Fire and Ice in Iceland

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After my unexpected near-death experience on a snow-covered Icelandic mountain, I really didn't know what to expect from the second half of the “Essential Iceland” tour I had booked with Iceland Rovers.

In fact, for quite some time after our nose-dive off a cliff, we weren't sure there would even BE a second half of the tour, as the fall had severely damaged the steering of our driver's Land Rover. Lucky for us, however, Christian knew a thing or two about fixing cars (and Icelandic farmers are very friendly about you calling them up to use their tools), and our small group was able to continue onward, albeit a few hours behind schedule.

After giving up on the glacier altogether, we headed for the next portion of the tour — waterfalls, a lava tuba cave, and the largest hot spring in Europe. Fire and ice, both at once.

Iceland

Perhaps it was thanks to my earlier brush with death, or perhaps it was just because Iceland is freaking amazing, but I found this part of the country to be especially beautiful in a very raw, rugged way.

Our first stop was at Hraunfossar, a series of small waterfalls that stretch over half a mile in western Iceland. The waterfalls flow out of Hallmundarhraun, a gigantic lava field formed during an ancient volcanic eruption beneath the glacier Langjökull (hraun comes from the Icelandic word for “lava”). Again, fire and ice.

Hraunfossar, Iceland

This group of waterfalls, which fall into the turquoise Hvítá river, is not particularly high, nor do they flow particularly fast. But they are exceptionally beautiful.

Hraunfossar, Iceland

Even though it was raining when we stopped here, I couldn't help but take photo after photo.

Hraunfossar, Iceland

Just upstream from Hraunfossar sits Barnafoss, “waterfall of the children.” The story here goes that there used to be a natural bridge over the waterfall that local families used to use as a short cut to cross the river. Until one night when some local children fell off the bridge to their deaths in the river below. After that, their mother reportedly had the bridge destroyed (or put a curse on it, depending on who's telling the story).

Barnafoss, Iceland
Looking downriver from the falls.

From the waterfalls, we headed onto the Hallmundarhraun lava field, where we'd be going underground into the Viðgelmir lave tube cave. The lava field itself was amazing, as you could see how the lava had oozed and hardened over 1,000 years ago as it flowed out from under the glacier.

Hallmundarhraun, Iceland
Hallmundarhraun, Iceland

Hallmundarhraun, Iceland

The cave itself is fascinating. Lava tube caves like this are formed when flowing lava develops a hard crust on top, while the molten lava continues to flow beneath it. Once the volcanic eruption ends and the lava stops flowing, tube caves like this are formed. Viðgelmir, at nearly a mile long, is one of the largest known lava tube caves in Iceland, and is only accessible because part of its roof is collapsed at one end, allowing entry.

Viðgelmir, Iceland

We donned helmets and head lamps, and followed Christian down into the cave. The climb down was actually quite treacherous, as the ground inside the cave was ice-covered and slick. But by climbing and crawling, we made our way into the dark cave.

Viðgelmir, Iceland

Viðgelmir, Iceland

You can't go really far into the cave any longer (an iron gate prevents going in too far), but historians speculate that people lived inside here at one point. Signs of human habitation point to the likelihood that Viking settlers used caves like this as shelter — probably due to the fact that, because of how the cave was formed, it would have stayed warm for decades after the lava flowed through. Talk about geothermal heating!

Viðgelmir, Iceland

The sun even came out for a bit once we came out of the cave, making the vibrant colors of Iceland even more unreal.

Hallmundarhraun, Iceland

After slipping and sliding our way back out of the cave, we made our way to the last stop of the afternoon — Deildartunguhver hot spring near Reykholt. This hot spring is the highest-flow hot spring in Europe, producing 212-degree (F) water at a rate of 47.5 gallons (180 liters) per second.

Deildartunguhver, Iceland

I have seen hot springs before, but NEVER a hot spring where the scalding water boils 2 or 3 feet up into the air! Icelanders harness the power of this hot spring, pumping the water to nearby towns to use for heating.

Deildartunguhver, Iceland

More than any other day in Iceland, this one especially helped me to understand why Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice.

Which of these natural attractions would YOU most want to visit in western Iceland?

 

My “Essential Iceland” tour with Iceland Rovers was provided to me on a complimentary basis, thanks to the help of ICELANDisHOT. As always, all opinions are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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46 Comments on “Fire and Ice in Iceland

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  1. Fascinating journey and stunning pics my friend. I was on the edge of my seat reading about your harrowing experience over the cliff! Unbelievable! Loved the “Barnafoss” legend as well!

      Thanks, Jeff! So glad to hear you enjoyed this duo of posts! It certainly was an adventure I won’t soon forget!

        I’m wondering what time of year you went to Iceland, My wife and i are thinking of going for our 40th anniversary this summer. also is the blue lagoon temp consistent year round. a hot spring with perfect temp would be a dream come true i’m sure.

          I’ve been to Iceland twice – once in March and once in November (so basically winter both times). Summer is supposed to be lovely though with really long days. And yes, the Blue Lagoon is the same temperature year-round!

    I’ve been in a lava tube before but never with snow and ice inside it. Really beautiful and those waterfalls are spectacular in their own right.

      The lava tuba cave was SO much cooler than I had anticipated! I really had no idea what to expect before we got there, but it was really fun. And you are very right about the waterfalls – they’re beautiful!

    Is it safe to say its almost impossible to take a bad photo in Iceland!? This place looks incredible!

      I think it might indeed be safe to say that! It’s an amazing country.

    Those falls look amazing – the water seems to come from nowhere. The only thing missing is a sense of scale. I couldn’t work out whether the falls were 6ft or 60ft tall

      Yeah, it was weird seeing waterfalls emptying into a river with no other body of water visible nearby! As far as scale, it was hard to tell since we were across the river from them, but I’d guess they were no more than maybe 10 feet high.

    How did you go with pronouncing Deildartunguhver? We loved listening to our guide just roll it off the end of his tongue so easily haha. I think we did a similar tour and this looks just as awesome as the one we did! 🙂

      Hahaha, I didn’t even try pronouncing that one! Icelandic words are so hard!

    Wow! You were extremely brave to go into that cave! I love the pictures. Iceland is amazing and I remembered looking at your pictures about how they have no trees. Happy geothermal bathing!!!!

      The cave was so cool! I’m definitely glad we got to go in.

    I love the diverse landscapes of Iceland. you’ve captured it well. 😉

      Thanks, Cam! There’s certainly a lot worth capturing.

    Iceland does truly look amazing. Ever likely it is being hailed as a Mecca for photographers! Your photos look really amazing and the blue in the water looks so surreal.

      It’s such a cool place to take photos – you can’t find landscapes like this anywhere else!

    The section of waterfalls looks particularly beautiful. I bet it will be positively glorious if the sun comes out. No matter what sounds like a great trip, albeit exciting, trip.

      Yes, I can only imagine how great all the waterfalls in Iceland look under the sun! (I pretty much only saw the country under cloudy skies!)

    I have always wanted to go to Iceland. The pictures were enchanting, they make me want to go even more.

      Well if you ever get the chance to go, definitely do it!

    Raw and rugged may be an understatement but what a beautiful understatement it is! These pictures literally took my breath away. Iceland is now moving up higher on my list 🙂

      Iceland is one of those countries where even superlatives aren’t good enough to describe it. Glad you liked the photos!

    Beauty of the highest order! Its just fascinating, your pics and your narration.
    Iceland definitely looks other worldly altogether!!

      Aww, thanks Arti! Iceland is definitely unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been!

    Soooo pretty – this is totally worth a near-death experience! =P The blue of that water is just unreal.

      Haha, yeah, I’d have to agree!

      The water is indeed unreal! Probably due to the water filtering down from the glacier and picking up lots of minerals along the way!

    Totally breathtaking! I really would like to ride my horse through that wonderful country!

    Oooo! Those lava tubes sound like a fun place to explore! 😀 I wouldn’t want to get too close to that boiling hot spring though….

      The lava tube cave was VERY cool! A bit dangerous though, as it was all ice-covered and tough to climb down into, but it was definitely worth it!

      And you’d be smart to not get too close at the hot springs! These are definitely not the type you’d want to dip your toes into…

    Wow I have never seen such diversity in one area, what an incredible trip you are on.

      Iceland definitely is incredible. It’s amazing how much is packed into such a small country!

    Aside from the scary part at the beginning, this sounds like an awesome tour! I’m such a sucker for waterfalls, so I especially love those pictures. And the one with the rainbow, gorgeous!

      It turned out to be a great day, even though we didn’t have the best weather. Despite almost dying in the beginning, I would still recommend this tour to others! I just might add a little warning that things can get a bit hairy up in the mountains…

    Going to iceland and your what to wear was a great read! I am going in the winter so hopefully it will be just as good. What tour group did you use for this fire and ice tour?

    Thanks,

    TIff

      This particular day tour was with Iceland Rovers (there’s a link to the exact tour at the very bottom of the post!).

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