Iceland vacation

From August 26 to September 8 this year, Laura and I went on a little adventure to Iceland. First we spent a few days with my dad and his partner Marion exploring the area around Reykjavik, then Laura and I went on a 6-day horse riding tour on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Finally, we drove South and visited the Vestmannaeyar archipelago for a couple of days.

Reykjavik area, Þingvellir

Ever since we visited Iceland in 2005, Laura and I had the idea of going back for a longer vacation. So after an exhausting 2022, we decided it was time. Then my dad suggested we should come to visit him for his 81st birthday, since he was not really feeling up for a trip to the States. Half joking, I suggested we should meet halfway, and surprisingly, he was game. So Günther and Marion booked a week-long stay, and we caught up with them on the 26th and spent the weekend with them.

Traveling to Iceland has become super-convenient for us, as we now have a direct flight from RDU to Kevlavik. So Laura and I arrived early in the morning, checked into our vacation home in downtown Reykjavik and then took a bus to the Sky Lagoon to relax after the short night on the plane. In the afternoon we met up with Günther and Marion for a walk around town and dinner. Sunday morning, I picked up our rental Tesla from Blue Car Rental and we went on a day trip around Reykjavik, visited the Leiðarendi Lava Cave, the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel, the port town of Þorlákshöfn, and the fumerols at Krýsuvík.

Monday was Günther’s birthday, and he wanted to spend the day at Þingvellir, one of the most popular, and most spectacular places to visit in Iceland. Þingvellir is a national park and a historic site. It’s one of the places where the effects of plate tectonics are directly and spectacularly visible, as the entire valley is riddles with deep cracks and fissures, many filled with glacial melt water, and all the direct result of the North Atlantic plate and the Eurasian plate pulling away from each other by a few centimeters every year. It is also the location of the historic Alþing, the parliament of Iceland from the 10th to the 18th centuries.

After walking around Þingvellir for a hours in the sun, we were hungry and headed back to Reykjavik for dinner at a Thai restaurant downtown to close out the day with a nice meal. After dinner, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways. Günther and Marion headed back home the next day, and Laura and I got ready for our next Iceland adventure in Snæfellsnes.

Riding Horses in Snæfellsnes

Tuesday morning we left our AirBnb, returned the Tesla and then we had a few hours to hang out in the city before embarking on our riding tour. So w hung out at the old harbor and ended up going on a whale watching tour. After that, we went to the bus station where we were picked up by the bus that took us to the horse farm where we spent the next 6 days.

The farm is called Gröf, and it is situated on the southern coast of Snæfellsbær, between Búðir and Arnarstapi. Our tour went along the coast eastward for about 50KM (35 miles) and then back to the farm. We rode about 20KM (13 miles) a day and then left the horses in a pasture for the night and were shuttled back to the farm. So we did a fair amount of intense, fast-paced trail riding every day – in amazing and very unique landscapes and along long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches. But we were also pampered with great food, hot tub and sauna and very comfortable rooms every day before and after the ride. Amazing experience.

Southern Iceland and Vestmannaeyjar

After a week of riding and enjoying the calm, remote rural lifestyle in Snæfellsbær, the return to Reykjavik was a bit jarring, but we did not stay, we got off the bus and got into a rental car and drove a couple of hours south, to Landeyjahöfn to catch the ferry to Heimaey on Vestmannaeyjar. We got there a bit early, so we stopped at the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

Despite the crows and the parking fee, this is still a magical place. Yes, last time (in 2005) we just parked in the gravel lot next to a few other rental cars, and had the place almost to our selves. Now there are bus-loads of tourists, parking costs $5, and there are souvenir shops and bathroom (which is nice). But who can begrudge the Icelanders the business, or the tourists the sight (and selfies). And what is tackier than a tourist complaining about all the tourists, anyway :) Especially on a sunny day it still just is pure Iceland magic.

Late afternoon it was time to drive to Landeyjahöfn and hop on the all-electric ferry to Heimaey, Iceland’s second-largest fishing port on the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). Due to a recent storm, the sea was still pretty rough, but otherwise the weather was gorgeous, and we had some beautiful views of the Islands on the 30-minute crossing.

In Heimaey, we went straight to our Airbnb, right at the foot of infamous Eldfell volcanic cone. To date, the Eldfell eruption was Iceland’s most destructive volcanic event in modern times, when it erupted on January 23, 1973, destroying around 400 homes and almost closing off the important harbor.

Later that evening, we drove to Stórhöfðaviti at the southern tip of the island to take in the views and to look for puffins. We even saw some, but it was quickly getting dark and we had no interest in wandering around the cliffs in the dark.

The next day, our only full day on the island, we had tons of fun watching puffins, climbing on top of Eldfell and visiting the Elheimar Museum, where we learned about the 1973 Eldfell eruption.

In the evening, we watched local children and adults throw baby puffins (or pufflings) off of a cliff, so they can return to their habitat in the North Atlantic. We went looking for pufflings as well, but since we were not well equipped, we did not find any.

The next morning, however, our host found one hiding in the front yard, She managed to catch it, and then gave it to us, since she was on her way to work. We took the little bird to get weighed and evaluated, and he/she was found to be healthy and was cleared to be released. So we went to the puffin-chuckin spot off of Hamarsvegur, on the western side of the island and released the little bird.

Mission accomplished! We had been incredibly lucky to be able to see adult puffins in the colony and help rescue a little, lost puffling. Our timing was just really, really lucky, since the pufflings only emerge from the den after the adults leave. The little guys then take flight, but some get lost and end up in town, where they are trapped, since they rely on the steep cliffs to get airborne. A few days later, all the adults were gone, and a few days earlier, they would all still be busy feeding the pufflings in their dens, where we can’t see them.

After this fun adventure, we went back into town, to explore the harbor area and visit the beluga sanctuary, before taking the afternoon ferry back to the mainland.

Back on the mainland, we drove about an hour to our next Airbnb, and settled into the little vacation cabin that evening. The next day we drove to Vik, visited the Víkurfjara black sand beach, the Gígjagjá cafe and Dyrhólaey. We also got a nice view of Mýrdalsjökull, the glacier that covers the volcano Katla.

The next day was out last day in Iceland. We drove 2 hours back to Reykjavik, bought gas and had lunch at Costco, and then returned the car and got ready for the flight back.

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