A few days ago, EPI and I decided to hop on a Reykjavík Excursions tour called The Wonders of Snæfellsnes with Cruise — which to my mind sounded seriously intriguing. Particularly since every single cruise I’ve taken in Icelandic waters in recent years has been absolutely magical. Especially in good weather.
For those who don’t know, Snæfellsnes is the peninsula above the Reykjanes peninsula [where Keflavík airport is] and below the West Fjords. The “head of the beast” if you’re looking at Iceland on the map. The “middle arm”, if you will.
The crown jewel of Snæfellsnes [which literally means “Snow Mountain Peninsula”] is the beautiful Snæfellsnes glacier, which sits right on its end. It was made famous by Jules Verne, who wrote about it in his Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and where it served the function of being the entryway to the Earth’s centre.
But I digress. First: The Cruise.
The tour mini-bus, whose driver doubled as our guide, drove directly to Stykkishólmur, a quaint little town on the north side of Snæfellsnes. This is the departure point of the ferry Baldur, which sails across Breiðafjörður bay to the West Fjords with a stop in lovely Flatey. It was also the start of our cruise, which is run by a company called Sæferðir, the same people who own and operate Baldur.
Our vessel was a large catamaran, and we were soon greeted by our captain over a loudspeaker. The surprising thing [and pardon my sexism here] was that the captain was a young[ish] woman, whose voice I swear was better suited to late-night radio than a cruise along Breiðafjörður bay [read: soooo pleasant and soothing]. And she spoke impeccable English, too, I might add [always a bonus].
Breiðafjörður bay is said to have more islands than it is possible to count. We sailed more or less directly out to one of them, called Grímsey, I believe — not to be mistaken for the delightful Grímsey that is the northernmost point of Iceland and straddles the Arctic circle. This Grímsey is in fact one of several on Breiðafjörður bay. Yes, several. Because [according to our captain] it’s pretty hard to find names for an innumerable number of islands [sic], thus it’s inevitable that the same name crop up once or twice or ten times.
However I soon ceased to care because I was completely engrossed by the bird cliffs. The boat sailed RIGHT UP TO THEM. Like, almost close enough to touch. And this was no miniature speedboat – oh no. This was a BIG boat with a restaurant below deck that served proper food and everything. A boat with steps leading to and from different levels. A boat with flushing toilets.
The birds were nonplussed, apparently being used to these kinds of visitations. This guy f’rinstance decided not to let us interrupt his nap:
These little fellas could barely be bothered to turn around:
Whereas this puffin stepped out of his abode to check who went there:
[Factoid: did you know that puffins live in holes with two rooms? One for laying its single egg, the other to use as a toilet. True story. Our captain told us, and no way would she lie.]
This island also had incredible basalt rock formations:
On another cliff we found these fellas, called — funnily enough — shags.
Onward, towards an island that is the highest of all the islands on Breiðafjörður. It’s called Eiríksey and is mentioned in the Saga of the Greenlanders, because Eric the Red, after he was outlawed from Iceland, hid there for a winter before sailing off to Greenland.
EPI was unimpressed, and declared it should be called Boob Island.
We sailed on a bit more, and checked out some other incredible sights, like these strange rock formations, that our captain referred to as “God’s bookshelf”. Apparently no one can actually say how those lines are formed in the rock. These are basalt formations, however, and some of them have broken off and fallen down onto the shore:
And now it was time for the ultimate highlight of the cruise: the throwing out of the net.
Everyone crowded to the back of the boat and waited for the net to be pulled in. After a while it appeared … and was stuffed with all sorts of goodies. In fact I have never fully comprehended the phrase “fruits of the sea” — until now.
Oh, wow. This was so exciting! And the best part was that we’d all been given a knife, and were expected to — literally — DIG IN.
Sea urchin roe [bigtime aphrodisiac, allegedly]:
Friends: I would not have believed that these things would taste so SCRUMPTIOUS, raw and fresh out of the sea like that. But, honestly: they were OUT OF THIS WORLD delicious. Swoon!
Incidentally, the good people at Sæferðir made white wine available for anyone who wanted to purchase some to go with their delicious, um, snack.
Anyway, as we sailed back to shore we were regaled with more fascinating trivia and wonderful folklore from the area. Truly, this was an amazing trip, and I’m not just saying that because I’m getting paid.
The full set of pictures from this tour is here [remember the slideshow option] and in the next post I’ll continue on with my account of the rest of the tour — because this was just the beginning.
[NB – if you’re planning to take this cruise this summer, be advised that it stops for the season in early September. It starts up again in mid-May next year. Incidentally, if you’re touring in the area, you can always hop on the cruise, irrespective of whether or not you take the full tour.]
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That looks like a lot of fun.
What are those things with lots of spikes on them ?
@ kevin: Those are the sea urchins.
It looks like fun, even though I probably would have preferred to watch the sealife instead of eating it. The bookshelf basalt formation remind me of the pancake rocks in Paparoa NP, NZ.
When in Stykkishólmur, it’s also worth visiting the volcano museum, which presents a selection of volcano related art and objects, collected by the volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson. It is open in the summer months.
Just two weeks ago, I took the ferry Baldur from Brjánslækur to Stykkishólmur across Breiðafjörður. With an impeccable blue sky it was really a wonderful experience. I spent all the time on the top deck and watched the uncountable islands and seabirds pass by. There were quite a number of puffins to be seen, which were flying so low above the sea that their flapping wings hit the water. And I really believe that they appreciate cleanliness in their home. In Látrabjarg I saw them often just leave their burrow for a short while to do heir toilet business outside and then retreat again.
My husband and I also did this cruise over the weekend. It was great to see the birds up close and the highlight was the eating of the seafood.
Is a sweater & fleece warm enough to wear?
No, definitely not. You’ll need a windbreaker.