After a four hour flight, eight Upper and Lower Sixth students and three teachers touched down in the Land of Ice and Fire. On the journey to our hostel in Rekyjavik we glimpsed for the first time the spectacular Icelancic scenery – hot vents billowing out vapour with volcanic rock and ash stretching for miles to our right in contrast to the great rock-strewn mountains that erupted on our left.
Exploring the the city of Reykjavik the next morning, some of us went to the impressive Hallgrimskirkja Church – designed by Guðjón Samuel in 1937, which was inspired by the fascinating shapes and columns formed when lava cools to basalt rock – an Earthly Valhalla. Others visited the ‘Sun Voyager’ a sculpture in the shape of a Viking boat, an ode to the Sun symbolizing light and hope.
That afternoon we began our second road trip to the next hostel. On the way, we stopped off at two of Iceland’s many striking waterfalls; Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. We lived to regret standing so close for a group photo as we spent the next few hours in the car in wet clothes! Nevertheless, the cascades of water were a remarkable sight and we soon arrived at our next hostel, Hvoll, situated in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.
After an early start, we made our way to Vatnajökull – the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland; covering just under 10% of the country. We met our guides and began our trek up to the glacier. With crampons strapped on and ice-picks in hand, we started our ascent up the frozen maze of towering ice formations. Deep blue crevasses carved their way through the ice and once more we were reminded of the beauty of this astonishing country. Having climbed up and down the vertical face of the glacier we tried our hand at crevasse rescue techniques before we descended back down to the ash and thanked our guides, Guested and Ali, for an unforgettable experience.
Returning to the Skaftafell visitor centre, we began our seven hour hike up
Kristimartindar. Every step across the crumbling slate and steep slopes was worth it. At the peak we were met with a breath-taking view, a sheer drop on one side, and a glacier on the other. Having signed the book at the top, we began our trek down the opposite side of the mountain, treading lightly over the snow that occasionally dusted the dark side. On the way down, we once again visited another ‘foss’ (waterfall) – appropriately named Svartifoss or Black fall as it was surrounded on all sides by dark lava columns.
Driving across the oceans of black ash, we arrived at Jökulsarlón, a glacial lagoon. We climbed aboard an amphibious vehicle and plunged into the water navigating round the cerulean coloured icebergs that littered the lagoon. A large chunk of the 1000 year old ice was fished out of the water and we were allowed to eat the ice, considering it an ‘Icelandic delicacy’.
After the boat trip, we walked on the beach. The contrast of sun on the beach with ice on the sand was strange, but very beautiful. Having driven to Höfn youth hostel, we explored the small Icelandic town where some of us unfortunately returned covered in a thick black sludge from deciding run across ash bog! Post-shower, we rested in preparation for the hike the next day.
Having returned to the glacial lagoon, we began a 15km trek across the flat near the mountains – an enjoyable walk through the spectacular monolith ridden landscape. After completing the walk, we drove to Vik where we dropped our things off at our next hostel, ate, and promptly left to visit the Black Beach. Furious waves crashed violently against the striking black volcanic sand with two ‘trolls’ ( large rocky stacks) bursting forth from the ocean and towering over the water.
Leaving Vik hostel, we travelled to Gulfoss. This can only be described as Iceland’s version of Niagara Falls – many metres cubed of water crash down through a gorge, dividing its way through the land – an impressive spectacle of the raw power of nature. Having observed another of Iceland’s many inspiring natural formations, we travelled to the next – the geysers.
A favourite stop along the Golden Circle is the highly active Geysir Hot Spring Area with boiling mud pits, exploding geysers and the lively Strokkur which spurts boiling hot water 30 meters (100 ft) into the air every few minutes leaving trails of steam across the sky and a pungent smell of sulphur. Geysir, Iceland’s largest geyser gives its name to all geysers in the world (meaning ‘to gush’) despite the fact that its 140 meter rush of water only erupts every few hundred years.
The Final Day
On our last day we visited the highly awaited Blue Lagoon. At 40 degrees Celsius, heated only by geothermal activity, the pale blue waters of the lagoon were extremely comforting after all our activity. Having covered every inch of our face in silica, we gently swam around the silica and sulphur rich waters. Black volcanic rock contrasts the soft colour of the lagoon on all sides, and after a couple of hours of floating or sitting in the steam rooms, we reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the lagoon.
We made our final journey to the airport and boarded our flight. We had all experienced an unforgettable week and have lasting memories of an extraordinary country, a land of ice and fire; Iceland.