Volcanic action in Iceland


About 1000 years ago all the Icelanders got together and voted to become Christian. There’s a mild irony in that fact, for two-hundred years earlier the pagan norsemen had driven the earliest Christan settlers off. Anyway, once the vote was taken, they took all their old pagan idols and tossed them into a huge waterfall – from then on known as Godafoss, or waterfall of the gos.

Godafoss was our first stop today. It’s a wonderful waterfall which has two wide arms. Although it does not fall a long way there’s an enormous power to it evidenced by the amazing noise. The edges of the approach are lined with moss and riven by small streams which made getting close into a great adventure.


We drove yet further East into fog. This was no misty, wimpy fog. It was an extraordinary, solid, tangible thing. At random spots the fog would disappear; looking ahead you could see the hard, sharp line where it began again. There was no gentle misty start to it, rather there was a clean line where within centimetres it went from clear air to dense white fog.


Sulfur everywhere
Sulfur everywhere at Krafla

Krafla is one of the most active volcanic areas in Iceland. As recently as fifteen years ago lava flowed and crevasses opened in the land. It was quieter than that today but no less impressive for all that. The land is a mixture of bubbling pools and steaming vents interspaced with incredible seas of broken, twisted, black rock. It really is an alien landscape, all acidic and filled with colours that scream unnatural to our eyes.

And of course the area was just filled with the smell of sulphur. Callum had real problems with the smell and managed only by using his buff as a gas mask. We walked right up into the hills, picking our way along broken lava tubes, spiky outcrops and drifts of yellow sulphur.


Namafjall is just down the road from Krafla. It’s a smaller area and in many ways less exciting. However it does have pools of boiling mud. Thick, viscous grey gloop boiling slowly out of the ground. Near the mud pools steam vents pour steam out with such force that they make a roaring sound like a jet engine. And between it all are yet more streams of sulphur. 


Onwards again we passed a large geothermal power plant, releasing clouds of steam up into the sky to meet with the low clouds, and then on to the Lake Myvatn thermal baths.
Relaxing thermal baths
Relaxing thermal baths

The water in the pools is a pale, pale milky blue. Once you are in you can’t see your hand more than a couple of centimetres under the surface of the water. And the water is hot, seriously hot. The temperature is somewhere around 40 degrees centigrade. It feels even hotter though when your head is out in a cold, windy 7 or 8 degrees.

After our long walk around the volcanic landscape at Krafla, the hot water was incredibly relaxing. It would have been easy to fall asleep just floating in the heat. There was a gentle smell of sulphur and everything had the slightly slippery feel of silica, but that took nothing away from a supremely relaxing experience.


Dimmuvorgir is a towering complex place of tall lava constructions. Here the lava flowed over water and trapped it. As the water turned to steam it forced the lava up and then out forming complex shapes and towers. Erosion then added to the wonder. The end result is a twisty, jagged, fantastic place with towers with holes through them.


The last leg of our day was the drive to the tiny spot on the map that is Arbot. We’re really talking about being the middle of nowhere now – go somewhere obscure, drive past lost and keep on going when you get to remote. The drive was absolutely spectacular; spectacular in that huge sweeping endless-vista way that a photo can’t capture.
We drove for perhaps 15km through some of the most completely desolate landscape I’ve ever seen. This wasn’t the volcanic but interesting landscape of this morning. No, this looked exactly like the photos you see of the surface of Mars – relatively flat, featureless and doted with squared-off boulders, and without any sign of life. Because the road was made of the same dark, volcanic dirt there really was nothing except the yellow road-marker poles to indicate that you were on Earth.
And then abruptly it changed and suddenly the landscape turned green. Still rolling and flat but now all covered in thick moss and spiky grass. Every now and then there’d be a splodge of white or black – a single sheep eking out its existence. This went on and on, and then Iceland had one more surprise for us for the day.
We crested a hill and turned a corner and there spread out below us was an absolutely enormous valley floor. Way down below us was a vast, flat plain dotted with some farms and bisected by a river vanishing into a distant distance.


More geothermal activity
More geothermal activity

The hostel at Arbot is lovely. It’s small and homey and well-equipped. The boys are sitting watching Mamma Mia with three girls, two from Germany and one from Iceland. They’re pleasantly exhausted after a really full day.


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