Iceland, with a population of approximately 330,000, is a spectacularly interesting, and beautiful country, but in an extraordinary way. It is just south of the Arctic Circle, created by volcanic and glacial activity. The landscape is dotted by conical hills and "mountains", remnants of volcanic eruptions and explosions. The most prominent feature of the landscape is large lava flows, some of which are 50 to 200 kilometres long. Some have been covered over time by mosses and small shrubs. It is a volcanic "wonderland", a geologist's paradise. Much of the interior of the island is a desolate desert where most of the soil has been eroded. There are numerous high passes and picturesque valleys with rivers and rushing waterfalls fed by various ice fields, including the largest ice field in Europe. Travelling in June, we enjoyed almost continuous daylight. How difficult life in Iceland must be during the winter months of near continuous darkness.
The country is essentially treeless. At one time, many centuries ago, one third of Iceland was covered by forest. However, the trees were cut down for building and heating. Even with recent reforestation programs less than one percent of the country is forested.
As we travelled around Iceland we were awed by its many rivers and thundering waterfalls, its unusual landscape and rock formations. We took a boat tour to view the nesting grounds of a number of sea birds. The crew brought up a huge net full of various sea creatures such as scallops, star fish, mussels etc. which we sampled fresh from the ocean.
Another highlight was visiting an Icelandic horse farm where we had our lunch. We visited the barn and learned about the raising and training of Icelandic horses. We then went outside where the two young daughters gave us an exhibition of the 5 gaits of the Icelandic horse. Yet another highlight was whale watching. We followed a humpback whale in the bay for about 40 minutes.
Our tour included an exhilarating sail on an amphibious vehicle among the icebergs on a 8 by 3 km glacial lagoon formed by Iceland’s, and Europe’s, largest ice cap. (These vehicles were used by the Americans in Vietnam and some of them sport bullet holes as evidence of that military engagement,)
We paused by the twisted girders of a large, former bridge which was destroyed in 1996 following the eruption of a volcano located under a glacier. The resultant torrent of water formed a raging river moving at 30 km/hour, carrying icebergs weighing up to 2,000 tons. As those icebergs hit the bridge and its moorings, the bridge collapsed.
Almost 2/3 of Iceland’s population lives around Reykjavik. The climate is considerably more moderate here than in other parts of Iceland. Reykjavik is a bustling, modern city, with many new buildings, as well as trees and parks. It has a beautiful harbour. We passed the historical Hofdi House, where President Reagan of the USA met with President Gorbachev of the USSR, initiating the beginning of the end of the “Cold War”.
Like many other tourists each day, we travelled to the nearby “Blue Lagoon” where we luxuriated in the wonderfully warm waters coming from a nearby geo-thermal plant.
We visited the spectacularly simple Lutheran church, perched on a hill overlooking the city, its organ pipes arranged 15 metres high. We took an elevator up the church tower, for a wonderful overview of the city below and the harbour.
Icelanders are highly educated. Most people speak English along with Icelandic. Much in Iceland has to be imported and living costs are high. Iceland is also blessed with seemingly endless geo-thermal energy and hydraulic electrical power. Iceland is a uniquely spectacular country to explore, experience and remember. If you get the chance, don’t miss it! The next land journey departs June 2. Or if you prefer a cruise Iceland ProCruises departs September 2, call Craig Travel to book!