My exhaustion had got the better of me; no early morning to see the Solfar, but a lie-in instead (a cursory glance out of the window at 7am had showed me clouds anyway). Check-out was irritatingly early (10am) but at least it meant that I was on the road at a reasonable time in order to have a enough time for a leisurely drive out of Reykjavik and around the Reykjanes Peninsula, before getting to the airport to dump the car and check-in.
I headed towards the airport, but turned off towards Kleifarvatn, which I'd driven along in the rain two years earlier, during a rushed journey back to Keflavik. The road was unpaved in places, but it was open and easily drivable. A big-wheeled van ahead of me turned off towards Bláfjöll and I suddenly became worried that the Inside the Volcano tour might now run in early spring after all but I'd failed to check (I checked when I got home - it's still only running from mid-May until September, so I hadn't missed out!). The scenery was not spectacular along the shore of the lake (I missed the peaks, the glaciers and the basalt columns...) but it was a pleasant-enough drive. There were a few spots where I could have stopped for a little dander and a few snaps, but I was becoming increasingly worried about the car not re-starting, so decided not to stop in what was effectively the middle of nowhere.
I passed the sulphurous hillsides of Krýsuvík, but decided to continue onwards, as I'd stopped there in the rain the last time and a high layer of cloud hung above, so the light was pretty poor. I continued driving towards the coast and then turned towards Grindavik, which turned out to be a very uninspiring town, and was probably only in existence because of the nearby geothermal plant (the effluent of which has produced the world-famous Blue Lagoon). I drove through the town, wondering if there would be anything of interest to see. There were a few old houses, and some rusty fishing boats but nothing to get excited about, so I carried on west towards the tip of the peninsula, hoping for some slightly more inspiring scenery.
Ahead of me I could see a few large plumes of steam from a large geothermal plant at Gunnuhver. I'd passed above this lake and steam vents on the approach into Keflavik a few times and again assumed that it was the Blue Lagoon, but this wasn't a place that you could go for a soak and spa treatments. There was a turn-off and a touristy-looking sign, so I headed down the track to a parking area. There were some boardwalks alongside some yellow crusty sulphur vents and steam pouring out across the landscape in front of me (with the large plumes of steam from the vents at the plant in the distance). I had a quick wander around; if I'd had more time I'd have gone further on towards a lighthouse that sat atop a hill, not far from the south-westernmost point of the country.
Instead I continued on around the end of the peninsula, passing a museum on Iceland's geothermal activities; I didn't stop as I wanted to get back to the airport in good time to re-pack my bag (trying to get an enormous tripod into a backpack is challenging!) and driving anywhere always took me longer than planned. As I drove north again I noticed some surf off to the west and saw a couple of cars parked behind some grassy black dunes. I headed down a bumpy road and found myself at a surf beach. A couple of guys donning wetsuits were just getting back to their cars, boards tucked under arms, and two more were swimming out past the surf in the distance, waiting for the right wave. A couple of men played ball with their excited dogs on the wide beach; a pointer bound up to me, stuck its wet nose towards me, and then raced away again as quickly. It wasn't the prettiest of beaches, but it was nice to stumble upon something a bit different.
I was glad to drop off the car, having a good moan at the man about the petrol cap being stuck, the lack of auxillary function through which to listen to an iPod, the battery running out on the remote key and the fact that is was a petrol, not diesel, vehicle (which cost me about £50 more to run during the trip, I reckoned). He did, however, confirm that there was no damage (always good!) and dropped me off at the terminal building (fully loaded my backpack weighed just under 20kg and the day pack about 12kg so walking wouldn't have been a pleasant option). Having odd-shaped hold luggage meant that I didn't have to join the enormous bag-drop queue, giving me more time to shop and eat and marvel at the sculptures. I bought a couple of bottles of local fire-water (a birch-flavoured schnapps and a blueberry liqueur), some chocolate-covered liquorice, and sat in a café eating a fish pie until it was finally time to depart my beloved Iceland.
The plane left on time, thankfully (no waiting around, no cancellation, no excessive drinking, no horrendous hangover...), and I sat next to a lovely equine photographer with whom I spent the next couple of hours discussing our mutual love of the place.
It always saddens me to leave Iceland, as I watch the coastline and the road across the strange black landscape eventually disappear beneath the clouds. I'd had a great trip, having seen the northern lights properly (finally!), having visited a few new places, I'd had no major mishaps (first day hangover aside), the weather had been reasonable (for Iceland), and I was returning with a selection of shots that upon first review I was pretty happy with. I was tired, excited to review the photos properly, but mostly I was really looking forward to getting home to my beloved London and to my boys. And I know I'll be back to Iceland soon (maybe when it's green and covered with wildflowers, one of these days?). Until the next time...
Click here for Day 8 blog