Intrepid Explorers in Iceland

On 26 October, twenty-six students and four teachers gathered at Little London to commence our journey to Iceland, an amazing five-day trip which was packed with stunning landscapes, natural wonders and exciting activities. 

After a 3-hour flight, Keflavik airport greeted us with blue skies, moon-like terrain and an encroaching sunset. Wasting no time, our coach headed straight to the ‘Bridge between Continents’. Symbolising the connection between Europe and North America, this bridge spans a fissure acknowledged to be the Mid Atlantic Ridge which runs through Iceland. We then walked among mud pools and steam vents, including the bubbling ‘Gunnuhver’, Iceland’s largest mud pool which lies in the shadow of its oldest lighthouse built in 1878.

After dinner, word started spreading among the group that conditions might be favourable for a viewing of the Northern Lights, or ‘Aurora Borealis’. To our astonishment and delight, streaks of magical green appeared in the sky above us, moving and then turning pink and purple. Everyone was in disbelief and ecstatic to have seen this famous phenomenon, and on our first night too!

On Day 2, we had the incredible experience of hiking the ‘Solheimajokull’ Glacier with its array of natural ice sculptures and deep crevasses. On the journey there, we were captivated by the seemingly endless expanse of green-grey lava fields and floodplains. We drove past the area affected by the 2010 volcanic eruption, where the ensuing glacial flood devastated the valley and the plume of volcanic ash rose several kilometres into the atmosphere, causing enormous disruption to air travel across northern and western Europe.

Armed with pickaxes, crampons and helmets, we then took time to explore and appreciate this beautiful glacier, speculating about its future in the knowledge that it has been receding in recent years due to natural cycles and rising global temperatures.

A quick visit to a black sand volcanic beach was a novelty as most of us had never encountered a beach which wasn’t golden coloured! The basalt columns and cliffs which towered above us were equally as stunning, especially considering that they were created by natural forces, or perhaps ‘trolls’ as Icelandic tales would say. Our final stop was to ‘LAVA’, a new earthquake and volcano centre built in 2017, that educates its visitors about types of volcanoes, why they exist in Iceland and eruptions across the years.

Our first stop on Day 3 was at a family-owned pure-bred Icelandic horse and greenhouse centre. In such an extreme arctic climate, it is difficult to imagine that tomatoes could grow there – but they can! With imported soil and bumblebees for pollination, carbon dioxide harvested from the atmosphere, geothermal heated water and electricity provided from hydroelectric sources to power artificial lighting, the tomatoes were plentiful.

Next stop was at the double ‘Gulfloss’ waterfalls. A spectacular sight in their barren, icy landscape, they drop around 33 metres into a mile-long gorge, carved out by the force of the retreating water. As we made our way around the Golden Circle route, we also visited hot spring geysers and a dairy farm for homemade ice-cream.

We then drove to the National Park of Pingvellir which straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with its rift valley formed by the diverging Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.  We gazed into the water-filled fissure Peningagja, its water crystal clear through having been filtered through lava, and stood at the site where Iceland’s first parliament was established in 930 AD.

As we made our way to the world’s sixth largest geothermal power plant, which powers the country using natural steam and hot water reserves, it snowed and we found ourselves in a winter wonderland. Following a tour of the capital, Reykjavik, it was bath time with a difference as we enjoyed the sunset while swimming in the silica-rich waters of the famous Blue Lagoon, drawn from a 2000m deep borehole. It was the perfect finale for what was an amazing and most enjoyable Geography field trip.

 

By Tazmin Barnes, Upper Sixth