Exploring Iceland

Exploring Iceland

Friday 20 October, by Anna McIntyre

A 0700hrs departure from College resulted in a very relaxed check-in at Heathrow (despite the vast majority of the party being caught out at security!) before boarding the Icelandair flight to Reykjavik. Upon arrival at Keflavik airport, we were met by Petúr, our tour guide who astounded us with his incredible knowledge over the course of the trip. He then escorted us to the Bridge between Continents, marking the Eurasian and North American plate boundary (or Mid-Atlantic Ridge). We were given the opportunity to walk in 'No-Mans' Land', something no other country can offer! Following this, there was the opportunity to bathe in the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa at dusk, making the experience particularly atmospheric. Averaging temperatures of 30-40°C, everyone thoroughly enjoyed making the most of the lava scrub and silica-rich facemasks on offer.

A long day’s travelling culminated in a ‘pizza party’ at the local Pizza Restaurant; never before have so many pizzas been consumed by such a ravenous group! Morale was certainly high as we arrived at Hotel Smari on the outskirts of Reykjavik for the night.

Saturday 21 October, by Duncan Pinchen

A quick look at my Instagram account shows me that on Saturday 21 October I posted five pictures of the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen, one with your humble narrator perched before a two-tiered beauty and another one of Sólheimajökull glacier before a sunset shot of not only an amazing rock formation but also a black sand beach; but these seven photographs will not show over two hundred others I took as I was so in awe of Iceland’s unmarked natural beauty.

After a heavy day of travelling the day before, we were thrown head first into a day of exploring. We drove east out of Reykjavík towards the mesmerizing rising sun. Once we had escaped the ring of hills around the capital, we drove 45km to Hveragerði. As we got out of our bus, we were assaulted by a smell of rotten eggs saturating the air; it was sulphur in the air released from the local geothermal plant. We quickly became accustomed and looked at an exhibit detailing the 2008 earthquake; a particular favourite was the earthquake simulator which gave us an unpleasant taste of what it is like to be in an earthquake. We hopped back on the bus after sampling a few Icelandic sweets in the supermarket – Linda Buff anyone?

Next stop, Skogafoss waterfall, taller than Eagle Tower and infinitely more beautiful. We quickly bounded up the stairs to get a view from above and this did not disappoint; a view from the old sea cliffs gazing towards the distant, long retreated sea, in addition to the powerful stream of water falling over 200 feet below. After many photos were taken, but not before a view at the upstream waterfall just around the bend, a polar opposite to Skogafoss in shape; we tromped back down to tuck into lunch and inspect the equally impressive view from the bottom.

We set off again, this time for Sólheimajökull glacier, where after a quick crash course in crampons - and a warning about a ‘glacial facial’ (where one gets one’s crampons stuck together such that one takes a tumble face first into the ice) - we got stuck in to the ice, quite literally. My group, led by the amazing Robert, quickly got to grips with the ice and headed up through the moraines. Once on the main sheet, we looked up the glacier towards the enormous Myrdalsjökull ice cap. When we turned around to look down the valley Robert showed us the retreat of the glacier, which has been recorded at up to 50m per year – meaning visitors now have to walk an extra 500m to the glacier in the time he has worked there – a stark warning of the effect climate change is having on glaciers the world over. Feeling admonished we took the obligatory photos of the ‘icy boi’ and got back to the warm bus eager for our next challenge. Further east we went to Reynisfjara – a black volcanic beach with staggering, Giant’s Causeway like rock formations - Reynisdrangar cliffs at the eastern edge and towards the west Dyrhólaey, stubborn against the setting sun, putting Durdle Door or the Needles to shame. Against this backdrop perhaps the most impressive image of the trip, Max Sutton’s backflip with the sun behind him, which is quite spectacular.

We headed back west for Hella, our new home and once dinner was done, stood outside to catch a glimpse of the elusive northern lights. While not at their full green majesty we happily settled for a faint outline against the crystal clear stars.

Sunday 22 October, by Max Sutton

The day began with an early start and a drive past the area affected by the glacier burst from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption. We arrived in good time to catch the ferry over to the Vestmannaeyjar Islands for the day. It was a cold blustery morning and the scenery was breathtaking. The sea was calm and as we entered the little fishing harbour of Heimaey we got fabulous views of the volcanic cliffs from the boat.

After this, we went for a short driving tour to the other side of the island (Stórhöfði) where we walked up a hill to the third windiest manned weather station on the planet; four calm days are the limit in an average year and wind speed can exceed 100kph. It certainly lived up to its title! Then we had a great hike up to the top of Eldfell volcano crater (the site of the 1973 eruption), where we got brilliant views of the whole island. Next came lunch, followed by a tour of the museum explaining the volcanic eruption that devastated parts of the island in 1973.

We ended the island expedition with a trip to the local swimming pools to burn off some energy on the slides (everyone’s attempts to impress on the slide and trampoline were outdone by the local islanders) where a great time was had by all. Those who chose not to swim were lucky enough to witness a handball tournament being held in the sports hall attached to the swimming complex. Once back on the mainland, we had a short drive to two waterfalls (Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi, which are accessible only via stepping stones inside a gorge) which we could walk behind and even stand under if you were brave enough to challenge your raincoat. It was then back to the hotel for supper and relaxing after the busy day. Sunday was one of the highlights of the trip with lots of great experiences.

Monday 23 October, by Annaliese Goff

We had an early start on Monday to ensure we had time to fit all the activities in. After having a big breakfast and packing our rucksacks with what we would need for the day, we set off to our first location: the Keriô Volcanic Crater Lake. We walked up to the top of the crater and the view down was mesmerizing. Once we had wandered around the crater and taken advantage of the acoustics within the crater itself, we left for our next stop, Geysir! We all stood around with our cameras at the ready, trying to get the best video possible and after what felt like hours of waiting (it was, in fact, only 5 minutes), one geyser finally went off. Once we had seen a few more geysers in action (and even had a look at the Litli Geysir), we hopped back on the bus ready for our next stop.

We were all very excited when we heard that we would be stopping off at a surprise location to see Icelandic ponies! After we had fed some of the ponies (and taken photos, obviously!) we whizzed off to Gullfoss Waterfall. The double falls drop around 33m then plunge into a mile-long gorge; it was unbelievably beautiful. Once we had all taken photos of the waterfall and each other, we had lunch at the café before heading off to go lava tube caving!

When we arrived at Gjábakkahellir Cave we geared up with helmets and made sure our torches worked before we set off into the cave. It was very dark and wet in the cave, but it was such an amazing experience especially when we were told about some of the Icelandic myths. Our last stop before going back to the hotel was to the Thingvellir National Park, where we learnt interesting facts about Icelandic witchcraft as well as how far apart the North American and Eurasian plates have moved and the effect this movement has had on Iceland. We also saw some pretty amazing views of the landscape. Having taken a few group photos, we set off back to the hotel.

Arriving back at the hotel, we were given the option to go for a final Icelandic swim in the pool near the hotel. So some of us set off for our last activity of the day. At the swimming pool, there were around about four different temperature hot tubs, the main pool and of course some slides! After having multiple goes on the slides and testing out some cool tricks on them, playing some volleyball, relaxing in the multiple hot tubs and even trying out the ice bath, we wrapped up at the pool complex and headed back to the hotel, exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday 24 October, by Anna McIntyre

On the morning of departure, we were given the opportunity to explore Reykjavik before going to Keflavik Airport. Firstly, the group ascended the tower of Hallgrímskirkja Church (Reykjavik's main place of worship) in order to experience a panoramic birds-eye view of the entire city. After this, there was the chance to explore the city centre and purchase any last-minute gifts for loved ones back home. We made it to Keflavik airport in good time for the flight back to Heathrow, and made it back safe and sound to College by 2330hrs that evening, exhausted, but very content after such a successful trip.

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