“Have you ever been to the Reykjanes Peninsula?” our tour guide asked. I thought to myself: “Of course, I took the scenic drive from Keflavík International to Reykjavík and even went to the Blue Lagoon twice”. He gave me a smirk, and as if reading my mind stated, “And I don’t mean just the drive down the high way and the Blue Lagoon. There is more to Reykjanes than that”. With those words, we were off.
The first notable stop was at an area where the remnants of dried cod (also known as skreið) were hanging. The edible parts were being shipped to Nigeria. Here we learned that salting and/or drying the fish, as opposed to freezing it or selling it fresh, allows for 90% of the fish to be utilised, the liver being used to make cod liver oil and other parts to make fertiliser, whereas only 30% is used when freezing the fish. This was a nice introduction to somewhere we would stop later in the trip, the Salted Cod museum.
When we arrived at Krýsuvík, things started to pick up. First we discovered the beautiful lake Kleifarvatn, the biggest lake in Southwest Iceland. The lake covers an area of 10 square kilometres, and reaches a depth of 97 metres. This breathtaking river is unique in that it does not receive water from any river, but is created solely by ground water and rain. It maintains its massive size despite the fact that there is a rift, the same rift that in 2000 caused the lake to lose 20% of its surface. Since then, the rift has decreased in amplitude, allowing the lake to return to its former glory, to the delight of scuba divers and trout fishers alike.
We moved on to Seltún, which alone made me wonder how this tour could be such a hidden gem. The hot springs at Seltún are some of the most stunning I’ve seen in Iceland. The area was originally going to be used to harness the geothermal energy for electricity, and some of the boreholes created by these feats have exploded, notably one in 1999, the explosion forming a crater 30 meters in diameter.
BACALAO AND VIKING HISTORY
With the exception of the walk between the Eurasian and North American continental tectonic plates (it felt good to be home again, may I add) the tour took a more cultural and historical turn. First, we visited Grindavík, a fishing town and the home of the joint Salted Cod Museum and the Earth Energy Museum. The Salted Cod Museum provided insight into Iceland’s once staple export, and how it has evolved through the ages. For example, how rowboats were used for a thousand years, which limited fishing to within 3 miles of the shore. This changed with the advent of newer boats and machinery, and by 1930, there were only 171 rowboats in use. The Earth Energy Museum, housed in the same building, provided history of how Iceland was formed, and how geothermal energy has been used in the country.
We then visited the Íslendingur, a hand-made Viking ship that in 2000 sailed from Iceland to Canada and the United States in honour of Leif Eiríksson’s discovery of North America, 500 years prior to Christopher Columbus. In the building where the Íslendingur rests there is also a brief history of the Vikings and their way of life.
THE BLUE LAGOON: SPRING BREAK 2011
Finally, the trip ends at the ever-popular Blue Lagoon, where after witnessing these hidden beauties and learning about the history of Salted Cod and its importance to Iceland, it was nice to bathe in the blue waters. If you’re lucky, there will be a frat party bumping around the lagoon bar, complete with techno music and raucous Americans. But only if you’re lucky. If you’re worried about the beer that is spilled in the Lagoon from these frat parties and how they keep it clean (as I was), common bacteria does not thrive in the conditions of the lagoon, and the water is changed every 40 hours.
Aside from the places mentioned, we also visited the previous NATO base, stunning bird cliffs, as well as Reykjanesviti and Gunnuhver, the oldest lighthouse and largest steam crater in Iceland, respectively. There are a lot of things in Reykjanes that go under the radar of tourists, but are very much worth seeing. It is far more than a highway and the Blue Lagoon. It’s the beautiful landscapes and dense history that can be found in the area if one does a little more searching. And the location for a rockin’ college party.
The ‘Wonders of Reykjanes and Blue Lagoon’ tour can be booked through Reykjavík Excursions at www.re.is or by calling +354 580 5400. The tour costs 13.000 ISK, which includes bus fare, guidance in English, and entrance to the Salted Cod/Earth Energy Museum. Lunch and entrance to the Blue Lagoon are not includedin the price, but there is time given to eat in Grindavík. The tour runs 8 hours, from 9:00 to 17:00, with frequent stops.