Today we had mixed fortunes. We set off for a whale watching tour from the village of Olafsvik, a two and a half hour drive from Rekjyavik. Why so far, especially when there are many whale watching tours which originate from the capital? This tour was billed as the best chance of seeing orcas, something we had wanted to since failing to see them when we toured Alaska and Canada.
The first landmark was a tunnel which goes underneath the Hvalfjörður. This tunnel is nearly 6 kilometres long and dives 165 meters underneath the water. It saves 45 kilometres of otherwise driving around the edge of the fjord.
The road to the Snæfellsnes peninsula hugs the coastline and there are more signs of life compared to the drive yesterday. Fences line the road, farmers have cut the grass for their sheep and horses and we even saw cultivated fields and golf courses. The wind whipped up today so golf would be a challenge! On the other side, mountains and volcanic cones rise up and waterfalls cascade over the edge.
Over the past two days we have seen lots of crazy people riding their pushbikes along these roads. Their camping gear is packed into the panniers. Lots of hitchhikers too. We even saw a posse of motorcyclists, their bikes loaded up with their provisions, including two spare tyres each. This is not our idea of a holiday but each to their own.
Eventually we had to cross over the mountains to reach the coastline on the northern side of the peninsula. At the top of the pass the road turned to gravel which was a little worrying on a 12% gradient. We made it safely to the bottom.
We had some time to spare and Olafsvik is a small village (and it was Sunday) so ended up in a little cafe-handicraft-museum. This was all housed in a building dating back to the mid 1800's. We had waffles (with rhubarb jam), tea and coffee while we chatted to the two ladies running the store, one of whom did some of the handicrafts. Apparently it takes her two weeks to knit an Icelandic sweater. "Do you watch TV while you do it?" we asked. "Oh no. Once I get to the patterns I have to really concentrate." We can see why the garments cost so much money.
Alas our whale watching tour was cancelled due to the windy weather. We were somewhat disappointed, having looked forward to hopefully seeing orcas. On the other hand, missing out on three hours in the rough sea was a benefit.
We took the ladies' advice and drove the longer road back to Rekjyavik, going around the end of the peninsula, allegedly Europe's most easterly point except for the Azores. Well, is the most easterly point or not? The exception did not make sense to us.
At the nearby town of Rif there is a large breeding area for arctic terns. There are so many or the birds flying around we had to slow down the car to avoid hitting them. We turned off into a side road and were able to see little chicks huddling in the grass waiting for a parent to come back with food.
Further down the road we entered the Snæfellsjokull National Park, a vast lava field from an eruption about 4000 years ago. Unlike the Hawaiian lava fields, the rocks are covered with moss and lichen so the landscape does not look quite like the moon (apparently the east of the country is like that, where the lava flows are more recent). We hopped out of the car to climb Saxhólar, an extinct volcano crater.
Snæfellsnesjokull is the mountain where the protagonists of Jules Verne's 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' start their journey. At Vatnshellir Cave there is a lava cave where one can almost do the same thing. A small hole on the surface opens into a vast cave over 30 feet deep. It was late and it was an hour to the next tour, we were getting hungry and we still had over a two hour drive back home, so we skipped the cave and drove on.
We said previously we were on the hunt for Icelandic wool. We found some... on the side of the road! The sheep are quite timid - the beautiful Icelandic ponies are very friendly.
Despite the Sunday afternoon traffic and campervans and 4WDs heading back to Rekjyavik after a weekend away, we made it back to the hotel in time for a G&T in the members lounge. The wind has blown away most of the clouds and we were treated to a spectacular sunset at nearly 23:30 in the evening.