Iceland – A mix of boiling water under the ground which shoots out of Geysers into the air, and frozen water which forms Europe’s biggest Glacier. With a hot core and icy mountain tops, the country of contrasts creates a battle of the elements: fire,water, and earth.
The island, which lies in the northern hemisphere as Greenland’s direct neighbour, is actually relatively isolated. A trip there is definitely worth it though, as the nature of Iceland has so much to offer! The most breathtaking waterfalls and Northern Lights, countless volcanoes, glaciers, icebergs, and stone and lava deserts… a true natural spectacle. Its a fitting destination for tourists who just want to be blown away by nature and are up for an adventure!
Nature of Iceland: the most extraordinary natural spectacles
Nature of Iceland: The unbelievable diversity of Icelandic volcanoes
Iceland is by far the world’s biggest volcanic island and that could well be down to the two earth plates which meet at this point! – The North American plate and the Eurasian plate. The drifting of the plates causes gaps, which are filled with magma. When the earth plates move towards each other again, the gaps get smaller and the magma is displaced, causing a volcanic eruption. Of course the process is a whole lot more complicated than that, but essentially that’s what happens. On average there is an eruption every 5 years on Iceland.
Sometimes these eruptions can even have an effect on other European countries. For example the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull… Do you remember? On 20th March 2010, the volcanic eruption caused an ash cloud to linger in the air, bringing air traffic from around Europe to a standstill for several days, affecting over 100,000 flights. Eyjafjallajökullis a glacier volcano which stands 1,666m tall and covers a surface areas of around 100km²!
Aside from Eyjafjallajökull, there are also many other volcanoes such as Askja, Katla, Surtsey, Heimaey, Krafla, Grimsvötn, Hekla, and Bardarbunga. The Bardabunga erupted in 2014 and it was only after a few weeks that it settled down again. Of course I’m sure you’d like to see the volcanoes in Iceland with your own eyes, and there are plenty of volcano tours, which can even lead you through a lava hole. Exciting, right? Seeing as volcanoes aren’t exactly safe, you should only visit them with an experienced guide.
Nature of Iceland: Glaciers – the opposite to volcanoes!
How can it be, that under the ground it is so hot, but the overground surfaces are covered with ice cold glaciers? During the Ice Age, when it was as much as 15 degrees colder than it is now, Iceland was overrun with glaciers. These days, 12 percent of Iceland is still covered in glaciers. Europe’s biggest glacier is Vatnajökull, which has a surface of 8300km² and has ice surfaces up to 900m thick. The glaciers even cover some parts of still active volcanoes. Apart from Vatnajökull glacier, there are also other well known and beautiful glaciers that are worth a visit.
Some of these are the Snæfellsjökull, the Sólheimajökull (which is also called sun glacier), the Drangajökull and, last but not least, the big name in glaciers: Eyjafjallajökull, whose name made headlines around the world in 2010 thanks to the underlying volcano Eyjafjalla’s eruption. Just like the volcanoes, you can also visit the glaciers, and there are also special tours where you can learn a lot about them and see how impressive they are in real life.
Nature of Iceland: Geysers and hot springs – another natural wonder!
A geyser is a hot spring with hot bubbling water which shoots fountains up into the air at regular, or sometimes irregular, intervals. This ‘blow out’ is called an eruption and can happen at any interval from a few minutes apart to months apart. When it erupts, a fountain can reach several hundred metres high.
Anyone that wants to visit geysers and hot springs in Iceland shouldn’t avoid visiting the valley of Haukadalur, on the so called “golden circle”. It is there that you will encounter many spectacular thermal springs. As you get close to a spring, you’ll notice a smell of sulphur coming out of them, which depending on the weather can be very intense! The hot springs are surrounded with a rope to mark out a security boundary, and ensure that visitors are safe. If you ignore these ropes and get closer to the geysers, then your feet will very quickly get burned, as the ground surrounding them is very hot!
Nature of Iceland: Waterfalls – one of nature’s gems
As if the hot springs and ice cold glaciers weren’t enough, Iceland has even more to offer you. How about some spectacular waterfalls, which are formed by the melting glaciers, and make the natural surroundings even more stunning? Here are the prettiest ones!
Gullfoss: The Gullfoss waterfall is one of the most popular and the prettiest. It’s made out of two tiers, which make for a lovely flow of the water. It is one of Iceland’s most famous sites. Many films have been shot here, so maybe you’ve already seen this scene in the cinema, without even knowing!
Dettifoss: In north eastern Iceland, you can find Dettifoss, the biggest waterfall. Some of you may recognise it from the film ‘Promotheus’ as it was the backdrop for some scenes!
Selfoss: This waterfall lies above the Detifoss. Firstly the water runs 10 metres downwards down the Selfoss and then after a kilometre, over the 45 metre high Dettifoss. Following which, the water flows over the 27m high Hafragilsfoss, on through the Jökulsárgljúfur national park, and finally past the Ásbyrgi canyon.
SeljalandsfossThis waterfall has a very unique feature. You can actually go through it, and look out from behind the waterfall. What a great view!
Skogafoss: Alongside the Skogafoss, there is a famous trekking path, the Laugavegur, which goes from Fimmvörðuháls and Þórsmörk to the Landmannalaugar-area. From above, you have another great view of the waterfall.
Svartifoss: The black waterfall that you see in the picture above, is one of the smaller waterfalls in the country. The water rages through basalt stone into the small river, which runs to Vestragil. There is 5km of hiking to overcome to get to Svartifoss, but the effort will certainly be rewarded.
Nature of Iceland: Fascinating Northern Lights
There is hardly anyone, who is not fascinated by the -probably most spectacular- natural occurrence in the world: The Northern Lights. Depending on which hemisphere you watch them from, they are either named Northern or Southern lights. Bright and colourful light paintings light up the night sky, creating an unbelievable spectacle. For as long as these light shows in the sky have existed, there have been countless sayings about them. Before, they were considered as a threat and a curse, but today, we know that there is no mysterious magic behind them, but rather it’s just caused by the interaction between the magnetic fields of the sun and the earth.
You’ve got high chances of seeing the lights in the winter months, between the end of August and the start of April. You just need to hope for a clear sky and some strong lights. In summer you can rarely see the Northern Lights because the sky is too light. This breathtaking natural spectacle attracts many a tourist, photographer, and scientist, who don’t want to miss out on seeing the lights once in their life, and I can only recommend it too. It already looks pretty cool in photos and videos, but it’s even better in real life.
So… have I awakened your wanderlust? Then pack your suitcase, Iceland is calling!