During the first bank holiday weekend of May, 13 members of the Discover the World Education team headed off to Iceland. The aim of the trip was to build on our knowledge of the destination but also to explore areas that most schools do not normally visit. Every single one of us had been to Iceland before on numerous occasions, as always seems to happen in Iceland, we all came away with seeing a different side of this amazing country.
Find out how we got on in some of the highlights of the trip...
The Snaefellsness Peninsula could entertain a geographer for weeks and is a little microcosm of Iceland itself. Only a couple of hours away from Reykjavik, sleepy villages and communities thrive in this extraordinary location which boasts dramatic coasts, lava flows and golden beaches. Driving on the peninsula was simply stunning and it dawned on us after a short while that we had been driving for about an hour and we hadn’t seen a single vehicle other than our own mini-bus. Despite being so remote in the country, there was something reassuring about this and it is difficult to pin down the sensation. The peninsula is crowned by the dormant snow-capped Snaefellsjokull volcano, which according to Jules Verne, is the beginning of the Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Budir, Arnarstapi & Hellnar
Nestled between lava fields and offering fantastic views of Snaefellsjokull sits the tiny town of Budir. Remarkably, Budir has beautiful golden sand beaches that stretch along the coastline of the peninsula. It is hard to think of a destination in the world where you can see so much variety. In just one view, you can see a golden sand beach, lava fields, a glacial volcano, a beautiful quaint church as well as dramatic cliffs. On the same day we also visited the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar which also offered us an astonishing array of geographical features. Huge variety of rock formations, basalt columns, hidden caves and blow holes were visible to us along a surf-pounded coastline.
Vatnshellir Lava Tube Cave
Perhaps the highlight of the Snaefellsness Peninsula was donning helmets and lights as we headed deep into the Vatnshellir Cave for a lava tube caving experience. Our specialist guide explained to us that the cave was hidden to the outside world for thousands of years before being discovered by locals. Today it is open to the public who can enjoy an hour long tour of the 200 metre cave, dripping with unusual lava statues and rock features. Towards the end of this experience, we were instructed to switch off our lights and witness total and complete darkness and silence, an extraordinary experience. Our guide had one more treat for us before we headed out, and that was to try drinking cave water, said to be the purest in the world.
Into the Glacier – ice caving experience
The Into the Glacier experience was a real treat and something that hardly any of us had ever experienced before, delving deep inside a real glacier and exploring man-made ice tunnels. The project began more than 5 years ago and has taken a meticulous amount of planning, researching and digging. Our excitement heightened when we were picked up in Jaki by a 8WD former military vehicle which was to be our transportation across the snow-capped glacier towards the cave. Luckily, we had outstandingly clear weather and we were treated with spectacular views at the top, even being able to see as far as the Westman islands. Although the 8WD journey was a fantastic experience in itself, as was taking in the breathtaking scenery, walking through the 800m ice tunnels with crampons on was the highlight. Inside the glacier walls we were able to see ash layers of Iceland’s historic volcanic eruptions, starting with the most recent Eyjafjallajokull 2010 eruption and going back to eruptions that happened tens of thousands of years ago. This was truly incredible to see and being inside a glacier was the perfect way to learn about glacial processes.
Hraunfossar & Barnafoss
At the foot of the Langjokull glacier is Hraunfossar, a spectacular waterfall nearly 1km wide. What is particularly special about this waterfall is that no source of water can be seen, despite the top of the waterfall being below eye level. The water, in fact flows from a lava field formed by a volcanic eruption underneath Langjokull. A stone’s throw away from Hraunfossar is another incredible waterfall – Barnafoss, where we witnessed rapids moving swiftly through a narrow channel of rock.
All of us had visited and enjoyed the Blue Lagoon before, so we were excited to be visiting the lesser known (as its name suggests)Secret Lagoon. Thought to be the oldest geothermal bathing pool in Iceland, the Secret Lagoon is set in a secluded location and has kept its authentic and Icelandic feel. As we swam in the 40°C water, we watched a little geyser erupt as we relaxed, unwound and reflected on what a fantastic few days we had just experienced.
During the three days we had been fortunate enough to see so much and the trip further cemented the idea that no two trips to Iceland could ever be the same. The Snaefellsness Peninsula was simply beautiful and we learnt so much from our guide Silke who had been so knowledgeable about everything during the journey. All good things must come to an end, so it was time to say goodbye to Silke and to Iceland and head back to the UK.