Djúpalónssandur or the Black Lava Pearl Beach is a beautiful place to visit, like so many other of the many sights on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It is like stepping into a lava wonderland.
I have written a travel-guide in chronological order in 5-parts on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. But since Djúpalónssandur is one of the major attractions on the peninsula I thought it deserved a special travel-blog.
It is just a short drive from the main road to Djúpalónssandur, and you can leave your car in the parking lot just above Djúpalónssandur. You reach the beach by walking down Nautastígur path - the Path of the Bull.
The path will take you through a lava field with huge lava formations. To me, this is the most beautiful part of Djúpalónssandur. There is a peculiar rock here with a hole in it, called Gatklettur. Through the hole, you can see Snæfellsjökull glacier.
This is a good photo spot, especially on a fine sunny day, like the day I got on one of my many visits to Snæfellsnes peninsula. I have visited Djúpalónssandur beach in almost all types of weather, but my favourite photos are from a sunny day back in 2010, so I also include them here in my travel-blog.
Photo of the rock and Snæfellsjökull on a rainy day
The name of the path, Nautastígur - the Path of the Bulls, derives from bull being led down this path and watered by the lagoon.
There are two small freshwater lagoons behind Nautastígur, called Djúpulón - the Deep Lagoons, but this beach got its name from these lagoons; Djúpalónssandur - the Deep Lagoon's Sand or Beach. The lower lagoon was said to be abysmal as it was so deep.
Djúpulón lagoon was measured by the noted Eggert Ólafsson (1726-1768) and turned out not to be abysmal but around 5 meter's deep.
The other lagoon behind Gatklettur rock is called Svörtulón or the Black Lagoons.
Bishop Guðmundur góði or Guðmundur the Good (1161-1237) is said to have blessed this lagoon in his time, but he blessed many springs including the Maríulind spring at Hellnar and many others around Iceland.
Some of the springs, which this good bishop blessed so many centuries ago, are said to have healing properties. We Icelanders still hold these springs in high regard and it hurt me so much to see one of these springs up north filled with WC paper :(
Only the surface water in these 2 lagoons is freshwater as they rise and fall with the tide. Svörtulón contains better water though as a creek runs into it.
On the beach, you will notice the iron pieces from the British trawler, The Epine GY7, which was wrecked east of Dritvík cove on the night of 13th March 1948. Fourteen men lost their lives and five were saved by the Icelandic rescue team in the neighbouring villages, which managed, after two long and cold hours, to get a line to the trawler.
There was a blizzard on this cold winter night in March and the fishermen were losing their grip and had started falling into the cold sea. One of them fell overboard and washed up on the beach where the rescue team managed to save him. Three others were already dead and their bodies washed up on the beach. Many of the fishermen were never found :(
The skipper, Alfred Loftis, clinging to the ship, shouted to the rescue team: "I do not mind what happens to me as long as the boys are all right. Look after the boys!". Shortly after he was gone, swept away by a big wave.
It is just heartbreaking thinking about the fate of these English fishermen.
The iron remains, which washed up on the beach, are protected and should not be touched. They are kept here in memory of these brave fishermen from England, so let's respect them and leave them in peace. There have been other shipwrecks in this area.
When you exit the lava field up opens the black Lava pearl beach as the whole beach is made of small black smooth pebbles called Djúpalónsperlur - Pearls of Djúpalón.
The black lava pearls of Djúpalón are protected, but I have seen them used for beautiful jewellery. My pictures don't even begin to do these pebbles justice as they can be ever so soft and pitch black, like they are polished.
There is a very distinctive huge lava rock on the beach, Söngklettur - the Singing Rock. The rock is reddish in colour and so majestic looking - it is said to be the Church of the Elves! It looks amazing and on one occasion, while I was trying out a guided tour of Snæfellsnes peninsula, we had a picnic by Söngklettur.
Just keep in mind to show respect around elf locations and don't climb on them or make a racket. Always ask the elves for permission to visit their habitation or churches and you will be fine. Respect is the keyword here.
Respect for the elves is deep-seated in the soul of the Icelandic nation and we learn about them in our upbringing, so we always show respect for the elves and fear their wrath if their locations are disrespected. There are many stories of misfortune happening if this rule is not followed.
Picnic by the Elf-church
I know that our foreign visitors cannot know where all these different elf locations are to be found, a rock might just seem like a rock, that is why I am writing about the elf-locations in Iceland in my articles.
I would love to hear the folklore about the Church of the Elves on Djúpalónssandur beach, but I haven't found anything about it in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason, which I often refer to in my travel-blogs. There are other collections on Icelandic folklore and I will add this folklore here when I find out more about it. But seeing that it is called the Singing Rock then people must have heard the elves singing in the rock.
There are more strangely formed lava rocks on Djúpalónssandur, like this one in my photo both above and below. It is called Kerling or the Troll woman, and where there is a Kerling there is a Karl or the male Troll.
These trolls were turned into stone when they saw daylight, as this is what happens to trolls in Iceland, they get petrified when they see daylight, as everybody knows! Kerling is carrying a bundle of fish on her back, but I read that Karl is located a bit further east and cannot be seen from Djúpalónssandur.
I walked up on Höfði cape towards Einarslón further east by the shoreline, but there are so many rock formations there that I didn't know which one of them was Karl. But I have "heard" that Lóndrangur had a thing for Kerling at Djúpalónssandur ;)
You will find Karl and Kerling troll formations all over Iceland. They are not always together though as at Lóndrangar cliffs the male troll, Lóndrangur, is by the sea, while his fiancée troll, Kerling, is stuck in Kerlingarskarð pass carrying a bundle of trouts on her back. You can read about their love-story in my travel-blog below:
I found this dreadful account in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason. This is a continuation of the account on the hardy fishermen in my next chapter on the lifting stones:
"The hardy fishermen on Djúpalónssandur beach grabbed an old woman and killed her (others say that they took her body from the barrow and others say that they dug her from her fresh grave). The fishermen used the body of this old woman for bait one spring and they fished so much that their boat was laden every day, even though the other fishermen would hardly catch any fish.
All of them used this human flesh for bait, apart from Hálfdrættingur (a man who could lift 54 kilos, see my chapter on the lifting stones below - RHR), who was fishing with them a man called Sigurður.
On a rainy day at Djúpalónssandur. The lava formations are pitch black and maroon in colour
One night he dreamt that the old woman approached him and uttered these words: "Verður á morgun skip skarða, Skeður furðu tilburður; Farðu ei á morgun forvarða, furða ber til, Sigurður". Others have told this story and added to it that the woman also uttered: "Ei skaltu í dag róa; nú ætla ég rugla undir beinum mínum". The next morning Sigurður pretended to be ill, but the other fishermen went fishing and all of them drowned on this day, but it is not mentioned how it came about".
(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason).
I am not going to translate what the old woman said, but it is in the form of a rime where she warns Sigurður of sailing with the other fishermen the following day, as she was going to get her revenge on the fishermen for using her body as bait.
The suction of the sea in Djúpalónssandur is very powerful so please don't go too close to the sea. There is a warning sign by the parking lot, but I have seen that many people tend to ignore the warning signs. Do not wade into the sea - it is better to be safe than sorry.
In the photo above, which I took from the start of the hike to Dritvík cove, people are playing on the shore very close to the sea, but the sea is not always this calm and often there are big waves crashing onto the shore, which can grab people and carry them out to sea. Or the dangerous sneaker waves which sneak in, get everybody wet and can carry people out to sea. So let's be extra careful here!
Not the best location to practise sea-swimming in Iceland, so he quickly returned/was washed ashore and hopefully he realised that he was actually playing with death here. He was lucky to come out of the sea alive.
In March 2017 tourists put themselves in danger when they were "playing" and running after the waves. A big wave caught them and fortunately, they were carried towards a sand-reef and not out to sea.
Three or four big waves usually come in a row and the last waves come much further onto the shore than the first ones. They surprise people and can carry them out to sea, so never run after waves in this location, as bigger ones will usually follow.
The photo below is from one of my winter trips to Djúpalónssandur. In the dead of winter, daylight is scarce, that is why my photo is so dark, even though it was taken in the middle of the day. The people in the photo are two of the employees at Guide to Iceland, so they made sure not to get too close to the sea while they were taking photos of the waves crashing on the shore.
A winter visit to Djúpalónssandur in limited daylight
There is another equally dangerous beach in South-Iceland, the ever so popular Reynisfjara beach. If you visit it bear in mind that there have been several fatalities there when big, unexpected waves have carried people out to sea, where they have drowned :(
I have written a travel-blog on that beach to warn people about the dangers:
At Djúpalónssandur beach you will find 4 differently sized stones. They are well known Aflraunasteinar - Steinatök or lifting-stones. They were used to measure the strength of fishermen in Iceland and you can try your strength on these stones yourself.
This is what Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason has to say about these lifting stones:
"It has been written that some crew members were fishing from Djúpalónssandur beach, but these men were such strong and energetic fishermen that nothing seemed to be impossible to them. They tried their strength on these lifting stones. The lifting stones are still to be found on Djúpalónssandur beach on the way south to Einarslón lagoon, a little above the road.
The names of the lifting stones are Fullsterkur, Hálfsterkur and Hálfdrættingur and only those who could lift Fullsterkur up on a plinth reaching a man's waist was allowed to fish from Djúpalónssandur beach. Still there exist some men (a long time ago RHR) fishing from Dritvík, who can lift Fullsterkur, many men can lift Hálfsterkur, but almost all of them can lift Hálfdrættingur".
(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason).
The biggest stone is called Fullsterkur - Strong and weights 154 kg and only the very strong can lift that one. The second one is called Hálfsterkur - Half-Strong and weighs 100 kg.
The third one is called Hálfdrættingur - Half as good and weighs 54 kg, and the fourth one is called Amlóði or Lightweight and weighs 23 kg.
All these Icelandic names refer to how strong/weak the person is lifting them up on a plinth. If the fishermen could not lift Hálfdrættingur (54 kg) they were not accepted as oarsmen on the fishing boats rowing from Dritvík.
Nowadays stones like these are used in the strong-men contests, which are very popular here in Iceland.
You can hike from Djúpalónssandur beach to Dritvík cove, which was the largest seasonal fishing station here in Iceland from the 16th century until the mid 19th century, with 40-60 boats and 200-600 seasonal fishermen. The season was only in spring from the beginning of April until mid-May.
Now both these former vibrant spots are deserted - nowadays they are only visited by tourists and locals alike.
Dritvík has got a natural harbour encircled by high lava walls. The black lava beach in this cove is called Maríusandur or the Beach of Mary.
The hike to Dritvík is only 1 km west of Djúpalónssandur, the path is rocky at the very start of the hike though, so wear good hiking shoes if you plan on popping over to see Dritvík.
On the west part of the beach and in the lava along the hike you will see some ruins from that time. The seasonal fisherman stayed in fisherman's huts built out of rock and sand and covered with tents. There are also ruins of old fish drying sheds.
The trail on Suðurbarði cape is called Vatnsstígur or the Water trail as there was no fresh water to be had in Dritvík and water had to be fetched to Djúpalónssandur beach. The Dritvíkurlón lagoon is mixed with seawater so it is undrinkable.
Here I was alone in the cove with my husband thinking about the vibrant past of this now empty cove. It was almost too quiet and I felt very alone all of a sudden thinking about all these men now gone from this earth and how much my country has changed through the centuries.
When you visit Dritvík you will notice the pitch black lava formations which take on all kinds of forms; there is a Tröllakirkja - Troll church, Bárðarskip - the Ship of Bárður and Bárðartrúss - the Baggage of Bárðu. Remember Bárður Snæfellsás, the half-troll - half man, who is the Protector of Snæfellsnes peninsula? You can read his story in one of our Sagas - the Saga of Bárður Snæfellsás. See also my travel-blog on Bárður:
Bárður, who was Dumbsson, sailed from Norway with his men in the 9th century and came ashore in Djúpalón and Dritvík cove. He then built his farm at Laugarbrekka further east on Snæfellsnes.
Bárður was the one who gave a name to the Snæfellsnes peninsula when he saw the snow and ice on Snæfellsjökull glacier, which hovers over this part of the peninsula. He called it Snjófellsnes peninsula. Both the words "snær" and "snjór" mean snow in Icelandic. It was later changed to Snæfellsnes.
In this part of the Snæfellsnes, you will find several locations bearing Bárður's name. Close to Laugarbrekka, where Bárður lived, you will find Bárðarlaug or the Pool of Bárður, where Bárður used to bathe. I have written about these locations in other travel-blogs on Snæfellsnes:
Right in front of us in the photo above, you will see Bárðarskip or the Ship of Bárður in the sea, and to the right of it on the beach is Bárðartrúss or the Baggage of Bárður, referring to the time when Bárður came ashore on Dritvík cove.
Then you will you see Víkurklettur rock farthest to the left, inside it is the aquamarine Pollurinn in Maríuhöfn.
In my photo above you will see Tröllakirkja - the Troll Church in Dritvík. It is the one stretching into the sea.
In the Saga of Bárður, it is written that the settler Bárður and his men worshipped their heathen gods for luck when they came ashore in Djúpalón, but the Troll Church is in Dritvík, so I hope this is the Troll Church in question.
There is yet another folklore in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason, which I am going to tell you about. It explains to us why a certain cave west of Dritvík got the name Draugahellir or the Ghost Cave:
"There is a cave west of Dritvík in a location called Suðurbarði and Vesturbarði. The story goes that some men were in the vicinity of the cave (aboard a ship - RHR) and heard some noise coming from the cave, which sounded like verbosity, but the story goes that one or two of these men on the ship were from Helgafell (the same strong and hardy fishermen as in the folklore above - RHR).
One of them was on good terms with the daughter of the farmer at Hólahólar called Narfi (others call him Jón). When they were in the vicinity of the cave they heard a strong man's voice saying a rime:
"Leiðist mér að liggja hér í ljótum helli;
betra er heima á Helgafelli
að hafa þar dans og glímuskelli"
Another man answered with rime and they heard him very clearly:
"Fer ég djúpt í fiskageim
þó ég sé dofinn dreg ég mig heim
til dóttur Narfa í Hólum".
The entrance to the cave is from above and it is said that some of the corpses drift into the cave when the surf is high, and it has since been called Draugahellir or Ghost Cave".
(Roughly translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason).
Now, this was a bit difficult to translate, but I hope you get the meaning of it. The rime is in Icelandic, but it roughly says that the ghost in the cave is tired of being inside an ugly cave and that it would be better to be at home at Helgafell, dancing and wrestling.
The other ghost is talking about him being deep in the realm of the fish and even though he was numb he drags himself home to the daughter of Narfi at Hólar. This is the story of why this place is said to be hunted.
"Somewhere" hidden away between Dritvík and Djúpalónssandur there is an ancient labyrinth. We don't know how old it really is, it might even be as old as from the Settlement of Iceland. Or the seasonal fishermen might have built it for fun, while they were on shore.
It is not easy to find though. I have visited it and found my way through it, but as it is old and fragile, as it were, then I will just add a video of me trying it out here and not give directions to where to find it as too much traffic might ruin it. Don't you agree with me on this?
Now, in April 2017 a passerby, Karola Bruckner, noticed that a new sign of some sort had been made out of rocks next to the labyrinth! She took a photo of it and shared it with a group I belong to on Facebook, where it caused quite an uproar. It seems that some tourists made the effort of creating the sign for China out of rocks next to Iceland's ancient labyrinth!
Even though these tourists might think this was innocent and funny, and I am sure that they meant no harm, then it is not acceptable. Leave no trace behind but your footsteps has to become a rule rather than a gentle reminder!
This is why I do not want to write about delicate places in Iceland, as I do not want them to be vandalised.
Photo credit: Carola Bruckner
To visit this area you can rent a car in Reykjavík and explore the whole peninsula in a day or two.
I always visit Snæfellsnes in my own car, but there are several guided tours to Snæfellsnes, f.ex:
During one of my visits to Djúpalónssandur, there was a vortex-like cloud heading for the glacier
Above is just a selection of the many guided tours which are available. Here you can see all 121 tours available so you can find which one is the most suitable for you.
I have joined two of the Snæfellsnes tours and written travel-blogs about the tours:
I have written many more travel-blogs on Snæfellsnes as there is just so much history and places of interest everywhere you look. Below you will find links to my travel-guide of Snæfellsnes in 5-parts, in chronological order, with many side-blogs:
This travel-blog is a side-blog to my travel-blog The Magical Snæfellsnes peninsula - part II.
Have a lovely time at Djúpalónssandur and please stay safe on the beach :)