AS I recall, I had been driving for almost eight days now, stopping off here and there and staying wherever I pleased. I thought that I could have quite easily spent three weeks in Iceland just sightseeing and hiking. I ended up going through a blizzard somewhere after Akureyri, and that really tested my driving skills and confidence.
I made my way down the western coast, bypassing the hand-shaped Westfjords Peninsula (which is worth another visit), and dropped in to the Selasetur Íslands, the Icelandic Seal Centre in Hvammstangi, a big red barn-like building that houses a natural history museum and research centre entirely devoted to seals!
Everybody talks about saving the whales; but many species of seal were hunted almost to extinction as well, for their meat, their blubber (made into oil), and for the thick waterproof fur that some species have. Breathable but water-repellent, seal fur was very fashionable for outdoor attire at one time; it was the nearest thing our Victorian forebears had to Gore-Tex. All in all, about the only difference between commercial sealing and commercial whaling was that it took more seals to yield the same profit as one whale. Yet the poor old seals aren’t in the forefront of our conservation consciousness to the same degree. The Seal Centre strives to change that.
A short distance later, I made it to Eiríksstaðir: an open-air museum on the site of what is scientifically believed to be the actual homestead of Erik the Red, the founder of Greenland.
His son Leif, founder of a short-lived Viking settlement in Canada, was also born here at the homestead. There were some areas where investigators found remains of houses and buildings, and the open-air museum included replicas of them all. They all had the sod roofs above them. The views over the ocean were amazing even if the weather was starting to turn a bit sour. There were people greeting tourists dressed in traditional clothing and there were Icelandic horses tethered outside of the houses. It was a fantastic archaeological site and one that I thoroughly enjoyed and was glad I made a point to stop there.
I was on a road that either led back to Route One or continued on to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, another place I decided to visit on the spur of the moment. I drove as far as a place called Ólafsvík on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Ólafsvík used to be a major commercial port serving Denmark, but it is not so important as a port these days. The weather was vile. I had a quick look at the coastline, which was all rocks and rough waves. I saw the Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old glacier that sits on the Peninsula and also is part of the Snæfellsjökull National Park.
One of the signs concerned a local villain called Björn Pétursson, nicknamed Axlar-Björn, which literally means Shoulder-Bear, who murdered travellers on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the 1500s. Rumour has it that Axlar-Björn’s curiously growing collection of overland ponies made people suspicious. Well, that’s one version of the story, anyway.
A local person I met in a café alerted me to the Landbrotalaug hot pools nearby, so I set out to find them and finally got my taste of real outdoor Icelandic hot springs! They weren’t easy to find and in fact I can’t even give you directions because I can’t remember how I found them. All I know is that they ended up being a bit of a mission! Well worth going to though; no one else was there at the time so in I got! I decided it was probably about time to head back to Reykjavík. I had one more night left before I had to return my car and catch my flight out of Iceland in the evening.
So, I headed back and booked into another hotel where I slept like a log! Then I packed my things into my backpack, then took the car back to SADcar rentals and got a shuttle to Keflavík International Airport.
I was glad to have visited before peak tourist season — there were still plenty of tourists around on my journey and I’d hate to imagine what it was like with 1.7 million tourists cramming in.
But before I conclude, I must tell one more Viking tale!
This post comes from my new book Incredible Iceland, available on this website a-maverick.com.
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