Iceland 2 –Identifying Landmarks
Iceland is the result of 64 million years of continual transformation and rebirth. It has been shaped by the unpredictable antics of volcanoes, glaciers and earthquakes.
Iceland precariously sits astride two opposing tectonic plates. The island expands at a similar rate as its coastline erosion.
I gleaned these facts, and others, from Perlan Wonders of Iceland exhibition setup in an extensive complex overlooking the capital, Reykjavik. Amongst the extensive exhibitions over four levels is an ice cave made from glacier ice.
The top floor is appropriately a revolving café/restaurant. Glancing through the facts of Iceland I could not help thinking they could have been referring to New Zealand.
Wonders of Iceland was a great experience but did not quite match the excitement of venturing to the real thing. Our experience included joining two guided day tours; one with Gray Line and the other with Reykjavik Excursions. Both were excellent. Guides were informative.
Gray Line treated us to the Golden Circle highlights to the east of the capital. A history lesson was at Bingvellir where we could walk through a cleft formed by an active fault line. It is claimed this wild site was where the Icelandic State was born during Viking times. Curiously, that inaugural so-called `first parliament’ agreed to introduce Christianity to Iceland. During the proceedings the ground violently shook with an earthquake. Participants questioned whether the idea of Christianity had upset their traditional Norse gods? Those present stuck with the Christianity decision. These days Icelanders are typically staunch Lutherans.
The first scenic blockbuster was Gullfoss Gorge where we were let loose to explore the furious waterfalls. In appearance Gullfoss was a threatening dramatic environment.
Gullfoss Gorge has been a Nature Reserve since 1979. It was formed when a flash flood in the Hvita River forced its torrent through cracks in basalt lava layers. The usual flow is 109 cu metres/second. It has reached 2000 cu metres /sec.
Paths and protective fencing allow for close viewing. The challenge was to keep my camera lens dry from continuous fine spray.
I was amused to discover a love story associated with Gullfoss:
``No-one can cross the Hvita River upstream from the waterfall, even on horseback. A seventeen century story relates to the son of a Brattholt farmer who looked after sheep in pastures upstream. Across the gorge a saucy girl from Hamursholt also looked after sheep. They noticed each other, and kept an eye on each other –the swift Hvita between them. A fondness blossomed. Eventually, the girl pleaded with him to come across. He found the shallowest place, and set out to wade the torrent. It must have been a harrowing experience for the girl to watch but he made it to her. How he was greeted is, sadly, not recorded. We are told they married and had many well-respected descendants.’’
Next stop was at Geysir (Icelandic spelling for geyser) to experience the thermal reserve and the active geyser, Strokkur. It curiously formed a large dome on the holding lake through which, moments later, the geyser blasted. Iceland is one of five countries with active geysers. New Zealand is among the others.
Reykjavik Excursions took us to the south coast. We paused to see the Eyjafjallajokull ice cap volcano. It infamously awakened from dormancy on April 14, 2010. The eruption was relatively small as far as volcanic events go. Nevertheless a plume of ash 250 cubic metres across rose to nine km. The ash cloud drifted south-wards across Europe disrupting air traffic. 10 million travellers were compromised. Reporters around the world struggling with pronouncing the name Eyjafjallajokull caused a perverse sense of pride amongst Icelanders.
Nearby we walked to the Myrdalsjokull Glacier which sits on the larger volcano, Katla. Katla has erupted about 20 times since Iceland was settled. The last occasion was in 1918. Volcanoes erupting beneath glaciers cause tremendous ice melting. Flash floods rising within a few hours can be 100, 000 to 3000,000 Cu metres/sec. Myrdalsjokull is Iceland’s fourth largest glacier and the most southern. Icebergs in the glacier’s terminal melt lake are tarnished with black ash. The same volcanic ash formed black sands along the nearby coastline.
Our day included several waterfall experiences, one (Seljalandsfoss) we could precariously walk behind. I made the dripping experience with some difficulty. On a final steep pinch a welcome strong hand gave a reassuring shove from behind.
We have stunning waterfalls in New Zealand but those in Iceland are enhanced by incredible volumes of water. Skogafoss, one of Iceland’s largest, tumbles 62 metres from a plateau. It is 25 metres wide. One looking for a thrilling, albeit wetting, experience can walk a short distance up the Skoga River to the base of the falls. The mist spray ensures a rainbow when the sun shines. We enjoyed a close encounter with Skogafoss. The miracle is we were not all drowned. Legend has it that behind the waterfall one can find treasure. A chest filled with gold and other treasures was hidden there by Þrasi Þórólfsson, a Viking Settler at Skógar (Eystriskógar) around 900. It is yet to be found.