Travel Review: SnÃ¦fellsnes Peninsula tour with Pink Iceland
Icelanders tend to be very clued in to the extraordinary natural beauty of their homeland and for one very simple reason: it’s everywhere. Landing at KeflavÃk International Aiport, as all foreign visitors do, and seeing the expansive lava fields on the route into Reykjavik is a good indication of the otherworldliness you are set to experience during a stay in Iceland. The people of this island nation are understandably proud of its abundant and varied beauty but are never smug about it. The cool-as-ice Nordic exterior may suggest slight nonchalance but, if our tour of the SnÃ¦fellsnes Peninsula is anything to judge by, the mountains, glaciers, black beaches and bays of Iceland are an indelible part of the Icelandic psyche.
Because of this inescapable asset, Iceland isn’t short of companies willing to take your cash in return for a ‘native’ insight into the natural wonders of the island. One such firm, Reykjavik Excursions, has cornered the ‘bewildered incoming tourist’ market by providing the relatively inexpensive Flybus service from Keflavik into central Reykjavik. Passengers pass through the Reykjavik Excursions booking office once they’re out of the bus station and the intensive marketing begins there.
So So Gay first encountered Pink Iceland – ‘Your LGBT travel expert in Iceland’ – back in December 2012. When we visited Reykjavik for New Year, we were keen to catch up with the company’s founders to find out about the motivation, purpose and aims of this fledgling enterprise were. Apart from being absolutely delightful on a personal level, we found Eva MarÃa and Hannes to be extremely passionate about what they are hoping to achieve with Pink Iceland. Therefore, it made sense to us to see for ourselves how this passion translates into reality.
We decided to book places on Pink Iceland’s tour of the SnÃ¦fellsnes Peninsula. We were told in advance that accompanying us on the trip would be our guide, KristÃn and two American tourists, Chuck and Craig. KristÃn greeted us with a huge smile and a polite handshake before inviting us to get into the 4×4. Naturally, a concern when you are a member of a small party such as this is that conversation will be awkward and/or short-lived. This fear proved to be unfounded as our guide immediately engaged all of us in conversation in an effort to get to know us. This would be essential given that we wouldn’t return to our starting point in Reykjavik until 12 hours later.
What struck us was KristÃn’s readiness to share her personal perspective on the stunning vistas we encountered on our trip. Valleys and mountains that may well have passed us by became the backdrop for folktales from KristÃn’s childhood, which she recounted with incredible lucidity and clarity. Stories of elves, trolls and giants were combined with anecdotes from KristÃn’s own family history; tales of her grandfather having to fish through mouldy vats of stagnant water to find the meat the family had stored in the days before electricity reached the shores of Iceland.
SnÃ¦fellsnes Peninsula is situated to the north of Reykjavik and to the south of the West Fjords. At the end of the peninsula is SnÃ¦fellsjÃ¶kull, a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano topped by a glacier. This was the site where the protagonists in Jules Verne’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth found the passageway leading to the earth’s core. Our first stop was at GerÃ°uberg, at the eastern end of the peninsula. As we approached, our guide pointed out a long wall of vertical basalt columns on the horizon, just one of the very many scars left on the Icelandic landscape by volcanic activity. We stopped to gaze upon this natural wonder for a while and were offered coffee and cinnamon buns from the back of the vehicle; this was most welcome given that Iceland’s weather peaks at mild in summer months.
Next up was Arnarstapi where we enjoyed a bowl of hot soup at a quintessentially Icelandic looking cafÃ©, complete with red timber-panelled exterior and turf roof. An Icelandic flag fluttered in the wind as we admired the view over the mountains. KristÃn then drove us to the shore. The weather was glorious as we gazed at the azure blue sea, bright green moss-topped black cliffs and a snow-capped mountain behind us. At this stage, KristÃn discretely reminded us of the time-scale for the trip but we didn’t feel rushed at any point over the course of the day.
We then drove further to DjÃºpalÃ³nssandur, which was absolutely breathtaking. Walking down a path framed by Lord of the Rings-esque lava formations and looking back through them at SnaefellsjÃ¶kull mountain, you could easily believe you had been transported to a different planet. We then reached a clearing where there were some ‘lifting stones’, used by fishermen as a test of strength. When we enquired as to why this happened, KristÃn responded, with characteristic dryness, ‘Well, I can’t imagine there’d be much else to do down here’. True enough. 100 metres further was a stunning black pebble beach and strewn across it were the rusty remains of Epine (GY7), a Grimsby fishing trawler wrecked there in March 1948. This only added to the permeating atmosphere of desolate beauty.
At this point, we started a long drive around the end of the peninsula, circumventing SnaefellsjÃ¶kull. We became a little tired at this stage but in-between snoozing, we awoke to observe one incredible breathtaking view after another; fjords, mountains and perfect little villages remain emblazoned in our memory. Eventually, we arrived at StykkishÃ³lmur and boarded a boat which would take us around several islands off the coast. Again, the sea was a perfect blue and the array of birds we saw, including kittiwakes and puffins, appeared to put on a real show for us as we again heard of local folklore and legends from the boat’s captain. KristÃn had the foresight to bring some Icelandic beer and this seemed like the ideal moment to crack it open for some refreshment.
Tours of BreiÃ°afjÃ¶rÃ°ur are popular because of the ‘Viking sushi’ experience. This basically involves casting a net into the sea and eating whatever is caught right there, right then. As vegetarians, we watched in strange fascination as fellow passengers cracked open scallops, mussels, sea urchins and various other ‘delights’ and ate them, uncooked, with soy sauce and wasabi. This seemed to go down a treat, many commenting positively on the ‘freshness’ of the cuisine. If nothing else, it reaffirmed our vegetarianism. Still, it was extremely interesting to watch.
Sadly, it was then time to head home but not before one final unscheduled stop. As the sky took on that familiar late evening summer haze, we stopped on a dirt track off the main road which, curiously, pointed towards a place called BjÃ¶rk. There, in the field and set against a backdrop of jagged mountains, was a herd of Icelandic horses. We spent a good 20 minutes getting up close to these immensely beautiful, unique animals and found them to be very tame and sociable, despite the odd strange guttural cry.
By the time we arrived back in central Reykjavik, we were slightly bewildered by what we had experienced over the course of the day. It’s rare that you get to see so many stunning locations in one day, from black beaches to glaciers to crystal seas – frankly, it was all rather emotional. But, returning to the original point; did Pink Iceland offer anything out of the ordinary? The answer is most definitely yes. We have taken tours with other operators in the past, all of which have been efficient, well-organised and friendly. Indeed, a driver who took us to JÃ¶kulsÃ¡rlÃ³n glacial lagoon last year went well beyond his remit by giving us a potted history of Iceland’s economic crisis. However, what we got from Pink Iceland was far more personal and far more individualised, from the recalling of hearing folktales from grandparents to the picnic in the back of the 4×4.
Pink Iceland’s general policy of never taking more than seven people on a trip is undoubtedly a plus as it enabled our happy group to bond – this may seem unimportant but spending 12 hours in the company of people you don’t get on with would be awkward at best. Naturally, limiting the number of participants and targeting an LGBT clientele doesn’t in itself presuppose happy camping. However, having a guide adept at facilitating the bonding process does. We had exactly that in KristÃn. An hour into the trip, all five of us knew the basics about one another and by the end of the trip, we had become friends. That speaks for itself. At 42,500ISK (£225) per person, this tour may not seem cheap and it’s not. However, only the foolhardy go to Iceland expecting a holiday on a shoestring. The real test is whether you spend that amount of money again: we would.
Pink Iceland provided us with a thoroughly unique experience of an especially beautiful part of this stunning country. A combination of excellent customer service, informal but professional guidance and quirky extras all mean that we would recommend the company highly to anyone curious about discovering the gems this island has to offer.