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The lava field or lava carpet Ögmundarhraun in Reykjanes Peninsula is fascinating for many reasons.  The whole peninsula is home to hundreds of eruptions from thousands of years ago and also from historical times. The landform is like an excellent example of how mother nature builds her land.  And although the latest eruption at Reykjanes Peninsula was about 700 years ago, the whole peninsula is still defined as active when it comes to volcanos and eruptions. Ögmundarhraun is the product of lava that spread from a volcano near the southern tip of the mountain ridge Vesturháls, which is one of two adjacent mountain ridges at Reykjanes Peninsula. The eruption occurred around 800 - 900 years ago. The lava in Ögmundarhraun is quite typical for moss-covered lava you can see in many places in Iceland and also quite accessible. 

Interesting battle by the shore where ocean meets one thousand year old lava

Interesting battle by the shore where ocean meets one thousand year old lava

Lava that flooded over farms

At the times of settlement, Reykjanes Peninsula was not an attractive place to settle down in Iceland. Some people made an effort but quickly it became apparent that it was a difficult place to make a living.  Most of the land was covered with lava, as it is today, with limited access to fertile soil. The water doesn't hold and quickly leeks deep to the ground.  In the middle of Ögmundarhraun lava is a place called Húshólmi.  It is a curious place as there are ruins that have been dated back to 870 around the time the first settlers came to Iceland. It is one of the oldest human-made structures in Iceland, deserted when the lava folded nearby and around the farm.  So we can say that the eruption both ruined and preserved the farm and protected significant antiquities. Ögmundarhraun is also a place where you can see how lava from historical times formed the coastline.  After floating from the craters, the lava ended in the ocean and moved the shoreline forward.  Although there are places in Iceland where you can see the lava meet the sea, there are not many such places, and if you decide to walk the hike to the shore, keep in mind that it is harsh and dangerous to walk the lava.

The view east from Ogmundarhraun towards the famous Krísuvíkurberg

The view east from Ogmundarhraun towards the famous Krísuvíkurberg 

Ogmundarhraun is easily accessible

For those who have rarely or ever seen a lava field, this is a great opportunity and probably one of the best places in Iceland.  When you drive from Grindavík town, on the south shore of the Reykjanes Peninsula, the road Suðurstrandarvegur Nr. 427, you will find a sign pointing south with the name Húshólmi.  Only a few meters from the intersection there are signs and a parking lot.  You need to walk from the parking lot which is a medium and refreshing hike.  The distance to the shoreline is about two kilometers, and so is the walk to Húshólmi on a track in the middle of the lava field.  By doing both, you will get a good view of a lava field that spreads over land and also lava that fights the ocean.  Both are fascinating and quite photogenic.  The whole hike should take about two to three hours but is extremely enjoyable and rewarding.

Below is the location of Ögmundarhraun lava on the map of Iceland

Ögmundarhraun lava field is a lava carpet in the landform at Reykjanes Peninsula

The Golden Circle is a term or a description for one of the most popular tourist route in Iceland. The drive is based on three natural wonders not far from Reykjavík the capital of Iceland. Most of the time the tour starts and ends in Reykjavík and is driven in a day. The first stop is at Þingvellir which is a sacred place in Iceland where Almannagjá gorge and Öxarárfoss waterfall play a significant role. Þingvellir also has profound historical meaning in Iceland as it was the meeting place for Alþingi, the oldest parliament in history.  Secondly, there is Geysir, the hot spring area where the geyser Strokkur erupts every ten or fifteen minutes.  Thirdly and most importantly there is Gullfoss waterfall the most impressive waterfall in Iceland.  A waterfall that is often mentioned on lists of top ten most fascinating waterfalls on the planet. The distance from Reykjavík through the town Mosfellsbær and Road Nr. 36 to Gullfoss via Þingvellir and Geysir is approximately 120 kilometers or 75 miles.

Almannagjá at Þingvellir National Park

Almannagjá gorge is an important place in Iceland, both geologically and historically

How to drive the Golden Circle?

Tourism in Iceland has exploded in recent years, and so has the Golden Circle drive.  Sometimes during summer, the road is packed with busses, and rental cars as are the parking lots by the three natural wonders.  Usually, the buses depart from Reykjavík between eight and nine in the morning and arrive at the three natural wonders at a similar time. This is for many reasons a very convenient time to start and drive the tour as it fits well with lunchtime at Geysir or Gullfoss.  If you are not intimidated by crowds you should start at the same time, otherwise start your tour early, around 6 am or 6:30 am.  A stop at any of the three attractions takes about half an hour to 45 minutes. The road is an asphalt road and easy to drive in any car, small or large.  It is a two-way lane so keep in mind that the road is a bit narrow but reasonably easy to drive.  The exception is in winter when the weather is sometimes quite harsh, and the road from Reykjavík to Þingvellir is either closed or very slippery and challenging to drive. If you are traveling in winter, you should always check the weather and road conditions anyway.  You should also consider the time of year and season when planning a trip to Iceland as there is a considerable difference between seasons.  Here you can read about the best time or season to visit Iceland.

Þingvellir National Park is a place you can visit all year round

Þingvellir National Park is a place you can visit all year round but exceptionally beautiful in autumn colors

Why drive the Golden Circle?

All of the three attractions on the Golden Circle route are more than worthed to visit.  Þingvellir is one of a handful of places in Iceland where you can see the North Atlantic rift system that stretches from the south pole up through the Atlantic ocean through the island Iceland. When you are in the gorge Almannagjá, you are between the European and American tectonic plates and at the spot where they drift apart.  For those interested in history Þingvellir is also the most prominent place ins Iceland as it played an essential role in the judiciary and lawmaking process from the days of settlement throughout many centuries.  It is also the place where Icelanders decided to abolish heathenism and take up christianity in the year 1000.  Geysir is one of the best known hot springs in the world, and the English term geyser comes from the old hot spring Geysir, the big brother of Strokkur that still erupts today.  Gullfoss, of course, is one of the most impressive waterfalls on the planet and is one of the natural wonders that are equally interesting to visit in summer and winter as well as in autumn and spring. So even though there are considerable differences between seasons in Iceland, these three natural wonders are all accessible and exciting all year round, which is probably one of the reasons the route is so hot.

Strokkur geyser erupts every 10 to 15 minutes or so and reaches a hight of 25 to 35 meters

Strokkur geyser erupts every 10 to 15 minutes or so and reaches a hight of 25 to 35 meters

Is the Golden Circle a circle?

When you finish your drive at Gullfoss, you might wonder where you should go from there? What does it imply that it is a circle?  If you started around eight in the morning, you are probably done viewing the three natural wonders and finished with lunch around one at noon. One option is to drive the one and a half hour drive back to Reykjavík, but then it's not a “circle” but a trip back and forth. For the ride back through a different route, you have some options. Here we are going to recommend the most interesting one for you to get the most out of your day.   When you drive back from Gullfoss on Road 35 called Biskupstungnabraut, you take a left turn after 6 kilometers or approximately 4 miles on Road 30 called Skeiða- and Hrunamannavegur. After driving another 6 kilometers, you come to a bridge over the river Hvítá or White River. This is the same river that you saw falling in Gullfoss a few kilometers north.  By the bridge is an interesting stop calls Brúárhlöð. It is worthed to stop at the parking lot on the east side and admire the how the river has formed the canyon at this spot for hundreds of thousands of years. After Brúárhlöð we recommend that you continue on Road 30 to the small hamlet of Flúðir. This is a 20 kilometers or approximately 13 miles drive to the south of Brúárhlöð. At Flúðir you have an opportunity to visit the old pool, Gamla laugin, and dip into a geothermal pool. It is also a good place to stop for snacks,  refreshments, and restrooms. 

Gullfoss is one of the best known landmarks and attractions in Iceland

Gullfoss is one of the best known landmarks and attractions in Iceland

Drive to Seljalandsfoss waterfall

From Flúðir hamlet you continue south on Road 30 Skeiða- and Hrunamannavegur and drive 30 kilometers or 19 miles to Road 1 the Ring Road in Iceland. The drive is quite scenic, and if the day is bright, you will have a good view of both Hekla volcano and the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano on the east side of the road. When you reach the intersection at Road 1, you take a left turn to the east and drive the 54 kilometers or 34 miles to the intersection of Road 1 to Road 249 Þórsmerkurvegur.  Here you drive less than one kilometer to reach the parking lot for Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The waterfall is one of the most visited natural wonders and attractions in Iceland and for a reason.  It is not only a beautiful waterfall but also a waterfall that you can walk behind.  It is indeed a spectacular experience and a relatively easy walk.  In winter though you need to remember that the path behind the waterfall is quite slippery.  If you are not in a great hurry to go back to Reykjavík, another spectacular waterfall Gljúfrabúi is within walking distance of Seljalandsfoss.  It is a waterfall inside a gorge or a cave. 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is a spectacular and wonderful place to visit

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is a spectacular and wonderful place to visit

The drive back to Reykjavík

Heading back after an eventful day you take the Ring Road Nr. 1 to the west to Reykjavík. You are most likely in the afternoon, and most people are a bit tired after all the stops and viewing of natural wonders and attractions. You should not underestimate the energy it takes for an average person. The drive back to Reykjavík is 130 kilometers or 80 miles. Along the way, you drive through four small towns and villages, Hvolsvöllur, Hella, Selfoss, and Hveragerði on the Ring Road Nr. 1. All of the towns have restaurants and convenient stores so you can easily stop for snacks and restrooms along the way.   If you drive straight back to Reykavík you will have the opportunity to dine at some of the spectacular restaurants that you find in Reykavík city center and hit the sack for a convenient good night sleep at some of the many great hotels in the city. 

Reykjavik is one of the most interesting places in Iceland

Reykjavik is one of the most exciting places in Iceland - a place of departure and arrival for the Golden Circle tour

The whole drive as we recommend here is 370 kilometers or 230 miles. In comparison, the drive back and forth from Reykjavík to Gullfoss waterfall is 240 kilometers or 150 miles. The whole trip shouldn't take more than 9 to 10 hours even at a slow pace. There are plenty of places and opportunities along the way for restroom stops and food, and if the skies are reasonably clear, it is also a beautiful scenic drive. 

The Golden Circle drive is a great way to view and experience some of the most interesting natural wonders Iceland can offer and is also available and relatively easy to drive all year round.  It is a great option to spend a day when visiting Iceland and staying in Ryekjavík for a few days or a stopover.  In the summer there is also the option of visiting the highland and join us on our spectacular Hit Iceland Landmannalaugar highland and Golden Circle tour

Below is the location of Gullfoss waterfall on the map of Iceland

Map of Golden Circle drive in Iceland

 

Viewing animals in their natural environment is a great experience far beyond seeing animals in a zoo, especially if you can see them gathered in numbers.  Illugastaðir farm is a place where you can view seals and their natural environment, their quarrels and their love for each other.  A place where the animals are free to leave if they don't like to be looked at or even put on a show if they are interested in putting on a show. You can sit and watch their life in a place where nothing has changed in hundreds of years. This is precisely what you can do at the Illugastaðir seal colony.

Seals at Illugastadir farm in Iceland

A great place to take kids on a Iceland tour

When is the best time

If you don't intend to spend a lot of time at the seal colony, you might want to take the advice from the Seal Center at Hvammstangi town nearby.  It is recommended that you arrive at Illugastaðir two hours before low tide and you will have a good possibility of viewing seals in numbers until two hours after low tide.  During this time seals spend time chilling on the rocks, sleeping and relaxing. If you want to take photos near seals, you need to be careful and walk slowly and keep distance and use a telephoto lens. Most of the seals are quite social in their behavior but most of the time not eager to meet humans. But if they do, you are in luck and  “keep calm and still until the seals’ natural actions have taken it away from your vicinity,” as is stated in the Code of Conduct in the Advice For Sustainable Wildlife Tourism in Iceland.  At Illugastaðir you will find excellent facilities to see and view seals and can easily spend hours to enjoy this spectacular place of seeing animals in their natural homes.

A great place to view seals in their natural environment.

A great place to view seals in their natural environment

How to get to Illugastaðir Seal Colony

Illugastaðir is an old farm located approximately 30 kilometers from the Ring Road in the northwestern region in Iceland. So the tour from the main road is about sixty kilometers and you need to allow for one to one and a half hour for driving as most of the road is a gravel road. You take a turn north on the road Hvammstangavegur Nr. 72 and once to are passed the small town you continue on the road Nr. 711.  And on your way back you must stop at the Seal Center in Hvammstangi and also enjoy some of the nice cafés and restaurants the charming small town offers.  Hvammstangi also has one of the best camping areas in Iceland if you are traveling by car and camping, which is a great idea if you are traveling with kids during summer. 

Illugastaðir farm is a place where you can view seals and their natural environment

 

Practically on the Ring Road in Húnavatnssýsla district in the northwestern region of Iceland is an interesting place called Þrístapar or Triple Hillocks.  Although this part of the area is well known for its cone-like hillocks called Vatnsdalshólar (Water-valley-hillocks), most of the small hillocks are on the south side of the road. Hundreds (or some say thousands) of them in a cluster called Vatnsdalshólar scattered over a five square kilometer area.   Þrístapar on the other hand, which consists of three adjoining small hillocks, is on the north side of the road.  Around them are only two or three other smaller ones. So they stand out when you look to the north when driving the Ring Road.

The last execution in 1830

But the Triple Hillocks stand out for another reason. On a cold day at the beginning of January in 1830, a double beheading took place at Þrístapar, when Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were executed.  They had been sentenced to death for murdering Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson at the farm Illugastaðir, located on the west side of the Vatnsnes Peninsula.  The slaying took place two years before in March 1828 and was quite brutal as both men were knocked through the skull with a hammer, stabbed multiple times, and burned when the farm was put to flames after the atrocity.  As the district commissioner at the time of execution was of the opinion that vandalism was far too frequent in his jurisdiction, he decided to make the execution an example and a warning.  After the beheading, the two heads were put on a stick on top of Þrístapar for display, and the corpse buried in the field nearby.

Þrístapar and the magnificent story of Agnes

The story of Agnes the alleged killer and Natan the victim, their alleged love affair, the murders, the social background behind the story, the prosecution, the verdict and the aftermath has both fascinated and haunted Icelanders since the events at Þrístapar.  Much has been written about these events, and disputes have risen among writers, local people, and academia. So it is not surprising that Þrístapar along with Illugastaðir farm has become symbolic of the story.  The setting of the story is a rather large area within the district.  Because of the heinous nature of the crime, the corpses were ditched in the ground nearby Þrístapar after beheading without a blessing.  It wasn't until June 1934 that the remains of Agnes and Friðrik were put to rest in the cemetery at Tjörn, including the heads that were found in a rather mysterious way decades after the sticks and the heads disappear a few days after the execution.

The hillock where Agnes and Fridrik were beheaded

On a cold day at the beginning of January in 1830, a double beheading took place at Þrístapar, when Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were executed

Will the pauper and abundant child Agnes become a historical celebrity?

Agnes Magnúsdóttir was, without doubt, a witty and intelligent woman but from the time she was born, underprivileged and poor. She was left at a farm and abundant by her mother at an early age and became a pauper living at the mercy of others.  In her time she was hardly noticeable but had the drive and intelligence to crave for something more, to move up the social ladder.  Ironically she is becoming one of the best-known persons from these parts of Iceland and might be on her way to gain international fame.  Her story has received more attention after Hannah Kent published her debut historical novel Burial Rites in 2013 about Agnes and the event leading to her execution. Especially after the announcement that a movie is in the making and Jennifer Lawrence is to play Agnes.  So if you are traveling the Ring Road in Iceland or visiting the seal colony at Illugastaðir or Hvítserkur stack on the beach by Vatnsnes, you should stop at Þrístapar.

Þrístapar hillocks near Vatnsnes Iceland norhern-region

 

Öndverðarnes is the name of the outermost point of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The place is a small land or a stripe by the shore that made it possible for centuries to serve as a fishing station.  Unlike most of the nearby area that is covered with lava and craters from eruptions thousands of years ago.  Öndverðarnes is therefore surrounded by large lava fields on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other side.  It is a fascinating place although not necessarily one of the most beautiful places in Snæfellsnes Peninsula

There are remains from the old fishing station

Understandably Öndverðarnes was an extremely isolated place for those who lived there and those who worked at the fishing station. When you drive the harsh road through the lava from the main road, you might be surprised to know that this road was built only 70 years ago. For centuries people working at the fishing station had to walk a difficult path through the lava. Although the main attraction throughout the centuries for living at Öndverðarnes were rich fishing grounds nearby, the place seriously lacked a good landing place, like a cove.  This made life much harder and probably contributed to the end when the fishing station was permanently closed down at the first decades of the 20th century.

The small lighthouse and the cave and well Faxi

For Icelandic fishermen, before GPS, a lighthouse at Öndverðarnes was crucial to guide them past this point at Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Access to the lighthouse was one of the main reasons why the road was built.  Curiously there is also an unusual hole or a cave by Öndverðarnes. It is also a well and has the name Faxi. To reach the water you need to walk down a narrow path. The well also made it possible to have a fishing station at Öndverðarnes for centuries as access was crucial.

The view from Öndverðarnes to Snæfellsjökull glacier and the crater Saxhóll

Finding your way to Öndverðarnes

From the main road at the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula called Útnesvegur in Icelandic, Nr. 574, the distance to Öndverðarnes is about five and a half kilometer after you take a turn west of Öndverðarnesvegur Nr. 579.  At the end of the road, you take a turn north and drive a few kilometers. Here you will find a small parking lot by the lighthouse.  If you turn to the south, you will find another interesting part of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula tip, Svörtuloft cliffs.

 

Öndverðarnes the outermost point in Snæfellsnes

Photo of Illugastaðir by ©MICHAEL LEVY - INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER

Illugastaðir, a scene of a crime in the early nineteenth century. Photo by: ©MICHAEL LEVY - INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER

Icelanders often pride themselves on the fact that the fight for independence was won with one weapon, the pen.  During the battle, no shot was fired and no blood was shed. Instead, our heroes wrote tons of articles, delivered multiple proposals, presented arguments, and participated in disputes for many decades. In steps and milestones like a constitution, sovereignty, and home rule the fight was won and independence achieved in 1944.

Katrin Jakobsdóttir starts her first day as prime minister on the 99th anniversary of sovereignty

Renting a car and driving around the country in Iceland is by far the best way to travel. By hiring a car, you can organize a road trip that fits your budget and schedule. You can choose how much time to spend at a particular stop, a natural wonder, a charming small town or a museum. You also have the flexibility to enjoy the landscape, a scenic drive and a cozy picnic.

To find a rent a car or car for hire in Iceland is not as simple as finding a car for hire in most other countries.

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