We landed in Iceland at 10pm on a Thursday … and with the sun high in the sky, walked to the airport hotel to crash. Considering the 2-hour time change from Denmark, we were officially beginning our journey (and adjustment) towards home.
The next few days showed us yet-another brand new world… waterfalls, rainbows, volcanoes, bubbling ground, exploding geysers, natural pools to swim in, new foods to eat.
But our very first activity was to descend 200m into the crater of a volcano– that’s the height of TWO Statue of Liberty’s– riding on the aluminum frame and ropes of a mere window-washing scaffold…
“Inside the Volcano”
WIth 500+ students travelling on Semester at Sea, you’re bound to get some awfully good suggestions on things to do elsewhere around the world. We were lucky that our friend Peter visited Iceland after the voyage and told us that going inside the volcano topped his list of recommendations.
Anticipation builds in the ~1 hour hike to the volcanic cone across a lava field… and after suiting up for the underground temperature, you drop into the crater. The ride down takes 6 minutes as the inside is MASSIVE. And once there, you can walk around and observe what’s known as one of the most important volcanospeleological phenomenon on earth.
The Golden Circle… Geysir!
Iceland, of course, is one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. Why? Because the island sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are moving apart – literally opening the earth’s crust.
Probably the most popular (and most crowded) set of tourist attractions are the three sites on Iceland’s “Golden Circle”, which you can drive in a day from Reykjavik. We rented a car and hit these sites– and a few others– in ‘backwards’ order to try to avoid the hordes of people visiting on tour buses.
Our first stop was “Geysir”… an area of geo-thermal activity which includes a number of geysers, bubbling pools and steam vents. The largest geyser in the area (“Geysir”) is currently inactive… but its smaller sibling “Strokkur” is still erupting every 5-7 minutes. Super cool! (and yes.. the kids even found some Pokémon in-between eruptions!)
Golden Circle… Gulfoss Falls
We drove onward to what’s usually the LAST stop on the Golden Circle… the amazing and famous Gulfoss Falls. This HUGE waterfall has multiple levels… and what you can’t see in any of the photos (and which we also couldn’t see in person) was the bottom of the second gorge where the lower falls dump and the river moves onward. Gorgeous!
Golden Circle.. the “Secret Lagoon”
NOT one of the “3 main sites” on the Golden Circle, the Secret Lagoon is a little out of the way and guess what.. WAY less crowded! It’s a geo-thermal area (there are a LOT of these in Iceland) where 100-degree C water (!) is bubbling up from inside the earth creating small geysers, warm streams… and one big lagoon you can pay to swim in. 🙂
Golden Circle… Thingvellir
Typically the first stop on the day-long Golden Circle tour, Thingvellir National Park is famous for a waterway and gorge which show the actual tearing between North American and European tectonic plates. At “Silfra”, there’s a lagoon that stretches the length of the gorge– and this is a spot where scuba divers and snorkelers can don dry suits (it’s COLD) and swim through AMAZINGLY CLEAR water that takes 20+ years to filter its way into the waterway. Sadly, our kids were too small for the dry suits, so someday we’ll have to return to Iceland to try the scuba dive at Silfra.
4×4 Tour – Þórsmörk Glacier on Eyjafjallajökull
The next day, we signed-up for a 4WD tour so we could get into territory our rental car wouldn’t manage. Our first stop was the Þórsmörk Glacier which sits right on top of the VERY FAMOUS Eyjafjallajökull Volcano.
Surely you remember Eyjafjallajökull and all attempts by worldwide newscasters to say it’s name! No? You sure? Well, the volcano’s eruption nearly completely eliminated the Þórsmörk Glacier, evaporating the significant majority of its water in a matter of days.
We deflated the tires of our massive 4×4 to cross over rivers and drive through ash and gravel to get to the glacier.. and it was super-cool to see the ice bridge– and massive empty chasm– that are left behind in the wake of the eruption.
4×4 Tour … Hiking the Ravine of Nauthusagil
After seeing the glacier, we stopped at one of many waterfall/river/ravines and hiked our way in. The kids were brave and tough– both Piper and Alexander had missteps that plunged their feet into the river… but we persevered, climbed a small waterfall, and were rewarded with a beautiful– and completely empty — waterfall.
4×4 tour… Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Unlike the Nauthusagil waterfall, the Seljalandsfoss waterfall is pretty famous… so it had plenty of tourists who were there to walk behind the spillway. We had a gorgeous day with sun and some gusting winds.. so as we passed underneath we’d alternate between dry and POURING water. Lucky we had our Gore-Tex!
Of course the reward for dousing was to see rainbows in the sun over and over. Just beautiful….
We had a few other great activities in Iceland before we headed home… stay tuned for ONE LAST BLOG POST detailing our spectacular last days!