Iceland: perhaps the world’s greatest and most astonishing geographical treasure-trove. With landscape almost unique to any location on Earth, Icelanders have, over the centuries, both reveled in the extraordinary beauty of the area, alongside harnessing a large proportion of the natural energy produced – reaping its rewards. The country is a geographical wonder, a land of incredible glaciers, tantalisingly-tall waterfalls, and even volcanoes – a land that I was lucky enough to see with my own eyes.
On Day 1, we visited the astonishing waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss (which is 60 metres/197 feet high) and Gljúfurárfoss or Gljúfrabúi (“one who lives in the canyon”). We also visited Skókafoss (“Forest Falls”) waterfall before embarking on a fascinating walk onto the glacier Sólheimajökull, which is a ‘glacier tongue’ extending from the main ice cap of Mýrdalsjökull glacier (which is to the east of the now-famous volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull which erupted in 2010, disrupting European air travel).
Day 2 of our visit, at first at least, was nowhere near as nice as Day 1 – in terms of the weather. We woke up to a low mist, an abundance of clouds and a dismal splattering of cold Icelandic rain. However, after we had eaten our breakfast, we travelled down to the coastline where we visited the most famous black beach of Iceland, on the Reynisfjara coast near the small town of Vik. Also on the beach, the famous and unbelievable Hálsanef cliff formations were incredible alongside such a vicious tide which, over the years, has claimed numerous lives due to having a 10,000 mile fetch (basically meaning the wind and waves have travelled from Antarctica!) and incredible power. Two sea stacks (the Reynisdrangar lava sea-stacks) were also visible which, according to Icelandic folklore, were the remnants of “two trolls who had attempted to drag a ship back to shore, but were turned to stone as daylight struck”. Further along the coast, we also got a fantastic view of another black beach on the former island of Dyrhólaey (which literally means “the hill island with the door hole”), before travelling to the almost-brand-new LAVA centre, about volcanoes and earthquakes.
Our final full day, Day 3, began with a 90-minute bus journey from Reykjavik along the southern coast to the famous Gullfoss (or “Golden Waterfall) – one of Iceland’s major tourist attractions on the infamous ‘Golden Circle’ route. A 32-metre drop consisting of two wide waterfalls was, in my opinion, the most beautiful location we visited: the serenity of the area combined with the power and force of the waterfall in a remarkable view. Nonetheless, nearby we travelled to the Geysir Hot Spring Area – famous for being one of the few locations on Earth in which people can see hot springs, and also for containing the geyser called Geysir (this is no coincidence: Geysir was basically the first recorded geyser and subsequently lent its name to all other similar hot springs). However, Geysir only erupts rarely nowadays and is primarily quite quiet and small, and so Strokkur is a more spectacular attraction. Strokkur erupts up to 30 metres in height every few minutes in an astonishing display of Mother Nature’s volcanic capabilities.
From the geyser area we then embarked underground to do some lava tube caving, in which we learnt lots of information about how the flow of magma (or lava, as it’s known on the surface) produced some astonishing rock formations. Finally, we visited the Þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir), which was most famous for the incredibly surreal rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates – clearly visible as the cracks in the landscape. The plates move apart roughly 2cm every year, and are so far apart at one point that Þingvallavatn Lake (pronounced Thingvallavatn in English) has filled an area surrounded by beautiful mountains and glaciers. The area is also famous because Iceland’s parliament (the world’s oldest parliament), called Althing, was based on the cliffs at the plate boundary.
Iceland is a world within our world. A surreal combination of danger and beauty; volcanoes and waterfalls, there are simply so many stunning geographical features that something new could excite you every day. Every year, more and more tourists are visiting this fascinating country – viewing the highlights; the scenery; the geology. Iceland really is the Land of Fire and Ice. And what a spectacular land it is.