The friendly fishing town of Sandgerði is an ideal place to visit for those who have an interest in Iceland’s close connection to the ocean – not only because of its importance concerning fishery but also as it boasts an interesting research centre open to the public, focusing on the environment’s eco-system.
Driving around Reykjanes peninsula where Sandgerði is located can be of interest for nature enthusiasts, especially those awed by Iceland’s unique scenery.
Camping in Sandgerði could be a convenient choice for the beginning or the end of one’s trip as Keflavik International Airport is located within Sandgerði’s municipality.
The magnificent coastline
Access to the Reykjanes peninsula has changed drastically following the departure of the American army base; the major difference being that you can now drive around the coastline, parts of which were formerly closed off. A recommended drive would include the coastline from Grindavík to Sandgerði and it’s sister town, Garður. Not only is the coastline itself magnificent but there are also many interesting places to visit such as Gunnuhver, the geothermal area west of Grindavík and the Reykjanes lighthouse.
Driving west and north, you have the coastline on your left side with relatively low and sandy beaches, but dangerous reefs just off the coastline, which have been the cause of many tragic accidents throughout the centuries. On the right side, the Midnesheidi moor rises up from the lowlands with many hiking routes popular with local people, some of which served as ancient routes between farms and towns.
Historic places by the coast
You will come across various interesting places on your way. One such place is Básendar. It used to be an important market town until 1799 when it was destroyed by a big flood. Básendar was also of great importance for fishing as was Stafnes, but the reefs just by Stafnes are quite dangerous. The trawler, ‘Jon the President’ was wrecked off Stafnes in 1928. As a response to that tragedy rescue teams were founded across Iceland, such as the Sigurvon rescue team in Sandgerði.
You will find the church of Hvalneskirkja close to Sandgerði. The church was built of stone in 1887 and one of Iceland’s most cherished poets, Hallgrímur Pétursson, served there as a priest for a number of years. Finally, in Hafurbjarnastaðir, between Sandgerði and Garður, there are graves from pre-Christian times discovered in 1947. This discovery was a breakthrough in historical understanding of Iceland and some of the remains found there are now on display at the National Museum of Iceland.
By the harbour in Sandgerði
The town of Sandgerði has 1600 inhabitants – not a small number if one bears in mind Iceland’s small population. The community was established around the end of the 19th century, about the time fishery was revolutionised by technology. More often than not, it is the harbour that gives fishing towns in Iceland their character. Sandgerði is no exception; and improved harbour facilities have been built there in recent years. Walking around the harbour, watching the ocean and imbibing the smell of the sea life is a good way to enjoy nature.
This part of Iceland knows how small and insignificant human existence can be when dealing with the powerful ocean yet the source of rich fishing-grounds just off its coast is vital for Sandgerði’s community. Our vulnerable physical existence is reflected in Álög, the monument by the sculptor Steinunn Þórarinsdóttir found at the entrance to the town.
One can certainly say that the harbour is the heart of the town, as most of Sandgerði’s services are located there, including restaurants, shops and galleries.
Sandgerði boasts a nice swimming pool in addition to an 18-hole golf course. In the northern part of town, there are some cute summerhouses one can rent. Just outside town, the pond is a perfect spot to watch some birdlife as hundreds of migratory birds gather there every spring.
Sudurnes Science and Learning Centre
A great way to understand the environment and the history of Sandgerði and its surroundings is to visit the Sudurnes Science and Learning Centre. Suðurnes is actually another name for the Reykjanes peninsula, its literal meaning being ‘the peninsulas of the South’. The centre is run in cooperation with Southwest Iceland Nature Research Institute and University of Iceland´s Research Centre in Sudurnes. The research facilities include unique clean seawater and possibilities, found nowhere else, to conduct research in ecotoxicology, behavioural ecology and fisheries.
Additionally, the centre has two exhibitions: one presenting nature and the other history. These exhibitions are both fun and enlightening at the same time. In the nature gallery you can touch various stuffed animals from Icelandic wildlife and see various exotic sea creatures. There is also a collection of plants and shells and the only stuffed walrus in Iceland.
The history gallery houses the ‘Attraction of the Poles’ exhibition. The research vessel Pourquoi-Pas was wrecked on the rocks of Faxaflói Bay in 1936. Many of the crew perished, along with the French medical doctor and polar scientist Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who acquired the nickname ‘Gentleman of the Pole’ because of his excursions to the Polar Regions.
A challenging interaction with nature
The centre also organises a treasure hunt which is very entertaining, especially for children. By bringing a car and a camera for exploration, you will experience the environment around Sandgerði in a fun yet challenging way!
For those about to leave the country, driving to Sandgerði a day earlier, camping near the services such as the swimming pool, exploring the area via the entertaining treasure hunt might just be the best way to end an Icelandic vacation.