You may already have seen my latest cartographic marvel on Facebook. I just hope it hasn’t upstaged the Icelandic Geology and Landscape tour (#2) that the map is designed to illustrate. The map is an interactive overview of the fully guided and escorted tour planned for the summer of 2014, which will take us to areas of Iceland that remained undiscovered at the end of IGL#1 in 2012. (If you haven’t seen it, you can click on this link to explore the interactive map)
As before, our tour begins with an introductory meeting and dinner in Reykjavik, and we set off with our tour guide the following morning across the first set of lava fields towards the glasshouse town of Hveragerði, and from there through the agricultural area around Selfoss before turning South and down to the coast to board the ferry across to make the 30 minute crossing to Heimaey, the largest of this archipelago of geologically young volcanic islands. Among the highlights of the overnight stay will be to explore Eldfell which erupted in 1973 with dramatic effects and the near closure of the natural harbour by the spreading lava flow. During our time on Heimaey there will be the chance to explore, to visit a range of attractions including the Surtsey exhibition, the privately owned cinema, take a boat trip or to discover the Pompei of the North.
On our return to the mainland, we journey north to Mt Hekla, another major player in Iceland’s volcanic armoury, affectionately known as the ‘Gateway to Hell’. Hekla has affected the lives of the Icelanders very greatly since the time of settlement and so after an overnight stay our journey will illustrate the extent to which the eruptions of lava, ash and pumice have contributed to the landscape of this area.
Heading eastwards, our route takes us to the stunning area of rhyolite mountains, and fantastic volcanic landforms in the area around Landmannalaugar. We can try to piece together the events that have created this landscape and enjoy one of its amazing and more unusual benefits, by bathing in the hot flowing waters of the river (Jokulgil), an experience that is really not to be missed!
Beyond Landmannalaugar lies some stunning scenery, and it was my journey there last August that has made me determined to include it on this tour. Suffice to say that after winding our way through hills and mountains we were treated to a panoramic view encompassing the Elgdja gorge and the mountains of the Vatnajokull to our left, the Laki lava fields ahead and Katla and the Myrdalsjokull ice cap looming up to our right. So much geology and landscape! So with a taste of what is to follow our day’s travel soon concludes at our base for the next two nights, a country hotel in the Kirkjubaerklaustur area where we will be excellently located to explore this area in more detail.
The Sida or fire district of Iceland witnessed one of the most catastrophic of Iceland’s recent eruptions when in 1783 the Laki fissure began to erupt. According to Jon Steingrimsson who documented the event in great detail, ‘as the flow of lava progressed further downwards from the mountain it branched out… the streams of fire congealed in fields of smooth lava… Other flows would then follow and pile up on top of them raising the height of the lava field’. One of the things that I have only appreciated since travelling in Iceland is the rich tapestry that sequences of lava flows create over time as they are erupted and then weathered and slowly vegetated by lichens, moss and an array of grasses and small shrubs.
From Kirkjubaerklaustur we continue northwards, watching as the horizon, filled with the massive Vatnajokull icecap comes ever closer. We drive across vast outwash plains created by jokulhaups and see the evidence of the strength and force of the floods that they create. Volcanoes, hidden beneath the ice turn our attention to glaciation and the views along this route are spectacular. With a stop and a short hike to see the beautiful waterfall at Svartifoss where the water cascades over columns of columnar basalt, we can sense the true scale of Europe’s largest glacier. Our stop for the next two nights lies in the shadow of this magnificent scenery and some superb evening sun (though perhaps no sunset!).
A tour to this part of Iceland is incomplete without spending plenty of time at Jokulsarlon, the much photographed and extremely beautiful glacial lagoon. To be able to see glaciers, ice sheet, moraines and the lagoon and to see how and where the massive icebergs are released into the lagoon is something you will never forget. We’ll take the trip on the ‘duck boat’ and then spend time just taking it all in. The outflow from the lagoon and the beach are just a short walk away and often the black sand is littered with tiny fragments of glassy ice washed up by the Atlantic waves. And when you start to feel that it’s all a bit overwhelming and perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to see the seals playing amongst the icebergs, there’s a great café awaiting you with hot drinks, food and some interesting books and souvenirs.
Our final part of the northward route ends with a journey onto the ice – this is a trip that can be taken in the warmth and comfort of a 4×4 or involve a snowmobile or something more adventurous. Each to his or her own, we will all have earned a day off by this point in the trip!
So then we turn and head south again, picking up some new views that we missed on our northward trip. We retrace some of the route, but this time keep going south and make a welcome stop at the town of Vik, nestling beneath Katla and sporting some of the most dramatic sands, cliffs and birdlife for many miles around.
From Vik onwards we travel with the current coast to our left with the old isostatically readjusted coast line to our right, and beyond and behind that the mighty Myrdalsjokull ice cap and everyone’s favourite dinner party volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. This stretch of the coast also offers us two spectacular waterfalls – at Skogarfoss and at Seljalandsfoss where getting drenched is a bit of a ‘must-do’ as you walk behind the massive curtain of water that cascades some 60 metres into a stunning plunge pool. A photograph definitely worth owning!
From there we make our way back to Reykjavik for a much deserved dinner. It occurs to me as I write this that what we might really need is hot tubs, so perhaps I will make sure that we stay somewhere that has them….
And that can be the end of the tour, but I should add that one of the things that everyone has to do at least once in Iceland is to travel the Golden Circle. On my clever map, I have shown this as a separate tour, it takes a day and can be experienced and enjoyed in many ways. So it’s there, and you just need to let me know if you’d like to do that, or to do it again. There are plenty of other things that can be added to either end of the trip – or if anyone wanted to head off to the north from the Vatnajokull I could arrange a self drive tour from there!
The trip I have described is 8 nights, but with the opportunity for my guests to add extra days before or after, please let me know how I can help with this! You can find a lot more information on my website, though as I am now making a new website, for the most up to date information please follow this blog, my facebook or send me a message.
The dates for this tour are likely to be early July or late August 2014, and I would be grateful to hear about your preferences. I am teaming up with Icelandic geologists to guide the tour and will be arranging our accommodation in welcoming hotels with single and twin ensuite rooms. Food will plentiful, locally and freshly produced and delicious. The company…. well what can I say? If the last Geology tour is anything to go by, it will be a fantastic way to spend some of your summer in 2014.
If you’d like to read more information about the general geology of Iceland, there’s a fantastic article here.