Iceland is a fascinating country, albeit a little surreal...
Plunging into geothermal pools at Blue Lagoon
I have recently returned from a fascinating, if somewhat surreal research trip to Iceland, visiting Reykjavik and the south coast. On arrival in Keflavik airport we headed straight to the Blue Lagoon where we took a plunge in the steaming geothermal pools and caked our faces with a silica mud mask. Instant relaxation, an excellent welcome to this unique country.
Whale and Puffin watching
Next on the list, whale watching. The half-day trip is well worth it and there is a good chance of seeing Porpoises, Dolphins, Minke Whale, occasionally Humpbacks and a large colony of the much-loved Puffin.
Lava fields as far as the eye can see
From Reykjavik we headed southwards through lava fields as far as the eye could see. The country is the only land mass situated on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian plates are slowly pulling apart, so periodically lava rises to the surface literally changing the geography of the country. Iceland is one of the most geologically active places on Earth with more than 15 volcanoes that have erupted in the last century. Due to this volcanic activity a huge amount of geothermal energy is readily available and is used to power around 90% of Iceland's heating and hot water supply.
Hot tubs and comfort at Hotel Ranga, Southern Iceland
That evening we stayed at Hotel Ranga, an excellent hotel in southern Iceland offering comfortable rooms with outdoor hot tubs, exquisite cuisine and, from September to mid April, the Northern Lights. The following day we set off early to the newly built visitor centre at the base of last year's celebrity volcano Eyjafjallajokull. The story of the farmer's resilience and determination living at the base of the volcano throughout the ordeal was truly remarkable. The surrounding area is still coated in a thick layer of the ash.
Ice trekking at Myrdalsjokull glacier
Our next stop was just down the road at Myrdalsjokull glacier where we went ice trekking. The glacier has shifted back an alarming amount in recent years due to global warming. We only had time for a brief trek which we finished with a few blood-curdling shots of the local spirit The Black Death!
Glacier lagoon: host to Hollywood films
We then continued eastwards past the black sandy beaches of southern Iceland to the breathtaking glacier lagoon of Jokulsarlon. The setting is so spectacular that four Hollywood films have been shot there: A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. There was something serenely hypnotic and mesmerising about the aqua blue, multi-shaped icebergs floating ominously about the lake, I could have stared for hours.
Surrounded by snow capped mountains and the Atlantic
The landscape in south eastern Iceland is nothing short of awe inspiring. Continuing east from the glacier lagoon to my right was the Atlantic Ocean washing up ruthlessly and relentlessly against the barren coastline, to my left vast, snow capped mountains shot up from the earth and loomed over us imposingly. Creeping down through the gaps between the mountains, Europe's largest ice cap, Vatnajokull, iced the cake of this humbling landscape of sheer natural immensity.
Quad biking past lagoons and streams
The last evening was spent quad biking until midnight in 'the land of the Gods.' There is 24-hour daylight in Iceland during the summer months so tiredness doesn't set in psychologically like when it gets dark. The excursion was an incredible finale to the trip, passing herds of Reindeer, iceberg lagoons and glacial streams from which we drank the purest water. The following day we flew back to the capital from the quaint fishing village of Hofn, seeing the glaciers, mountains and volcanoes from birds eye view was a spectacular sight.
Volcano Grimsvotn eruption
Iceland is an astounding place where the landscape and forces of nature are so vast and powerful they reminded me that we are still very much dependent on and at the mercy of our natural surroundings. This point was consolidated the day after my return when volcano Grimsvotn blew its top and threatened for a few days to have the whole of Europe on its knees once again!