Visiting the Reykanes Peninsula

Landing at Keflavík airport, you would not think much of the barren landscape that you see before you. Think rocky martian surface and you would not be far wrong. It is no wonder of the nine astronauts that landed on the moon, seven actually trained for their landings in Iceland, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. But drive a bit further out on the Reykanes peninsula, you will come across a geologist’s version of Disneyland. It is a geothermal hot spot (literally!). Whilst you will still have the lava fields with almost no vegetation, the active volcanism under the surface creates a wonderland of mud pools, boiling pots and hot steams in certain areas. You could probably do a whole semester of geology right here.

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We deliberated at first if we would go to the Reykanes Peninsula. We have visited places like this before in New Zealand. (And they are great). Then when we found out that the Miðlína Bridge is actually on the peninsula and knowing how we enjoy oddball detours like this (remember the church steps?) we decided to head out there. Moreover, the Blue Lagoon is also in the vicinity so it turned out to be a decent afternoon in the end.

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So, what about this bridge? Well, it is also known as Leif the Lucky Bridge, (in honour of the Icelandic explorer Leif Eriksson, whom you might remember as the same guy posing in front of Hallgrímskirkja church.) But you won’t be driving over it. It is only a small foot bridge AND it is not the most obvious thing to find. Located near Grindavik, just keep an eye out for the turnoff as we almost missed it if not for a little sign with an American and EU flag on it.

It is by no means a remarkable bridge but what is special about it is that it spans a giant fissure on the ground created by two diverging tectonic plates. Namely, the Eurasian and North American plates. So, this is the “Bridge between continents”. As with everyone that visit this spot, we had fun with it in our photos. It is a quirky little thing. Moreover, there really is not much else to do around here other than run back forth between the two continents!

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We then proceeded in our car to the Southwest part of the peninsula to the place known as Gunnuhver. Here the scenery changes from rocky lava to clay like surface with mud pools and steam emanating from the ground. In fact, there is so much steam that the smell of sulphur can hardly be avoided. The ground also changes to a pallette of colours probably due to the different minerals in the ground. Like New Zealand, it is quite a fascinating sight.

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In typical Icelandic fashion, this place also has a story.

“The name Gunnuhver is derived from a ghost, Gudrun Onundardottir (nicknamed Gunna), who was a crofter from near Kirkjubol, on land owned by lawyer Vilhjalmur Jonsson. When Gunna failed to pay the rent Vilhjalmur took away her only belongings, a cooking pot. Gunna became mad with fury, refused to drink holy water and dropped dead… On the way to the cemetery the men who carried Gunna’s coffin noticed that it became suspiciously lighter. Whilst the grave was dug, people heard ‘No need deept to dig, no plans long to lie’ – Obviously this was Gunna talking, who had becaome a hateful ghost. The next night Vilhjalmur was found on the heath, blue and with broken bones – the revenge of Gunna.

As time went on Gunna became more powerful and no one could stop her. So the locals decided to enlist the help of the priest, Eiríkur. To persuade him to help them, they sent him a supply of brennivín, which he was known to like. With this, he supplied them with an enchanted ball of yarn. He told them to trick Gunna in grabbing one end of it and then the ball will take her away forever.

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They did what he asked of them and when Gunna grabbed the yarn, the ball started rolling and pulling her with it. They were then both last seen plunging into a large fumarole. Since then, she no longer could cause any trouble and the rumarole has borne her name.”

This happened 400 years ago. As is, I am glad we visited this during daytime. The steam and mists can certainly turn eerie when it gets darker!

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To keep visitors safe, there are walkways and ramps here. As the water coming from the ground can get really hot, we were careful not to stray from the designated areas. When we were there, we saw one of the ramps which had broken into pieces and collapsed into the vent. Hopefully no one got hurt in that!

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After all that steam which reminded me of a sauna, I guess we were ready then for the spa, which just so happens to be the biggest hot tub in the world!

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