Between Continents: Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland
There was one attraction left to see before we left Iceland – the bridge between two continents. This was one of Iceland’s attractions in the lunar, otherworldly landscape of the Reykjanes Peninsula in the southwest region. Reykjanes (pronounced reːicanɛs) means Smoky Point which seemed fitting with the vast lava fields and volcanic rocks around the area. As we explored this rugged landscape, we also found hot springs, fishing villages, power plants and some surprises along the way.
The first area visitors see and one that leaves a lasting glimpse of Iceland is the Reykjanes Peninsula. Its international airport is located in the town of Keflavik. The famous Blue Lagoon which we visited on our first day was where most visitors start or end their trips.
One of the first things we saw on the way to the bridge was this out of the ordinary large object in the ocean. It was a rock island known as Eldey (The Fire Island) and home to numerous bird colonies. Times like these were when we wished we packed those binoculars. Its almost white color from the distance made it look like a massive iceberg.
Trying to find the bridge wasn’t easy. We barely found information of its exact location online and the visitor’s center staff just gave us a nearest town. Our GPS with an updated map wasn’t any help either. My husband wanted to see this bridge even though we partially saw the continental drift during the Golden Circle tour. For miles, we were the only car on the road. Was this so off the beaten path not even the locals travel here? That road sign could have easily been missed.
After the turnoff, we were the only car on the parking lot on a Tuesday morning. It felt a bit eerie being the only ones here surrounded by all the volcanic rocks and feeling like we were in another planet. There was a small picnic area which led to a short walkway to our destination of Leif the Lucky bridge. The small footbridge was built in 2002 in honor of explorer, Leif Ericson, regarded as the first European to visit North America.
The 49 feet (15 m) Leif the Lucky or Midlina Bridge crossed a rift valley that marked the boundary of where the two continental tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s crust meet – the North American plate to the west and the Eurasian plate to the east. The plates are still constantly drifting apart at 2 cm per year.
A marker in the middle of the bridge showed exactly where that supposed boundary was located. It was a fun experience for the kids to walk or hop from Europe to North America in a few steps and stand between the two continents. The bridge was also built as a symbol to commemorate the two continents’ connection.
The bridge was nothing spectacular and the cracks were something we had seen around. For the tourist experience, one can get a certificate at the Reykjanes Information center for about $8 symbolising the experience of crossing the two continents. Needless to say, we passed on it.
While we were at the bridge, we spotted a cruise ship sailing to Reykjavik. As it got closer to passing Eldey island we saw earlier, it looked like it was going to hit it. Patience was the key and a zoom lens to capture this shot from a distance. At that moment, we wanted to be on that cruise ship. Can you imagine the view the passengers had seeing thousands of birds on the island?
Having reached our destination with a few hours left before our flight, we thought of spending a couple of hours soaking in the Blue Lagoon again or doing more sightseeing on the way to the airport. Sometimes, being spontaneous and seeing what turns out can be rewarding. From the road, we saw a lighthouse and a lot of steam in the distance and knew we had to take a closer look.
Driving on the dirt road towards the lighthouse, the road was filled with these white birds with red beaks we’ve never seen before. We later found out they were Arctic Terns. Migrating from the Arctic to the Antarctic, these seabirds’ arrival is anticipated in Iceland as one sign of spring’s return.
There were so many of them in nearby fields and were flying everywhere. We stayed in the car in fear of being attacked or dropped on.
Bird watching was ideal in this area with many migratory birding cliffs. This was probably the reason for having this randomly placed large bird statue by the coastline.
The Reykjanesviti lighthouse was Iceland’s oldest lighthouse. It has been around since 1929, standing at 102 feet (31 m) tall and replaced an original structure destroyed by an earthquake. It prominently sat on a green hillside with some patches of purple Alaska lupine flowers that we found throughout Iceland. All this greenery was such a welcome sight in the midst of all the volcanic rocks.
The Reykjanes peninsula also boasted a number of geothermal wonders. On a very rocky path, we ended up at one of the largest hot springs in Iceland – Gunnuhver.
It was named after a female ghost believed to lay here based on an Icelandic saga. The country’s largest mud pool was located here. Boiling mud pools and steam vents were everywhere with the scent of sulfur or as my kids call “bad egg smell” prevalent in the air.
Walking through the wooden walkways with railings, we were enveloped with smoke at times making it hard to see the volcanic landscape from the viewing areas. Once again, we had the place to ourselves.
In one of the strangest places to ever build a house, remnants of a house’s foundation could still be found.
While much of Reykjanes Peninsula was a volcanic rock landscape, we also found patches of countryside and rolling green hills with charming farm houses. They were a pleasant contrast to the dark rocks.
Just in case you need to find the last gas station to fill up the rental car before returning, you can’t miss this one with the giant funnel.
On the way back to the airport our fleeting last glimpse of Iceland also involved quirky and colorful tanks.
It was the sights along the way that made this detour worthwhile for us. Sometimes, the unexpected things you find along the journey turn out to be more memorable than the destination itself. There were a number of interesting attractions in the Reykjanes peninsula beyond the Blue Lagoon. We barely covered what this region had to offer. If you have a few hours to spare before a flight, the dramatic landscape of Reykjanes Peninsula is well worth a visit.
Leif the Lucky Bridge Location Tip:
For those who are interested in finding the exact location of the Leif the Lucky bridge along Road 425, this was our GPS coordinates at the parking lot.
- LONGITUDE N63°51.993’/LATITUDE W022°40.562’
- Nearest address: 233 Reykjanesbaer Nesvegur
*Have you explored Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula? Where have you gone where the attractions along the way were more rewarding than the destination?
- Iceland’s Blue Lagoon: The good, bad and the naked
- Iceland’s Golden Circle Photo Tour
- Iceland with kids: Getting there and around
- Discovering Charming and Quirky Reykjavik, Iceland
- Eating in Iceland: Traditional Meets Bizarre
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