Off The Beaten Path: Top Ten Unmissable Locations in North and East Iceland
When you think of the “must see” sights in Iceland, you would be forgiven for listing the sights found in the South West - Reykjavik, Geyser, Gulfoss, and the Blue Lagoon; after all, most visitors to Iceland visit this popular region.
With Discover the World’s direct flight from the UK to Egilsstadir in the east, from October 2017, it will be easier than ever before to get off the beaten track and explore what North and East Iceland has to offer.
During the Easter holidays, Sarah, Helen and myself were lucky enough to go and explore this lesser known region, and it is no overstatement to say that all three of us were blown away by the beauty of the landscape on this unforgettable road trip.
Our excitement grew for the journey ahead on our short internal flight from Reykjavik to Akureyri, when we were blessed with clear skies and a spectacular sunset over the Langjökull ice cap and remote Iceland hinterland. As we flew into Akureyri at the head of the Eyjafjörður fjord, carved out by Ice Age glaciers, I knew that the north wasn’t going to disappoint.
I hadn’t heard much about Akureyri, despite it being Iceland’s second largest city, apart from it being named the number one place to visit in 2015 by Lonely Planet. With a population of just 18,000, we found this compact city to be surprisingly cosmopolitan and it was easy to see why it had earned the accolade from Lonely Planet. Situated at the edge of the Arctic Circle, at the head of Iceland’s longest fjord (60km), Akureyri is surrounded by breath-taking mountain scenery and is a well worthy stop off for school groups. At the end of an action packed day the outdoor geothermal pool rivals those in the south with its slides and hot pots. I will definitely return to experience the ski slopes and hiking trails surrounding this beautiful city.
The Diamond Circle
The 260km long ‘Diamond Circle’, the north’s answer to the Golden Circle, offers a wealth of fascinating and beautiful natural attractions and really is a geographer’s dream. We travelled this route during the peak Easter break and yet we only had to share the sights with a handful of other tourists. At times hours went by before we saw another person. Given the choice, the Diamond Circle wins hands down for me, and these were some of our highlights.
Goðafoss, ‘Waterfall of the Gods’, or ‘The Beauty’ in contrast to ‘The Beast’ (Dettifoss), is considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. The 30-metre-wide waterfall, situated on the Skjálfandafljót glacial river, falls elegantly into a horseshoe shaped canyon carved into the 7000-year-old lava field. It certainly lives up to its name, and is not done justice by my photo skills!
The whale watching capital of Iceland, Husavik, is a quaint fishing town with a population of around 2,500. With spectacular scenery and a higher chance of seeing whales than anywhere else in Iceland, a boat trip from Husavik is a great year round activity. The most common species seen in Skjálfandi Bay are the white-beaked dolphin, harbour porpoise and humpback, minke and blue whales. Unfortunately our time didn’t allow for a boat trip; however we did stop by the Whale Museum, located in an old harbour slaughterhouse. This fascinating museum, works in partnership with the University of Iceland, and houses an impressive display of skeletons from a wide range of whales, including a huge blue whale. The friendly and enthusiastic museum team offer talks and guided tours to help you understand more about whales, their conservation and the controversial history of whaling. Highly recommended!
Situated on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, Mývatn has a landscape unlike anywhere else in Iceland, with an incredible variety of geothermal and volcanic features. The beauty of this area is that all the sights are just a short drive from each other, so more time can be spent exploring and learning about this unique landscape, with less time sat on a coach.
We found the first of these features, a group of pseudo-craters, and a short stroll from our hotel at Skútustaðir, on the southern edge of the enormous Lake Mývatn. The lake is Iceland’s fourth largest at 14.5 square miles; it is serenely beautiful with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. We took one of the shorter walking routes through the craters, formed by steam explosions when hot lava encountered the water, and stumbled across the film set of the latest Fast and Furious film. A variety of tanks, sports cars and monster trucks had descended on the frozen waters of the lake, which was apparently the cause of some local controversy when one car fell through the ice. Despite a detour via the trailers sadly we didn’t bump into Vin Diesel.
Dimmuborgir & Hverfjall
A short drive from Mývatn brings you to the impressive lava formations at Dimmuborgir. A choice of walking trails of different lengths (10 minutes to 1 hour) lead you through the twisted pillars of rock in this completely unique lava field. Lava formations like this can’t be found anywhere else in Iceland, in fact the only known feature similar to this is under water, off the coast of Mexico; no wonder we were impressed! According to Icelandic folklore, Dimmuborgir is home to a homicidal troll named Grýla, her husband and mischievous sons, The Yule Lads. Originally told as a story to stop children misbehaving, the Yule Lads are now associated with Christmas. I must remember to bring a homicidal troll into the stories I tell my boys to see if it has the desired effect!
A longer trail takes you to the top the Hverfjall volcanic crater, which looms over Dimmuborgir in the distance. Hverfjall is a tephra crater about 1 kilometre in diameter, 1,300 feet high and 140 metres deep. A steep path leads to the top where you are rewarded with spectacular views over the crater and Lake Mývatn beyond.
A little further from Mývatn, at the foot of the steaming Námafjall mountain, close to the active Krafla volcano, we stopped off at the geothermal area of Námaskarð. Over a large expanse of red and brown steamy ground we found an array of fumaroles, hot springs and boiling mud pools; an exciting visual reminder of the energy under our feet. Numerous trails lead you through the thick clouds of steam and if you have time you can hike the steep trail to the top of Námafjall, where you can fully appreciate the other worldly and contrasting landscapes surrounding Mývatn. The beauty of having all these extraordinary sights almost to ourselves made the trip even more special, and made us feel incredibly lucky.
Mývatn Nature Baths
At the end of a long day we ventured to the Nature Baths, nicknamed the ‘Blue Lagoon of the North’, and yet so very different, not only in price (£10 versus £40 per person). The Nature Baths offers a smaller, more intimate lagoon, with the most stunning long distant views. The 40°c soothing water was in great contrast to the -7°c air on the outside when we visited, and frozen hair is something of a first for me. The Nature Baths are not on the same grand scale as the Blue Lagoon, and therein lies their charm; however, they offer groups ample changing facilities and a small café with viewing gallery. We loved the Baths and were in agreement it was definitely our favourite swimming spot in Iceland and a must for anyone visiting the north.
Our last stop in the north, before heading onwards to the eastern fjords, was Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall; hence the nickname ‘The Beast’. Situated on a river flowing from the Vatnajökull glacier, the waterfall is 100 metres wide and drops 45 metres down into a canyon that leads north to Ásbyrgi, with its great hiking trails and rich vegetation. The backdrop and power of Detifoss are breath-taking and we were amazed to hear that during our visit the water volume was just one eighth of that in the summer months. ‘The Beauty’ and ‘the Beast’, two stunning waterfalls on the lesser visited Diamond Circle of spectacular natural wonders.
The north has so much to offer our school groups that want to get off the well trodden path and experience another side of Iceland; I promise you won’t be disappointed!
All you need to know about fieldwork courses in Iceland
Renowned as the UK’s foremost biodiversity and ecology education organisation, the Field Studies Council (FSC) welcome almost 3,000 schools per year to their 18 UK centres to study GCSE, AS and A-Level geography and science. But now, for the first time, the FSC are offering a range of fieldwork courses in Iceland exclusive to Discover the World Education.
With the changes to the new geography and science specifications at GCSE and A-level, fieldwork and practical work is now more relevant than ever for the school curriculum. These courses offer both geography and science students the opportunity to consolidate their classroom learning and develop new investigative skills in a completely new and totally unforgettable environment.
Here’s six reasons why fieldwork courses in Iceland are best suited to your student’s learning and development:
1 – High quality courses
The courses have been written by Field Studies Council tutors who have experience writing courses and schemes of work and delivering outdoor fieldwork session in the FSC’s UK centres. The Iceland courses are of the same standard as you’ll experience in the FSC’s centres.
2 – Satisfy the new exam specification
Both the geography and science courses have been written to complement the new exam specifications which are being taught from September 2016. They cover a number of topics, enhancing and complementing the work done in the classroom, as well as helping students to develop their practical and analytical skills.
3 – Tailored to your needs
The courses can be adapted to suit your school’s requirements. Whether you’d like a 2-hour taster suitable for GCSE students or a detailed 4-hour investigation for your A-Level class, the tutors will adapt the course and work as appropriate. There are also a range of resources which you can use after the course to help build on the work done and evaluate and analyse your results.
4 – Wide variety of topics
The courses cover a variety of topics on the geography and science specifications, allowing you to choose a subject (or subjects) which are most applicable to your lessons. Geographers might investigate the water and carbon cycles, tectonic processes and hazards or contemporary urban environments, whilst scientists can study ecosystems, variation, biodiversity, adaptation & natural selection and human impacts on the environment.
5 – Convenient locations
The FSC courses are available in four sites across south-west Iceland, close to Reykjavik, Keflavik international airport and the Golden Circle, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist routes. The courses can be easily slotted into the itinerary, making them extremely accessible for the majority of school groups following a typical Iceland itinerary. A great way to add further value to your tour, and demonstrate the benefits of an Iceland trip to parents or headship teams!
6 – Reliable and trusted operators
The FSC courses are available exclusively on Discover the World Education Iceland trips. Discover the World are the world’s leading tour operator to Iceland and one of the UK’s leading educational tour operators and have won a host of awards for their tours and educational resources. The FSC lead the way in outdoor learning, constantly exploring new approaches to improve the experience for everyone and striving to inspire, deepen knowledge and broaden horizons. Both organisations are Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge holders, recognising their commitment to the benefits of outdoor education, whilst ensuring strict safety standards are met at all times.
The fieldwork courses with Discover the World Education available between 15 – 26 October 2017 and 3 – 12 April 2018. For more information on the FSC courses and how you can get your students involved please click here
How does a study trip to Iceland work with the new geography curriculum?
The new Geography curriculum is set to be taught in September 2016. This post will explain why a study trip to Iceland is now as relevant as ever as it focusses towards the new geography school curriculum.
The table below, which identifies Iceland and its relevance to the new geography National Curriculum, marks Iceland as a study trip destination which is suited to 15 out of 17 topics. We have selected the top study topics in the curriculum that shows Iceland can improve a student’s understanding of exam-level geography classwork.
1. Glacial processes & Landforms & Management
Around eleven percent of Iceland is completely covered in permanent ice. Ice caps and valley glaciers are clearly represented – their margins are easily accessible and the landforms that they produce are readily studied. GCSE students will be learning about the processes that sculpted the UK’s glacial landscape in the last ice ages. A study trip to Iceland offers the opportunity to effectively travel back in time to see the power and influence of ice on the landscape. Students are given the chance to take an excursion out onto the frozen glacial tongue of Solheimajokull, to experience a hike over the surface of a glacier itself.
Glacial Walk Video
The nation‘s mid-Atlantic isolation and sparse population provide both threats and opportunities to their resource management. How do the Icelanders do it?
Being temperate, glaciers produce a lot of meltwater which carries vast quantities of fluvioglacial material towards the sea. The characteristics and features of these outwash deposits, glaciations including fjords and glaciated valleys, can be studied in several locations in both the South and West regions.
2. Climate change
Iceland’s glaciers are in relatively temperate environments compared to others at similar latitudes and so are sensitive and responsive to variations in climate. A study trip to Iceland will examine the impacts of climate change on the glaciers of Solheimajokull and Snaefellsjokull which are both retreating at a significant rate each year. Sea-ice has also become thinner in recent decades, with arctic-wide average thickness reductions estimated at 20% Students can ask themselves: does this confirm the established theory of global warming and what does the future hold for Icelandic glaciers?
3. A sense of place, Urban change and growth
The new geography specifications have a heightened emphasis on a sense of place and to support the 2016 curriculum change at GCSE and A level, we have introduced two new activities to help add further value to the urban change and growth modules. Students will have opportunities to use quantitative and qualitative field techniques to investigate the development and present day functions of Hveragerdi, a unique Icelandic settlement.
Iceland offers fascinating comparisons with UK settlements at Hveragerdi. It has many similarities with a large UK village in terms of services and development, but its identity and history are very different. It owes its existence to the hot geothermal springs that has a varied history of fuction and landuse, today providing for the advantages of living in a tectonically active area. Discover the World Education offer the optional case study trip to Hveragerdi town trail for GCSE case study fieldwork.
Hveragerdi Case study highlights
Hveragerdi is a town of 2,400 inhabitants in south-west Iceland. It is the first significant settlement reached by the Route 1 national ring-road as it heads south-east out of Reykjavik, a half-hour drive out of the city.
- The town lies in a rift zone as the North American plate drifts westward and the Eurasian plate moves eastwards, creating a separation rate of 2.5cm per year. This leaves the area prone to earthquakes, but usually weaker ones, rather than those at conservative or destructive boundaries which see a greater build-up of friction.
- At 15:46 on 29 May 2008, an earthquake with magnitude 6.3 struck with its epicentre just 2km from Hveragerđi and at a depth of 10km. It was the third strongest earthquake in Iceland in the last century. It lasted just eight seconds.
Students can also examine the sense of place and urban change of the capital city, Reykjavik. They will investigate how the physical geography of Iceland influenced the local culture and traditions of Reykjavik and also compare the similarities and differences of the Reykjavik infrastructure with other major European cities. Reykjavik provides a case in difference compared to most European cities, with rural-to-urban migration prominent through recent decades. Students will experience the changes and challenges that have led to and resulted fthe regeneration of zones of central Reykjavik
With a growing population and increasing tourism, Reykjavík is undergoing rapid changes. Spending time exploring the city is a great way to demonstrate how the nature of a city changes following the transition from an industrial to a service-led economy. In contrast to most European cities, Reykjavík is still experiencing rural to urban migration, so there are contrasts to be drawn with changes in UK cities. Iceland is seen as one of the most equal societies in the world. How do they maintain such a good quality of life and a sustainable urban environment? You can take a tour of the city on foot, by bike or in a coach to find out.
4. Food, Water & Energy Resource Management
The new geography curriculum is placing a renewed focus on resource management. It is well known that Iceland is a country of extremes. An abundance of water, geothermal power and fishing grounds contrasts with scant opportunity for many forms of agriculture, thanks to challenging soils and climate. The nation‘s mid-Atlantic isolation and sparse population provide both threats and opportunities to their resource management. How do the Icelanders do it?
Iceland’s precarious climate and remote location have caused a history of food insecurity. Today, innovative strategies from hydroponics to geothermally lit and heated greenhouses are used to provide a reliable and more varied food supply for the country. Food export is of great importance to the Icelandic economy. How do they ensure sustainability of fragile supplies?
Students are presented with a number of optional activities and excursions which present the issue of resource management in Iceland:
- Geothermal Greenhouses Tomatoes are grown all year, using state-of-the-art technology in an environmentally -The nation‘s mid-Atlantic isolation and sparse population provide both threats and opportunities to their resource management. How do the Icelanders do it? friendly way. Green energy, pure water and biological pest controls make for tasty and healthful tomatoes. Geothermal stations are found along the north-east to south-west axis across Iceland, where mid-Atlantic divergence creates magma intrusions as the plates separate.
Ljosafoss (Golden Circle)
- One of three hydroelectric plants that harness water from the River Sog as it travels between the lake and Iceland’s southern coast. Iceland’s hydroelectric stations are found along major rivers, mostly sourced by the nation’s glaciers. Iceland produces more electricity per person than any other country. Much of this is utilised by the expanding aluminium industry that contributes 5% of the country’s economy and represents a third of export values.
Both hot and cold water are plentiful in Iceland, yet conflicts over its use and supply can arise. Rivers and lakes cover 6% of Iceland, mostly sourced from glacial areas. Students can investigate how present and future climate change are impacting on the resources needed to sate the country’s increasing demand for residential and industrial water supply.
Iceland is blessed with abundant renewable geothermal energy, which has been harnessed for power and heating. Most homes in Iceland are provided with natural hot water and in the south it is widely used for horticulture. Visits to a geothermal and a hydro-electric power station provide excellent first-hand opportunities to view renewable and sustainable energy in motion.
Working in partnership with the Field Studies Council to provide field study courses in Iceland means Discover the World Education’s study trips provides students with invaluable hands-on experience and excellent case studies for both coursework and exam preparation.
Click here to enquire about a study trip to Iceland for your students.
Six Fantastic Reasons Why Morocco Should Be Your Next Study Trip Destination
Two adventurous teachers and their partners visited Morocco on our Hidden Gems trip at May half-term. Despite initial preconceptions about the country, they returned with glowing praise for both the destination and the wonderful people they met along the way. Discover the World Education caught up with the teachers to find six fantastic reasons why Morocco should be your next study trip destination.
1. On Morocco
Pre-departure, both teachers held several misconceptions on Morrocco, which were soon debunked on their arrival. ‘“I had some preconceived thoughts about what it would be like, with the main one about being a white English speaking female in a Muslim country. I could not have been more wrong; the people were honestly the friendliest bunch I have met in all my travels. They are such a proud and happy nation, who welcomed us with open arms, wherever we were.” SB
“We had many misconceptions of Morocco before we left for our trip: we thought we’d get hassled by people trying to sell us their wares constantly, that we’d probably get a bad stomach and that the country, especially Marrakech, would be frenzied and chaotic. This could not have been further from the truth. Moroccan people are genuinely some of the nicest I have met on my travels (and I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of different countries on various continents)”TB
2. The People
“My narrowed perception, clearly influenced by those who had never been to Morocco before, made me feel embarrassed. Moroccans are a warm and sociable people, who want nothing more than to help make your stay as enjoyable as possible. ‘In Imlil and the Atlas Mountains area especially, the locals say ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning. How are you?’ as you walk by. Bearing in mind we had never met these people, and were clearly tourists, we were humbled by their genuine friendliness and manners. In Marrakech, when we were approached by Moroccans asking us to go to their restaurants or peruse their stalls, they were welcoming and a simple ‘No thank you’ if we didn’t fancy visiting was enough to make them say ‘Ok. Have a nice day’.” TB
3. The Food
”The food was also incredible, whether you’re eating a tagine in a riad, sipping on fresh orange juice in Djemaa el Fna square or eating fragrant olives in a café. The dreaded stomach issues? They never materialised. Even my usually rather belly-sensitive partner was absolutely fine with anything and everything we ate (and the cuisine was so appealing that we ate a lot!).” TB
“They went to great efforts to ensure the food offered met my yeast allergy requirement, with plenty of delicious vegetables and fruit! I was so caught by how wonderful the food was that I bought my own tagine pot! Googling how to cure and cook in it, I was rather confused by conflicting reports and how food was cooked in saucepans/frying pans and only presented in the tagine. Mike was kind enough to let me loose in his kitchen to learn under the expert eye of Saied, where we cured and cooked my very first tagine! It was a wonderful opportunity that I will never forget! I actually cooked a lamb tagine following Saied's instructions when I got back, and my word...it was gorgeous!” SB
4. The Accommodation
”The Riad Siltrine was stunning… and the staff incredibly friendly. The accommodation had a rather romantic feel to the place. Dar Imlil was up another level - I don't think I've ever stayed in such fancy accommodation! Once again, the quality of our stay was seriously high, and the staff filled with good humour and smiles.” SB
5. The Itinerary
“The activities were pitched perfectly, and Mike was an outstanding host. He was very relaxed about what we wanted to do, and was keen to show us the different things Marrakesh and Imlill could offer. Not travelling for hours getting to various places was an absolute bonus. We had plenty of free time around the activities in Marrakesh to explore on our own, to try the different food, speak to people in the souks, and to chill by the pool. It was wonderful!” SB
“‘I spent longer at Education for All (a local charity whose goal is to provide education for girls in rural Morocco) whilst the others cycled, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the girls, learning about where they were from, their families, how much they love school and their aspirations for the future. What Mike has achieved with the schools is nothing short of inspirational, and it would certainly be a wake up call for many English students to see how grateful these girls are for the opportunity of an education. I was touched by their kindness and joy, and will not forget my time there.” SB
6. Morocco As A Study Trip Destination
‘In terms of potential for future study trips, we are still discussing the options. Morocco is now a contender and would have to be an outdoor classroom experience to enhance their understanding rather than coursework data collection. It might be that we conduct fieldwork local to us and use the residential as an experience instead. Doing it like this could put north Iceland back in the running, although after chatting to our students, they say they would much prefer to visit Morocco now!’ SB
‘I have a feeling we might change to visit Morocco in a few years when we are done with Iceland.’ TB
It’s clear the teachers had a fantastic time by praising Morocco for being a “brilliant country with great people”, and have now promised to return in the near future.
“I’ll be telling everyone I know about this gem of a country.” TB
“One thing is for certain; I will definitely be returning to this wonderful country myself for further exploration and to build more fabulous memories. Thank you, Sue, for putting together such a wonderful trip. If there are any other teacher inspection trips coming up, please do let me know.” SB
Earthquakes at Katla volcano, Iceland
A series of small earthquakes has hit Katla volcano in Myrdalsjokull on July 13th and 14th, up to magnitude of 3.1. This has caused no alarm but hit the news in Iceland.
Earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence in the subglacial caldera of the volcano. Earthquakes preceding an eruption are known to be much stronger than these recent ones, mostly of magnitude 4-5. The current seismic activity, along with other signs such as increased geothermal activity, minor flooding of rivers and displacements of GPS stations, does indicate that the volcano is in some kind of a pre-eruption state. Some of the earthquakes, over the past decade, originate at a depth of 15-25 km. They are thought to be signs of rising magma.
Katla has an active magma chamber that is thought to have been injected by magma since the late 1990s; a slow process that may ultimately result in a volcanic eruption that breaks through the ice, showering the environment with ash and pumice as well as causing a very large flash flood, as experienced in 1918.
The annual melting season at the Myrdalsjokull ice cap lessens the ice load on Katla and increases the water discharge in the glacier. Coupled with the tectonic forces, the water pressure changes and water flow can possibly explain the known increase of seismic activity in Katla from each year's summer ablation peak to early autumn the same year. The monitoring system around Katla is well developed, so that a pending eruption will not come as a surprise.
The green star denotes a quake of magnitude above 3.