaited us beyond its protection.

As you’re tagging along on the pilgrimage to the Reykjanes Peninsula’s newest red-hot attraction—yes, the volcano—consider stopping at Sogin and Lambafellsgjá. Often skipped by the tourist crowds, you’re likely to be joined only by sheep. Like the rest of the country, this area is truly a gem and must be treated as such. So take your trash and never leave more than footprints—the elves will thank you!

The Reykjanes Nature Reserve is 37 kilometres away from Reykjavík. Check it out here.

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