Friday 18th August 2017
The South Coast day was planned for today, which meant an earlier departure from the hostel. We started by visiting the newly opened Lava Centre and were well and truly swept off our feet. This exhibition is incredible! Brand new, cutting-edge, high quality and extremely interactive technology made us feel like we were on the set of Minority Report! It’s a paradise for kids and adults alike.
It all started with a 12 minute movie. With striking videos and images of Icelandic volcanic eruptions, accompanied by a powerful audio track of well-composed music, this movie really sets the scene for the exhibition. We could have watched it ten times over. Each exhibition room, covering different aspects of the volcanic rock that is Iceland, seemed better than the last. They are visual and self-explanatory, where complex volcanic processes become easy and understandable. Sounds of flowing lava encompass the rooms – there’s even one narrow corridor between rooms where you experience the poor visibility and the difficulties in breathing that would be inescapable after a volcanic eruption. It’s quite spectacular.
After the whole experience finished, we ate delicious homemade cakes along with freshly ground coffee at the Lava Centre’s cafe. We enjoyed it so much that we ran a bit late with our itinerary for the day, but it was so worth it!
Next we visited some of our most widely used accommodations, the village Hvolsvöllur and the Guesthouse Husid Hostel. The Husid’s owner, Jana, a lovely, welcoming host, showed us around her guesthouses and told us a few local stories of times gone by.
She informed us about her new accommodation that has been open this summer only a short walk from Husid. In keeping with her previous buildings, it was of course a very high standard. Cosy and warm and in the perfect countryside location, surrounded by mountains, Icelandic horses and glaciers, it was a place I didn’t want to leave.
Her dogs are absolute cuties too and we couldn’t stop ourselves from acting like kids and playing with them on the grass. We all wished we could’ve stayed a little longer!
Eyjafjallajökull Visitor’s Centre was our next stop. Since the Lava Centre explained volcanic eruptions in such scientific detail, outlining their causes and consequences to the landscape, it was refreshing and eye-opening to view the Visitor’s Centre’s portrayal of a much more personal and human experience of such natural disasters.
It tells the story of family who survived the eruption, living in a farm at the bottom of the volcano for generations, and how they managed to rebuild their farm (and their lives) in a heart-warming story of perseverance and hope. It’s the perfect case study. The 20 minute movie is moving and inspiring, as well as informative, and you may even be lucky enough to meet some of the family and ask some questions of your own.
Around lunch time we arrived at the stunning Skogafoss Waterfall. It was enormous. With the weather being so warm and the sun shining so brightly, we could fully enjoy its beauty and glory. An absolutely breathtaking place where you feel so big and yet so small.
Our leader and geography expert Cath showed us a little elves’ magic trick using the waterfall to create an optical illusion which was really entertaining. We stopped a little longer here and had lunch in the restaurant overlooking this magnificent waterfall – Icelandic lamb broth served with freshly baked bread.
Our next stops were Vik, Reynisfjara Beach and Dyrhólaey. We noticed that the souvenir shop in Vik is expanding and soon a restaurant and a cafe will be available to the public (nifty bit of knowledge for you!).
We did a bit of souvenir shopping ourselves before heading off to admire the beauty of the black basalt beaches. Despite the many warning signs along the beach, we saw that many people were far too close to the shore ignoring the danger. It’s amazing how far people will go for a good selfie opportunity! We of course stuck to the rules and still managed to take amazing pictures… it can be done safely! At Dyrhólaey we had the pleasure of seeing quite a few lovely puffins’ families. They were very tame and friendly and happily posed while tourists pictured them in their natural environment.
As the sun slowly set, we arrived at Sólheimajökull Glacier. We didn’t partake in the hike as it was getting late, but just walking around this ‘big man’ was truly astonishing. It’s hard to imagine that this colossal piece of ice is just a tiny part of a huge glacial ice-cap!
It was also saddening to see the damage being done to this wonder of the earth by global warming. It’s very easy to see, when you’re staring at the glacier and it’s staring back at you, that there is a reason for this rapid and unnecessary melting. Human beings. A face to face meeting with Sólheimajökull glacier made us humble and respectful of nature and its power.
Last, but certainly not least, was one of the most beautiful waterfalls we’ve even encountered, Seljalandsfoss. We arrived at the time when this breathtaking wonder of nature was bathed in sunset light. It really made us stop and stare for a moment. The view was something indescribable.
We all walked behind and looked out at the setting sun from behind a waterfall – an experience that only happens once in your life. We made a wish, as tradition tells us to, and breathed it all in. We could have stared at it for hours, days maybe, but we were already very late and definitely behind schedule. So we headed back to the hostel with faces glued to the car windows and gazes fixed on the waterfall we were leaving behind.
We stopped on the way for a pizza after this long, exciting day. Maybe pizza isn’t too Icelandic, but it was definitely filling and, having said that, the names of pizzas were rather Icelandic. Most of us ordered the ‘Hekla Explosion’ and lots of water was needed afterwards!
Saturday 19th August 2017
It was our last day of exploring the South of Iceland today. We woke up early to enjoy the fresh breakfast provided by our host at Selfoss Hostel and put our bags in the car ready for another inevitably astonishing day.
The sun was still beating down upon us, so we knew we were in for something great. Our first stop was a flyby visit to the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant where we had a short time to look around inside the building, whilst Cath informed us of how a school group’s visit would usually unfold. It looked so interesting and we all wished we could have had a proper perusal, but we were back in the van before we knew it and off to Hveragerði.
In Hveragerði, we stopped at a small service station which had a few souvenir shops and a bakery – the sandwiches and pastries here looked too good to pass on, so we packed some up for lunch and took them on the road with us.
Towards the back of this little station was the Shake House; an earthquake simulation room where, four at a time, we stood inside and experienced what it feels like to stand in the dark during a 6.6 magnitude earthquake! Exciting, but a little terrifying to be honest.
Next on our agenda, another first for us all, was The Lava Tunnel Tour! After strapping on our helmets and head torches, donning our warmer clothes and lacing up our boots, we descended into the depths of a 5,000 year old lava tunnel.
Our guides here were fantastic. Engaging, entertaining and knowledgable, they guided us further into the tunnel explaining the geography as they went. Whist down at our lowest point, the lights were switched off (at everyone’s approval of course), allowing not a single photon of light to enter as we stood in the blackest of darknesses we’d ever experienced.
We drove from here, eyes out of the windows on another beautiful day, towards the mud puddles of Krýsuvík. Situated on a geothermal area of the Reykjanes Peninsula, these mud puddles bubbled and spat as the heat rose from the fissure zones and created the most wonderful colours on the land and rocks around them. With the smell of sulphur lingering in the air, we decided to head somewhere fresher to eat our lunch!
For lunch, to eat the bagels, croissants and pastries we’d bought earlier in the day, we stopped at Kleifarvatn Lake. Here we took in the gorgeous views, skimmed stones and rested up for a while in the sunshine before heading towards Stora Eldborg Crater, which was just magnificent.
A huge volcanic crater standing tall over the coastal landscape made us feel small and insignificant in comparison. Some of us took in the views all the way to the Westman Islands (we estimated this must be about 60/70 miles!), whilst others looked for crystallised rocks and lava formations in the crater’s ancient debris.
From here we set off for Gunnuhver Hot Springs via the Leif Bridge between continents and some more craters. The landscape was so barren in this direction and, with the weather on our side, we could see for miles and miles. We felt like we were standing on Mars!
We watched on as great plumes of steam and sulpher rose from the ground around Iceland’s largest power station (the second largest in the world)! This power plant was created to provide all of Reykjavik with geothermal, environmentally-friendly electricity. Iceland are light years ahead it seems in taking inspiration from the land and using it to support and look after the Earth and their homeland.
After spending some time in by the Reykjanes Lighthouse and its surrounding area, a beautiful coastal area with more phenomenal views, we headed straight to the world renowned and famous Blue Lagoon for an hour or more of pampering and relaxation at Iceland’s VIP status natural spa pool. This was a must in Iceland and after the last few days of hiking, trekking, walking and climbing we were all very excited for a muscle relaxing stay, unwinding in the hot water.
Rejuvenated and very hungry, we hopped eagerly in the van and put the pedal to the metal in the direction of Papa’s Pizza. What an amazing little gem in Grindavik this is! One of the owners and founders of this restaurant was expecting our arrival and, before jumping headlong into fresh local cod and chips, we were offered a sample of frozen Icelandic shark. It’s safe to say that this is certainly an acquired taste! But we were all glad we got to taste it for ourselves.
After a quick tour around the accommodation set up by the guys at Papa’s Pizza (beautiful little cabins by the docks), we headed back to Selfoss for the few hours of sleep that we could sneak in before our painfully early return to Keflavik Airport.
Sunday 20th August 2017
Waking up in the darkness of 2.45am for our return, we all felt glum that our time here had come to an end. We felt overwhelmed and unquestionably lucky to have seen the sights we’d seen this week, but saddened by the fact that we would see no more spectacular wonders from this point onwards.
However, we spoke too soon and the universe had something else in store for us, one more treat for us before leaving Iceland.
As we drove along a quiet stretch of road polluted by no light, but that of the moon, we were witnesses to the Northern Lights. Aurora Borealis! Nothing can describe the feeling of watching the sky dance before your very eyes, above your very head, in hues of green and blue. Some of us did a little dance in return.
We’ll spare you the details of our trip from the airport back to Derby. Most of us slept the majority of the way home! But as we wrap up this little tour to Iceland, all I can say is; this place is a geographer’s paradise and a wonder of the world, and if you ever get the chance to spend some time in this country, then you’ll leave feeling enlightened, inspired and truly lucky to be alive!