Thursday, 24 October 2019 – Day 5 of Tour   –  Natural Wonders of South Iceland and Volcanic Centre

After a sumptuous breakfast, we boarded our coach and went to the Hotel Eldhester to collect the other group.  With our full complement once more, we headed south on Highway 1 to HVOLSVOLLUR to visit the LAVA VOLCANO AND EARTHQUAKE CENTRE.

Lava and Volcano Exhibition Centre

The Centre is an exciting technology museum, boasting engaging interactive displays and ingenious visualisations of Iceland’s volatile geography as well as scientific information from knowledgeable Iceland volcanologists.  There were quite a few sections where one could go. I was mesmerised by so much to take in as I wandered around and spent time on the interactive computer screens that provided insight into different volcanic and geological processes. 

I spent time in the cinema watching the 12 minute long film (a couple of repeat viewings) about the most recent volcano eruptions in Iceland and before long it was time to leave the Centre.  

­There are approximately 130 volcanoes in Iceland, active and inactive. About 30 active volcanic systems can be found under the island, in all parts of the country other than the Westfjords.

The reason the Westfjords no longer has any activity is because it is the oldest part of Iceland’s landmass, formed around 16 million years ago, and has since been pushed away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Because of this, the Westfjords is the only part of the country that has to heat its water with electricity, rather than using geothermally heated water.

Volcanic eruptions in Iceland are unpredictable but relatively regular occurrence. Since the turn of the 19th Century, not a decade has gone by without one going off, but whether they go off in a quick succession or spaced apart is quite random.

The most recent known eruption in Iceland was at Holuhraun in the Highlands in 2014. Grimsfjall volcano had a short eruption in 2011 and, more famously, Eyjafjallajökull. The reason the word ‘known’ is used is because there have been several suspected subglacial volcanic eruptions at different locations around the country that did not break the ice, such as Katla in 2017 and Hamerinn in 2011.

The threat to human life during volcanic eruptions in Iceland nowadays is minimal. Seismic stations around the country are excellent at predicting eruptions. Though most volcanoes are a long distance from population centres, the unexpected can still occur. When it has, however, Iceland’s emergency measures have been incredibly effective. 

As there are 130 known volcanoes, I am not going to try and go into any long detail as at the Lava Centre it was certainly a “crash course” on volcanology and the only one I can perhaps mention is  Eyjafjallajokull: Iceland’s Most Famous Volcano.  The Eyjafjallajökull is a stratovolcano, the most common type of volcano. A stratovolcano is built by layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash. It is the glacier on top that makes the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions so explosive and full of ash. Eyjafjallajökull is part of the chain of volcanoes that lies across Iceland and is believed to be connected to Katla, a larger and more powerful volcano in the chain. When Eyjafjallajökull erupts, eruptions from Katla follow within half a decade. So far, this has not been the case, although as many sources will inform you, Katla has been rumbling for years; scientists put out warnings every few months to notify the public of increased activity, and to remind them that the volcano is well overdue for a mighty eruption.

The name Eyjafjallajökull may sound complicated, but its meaning is very simple and can be broken down into three parts: “Eyja” means island, “fjalla” means mountains, and “jökull” means glacier. So when put together, Eyjafjallajökull means “glacier on island mountains.” – pronounce “Ei-ya-fyat-LA-yer-kittle) .

Why have I mentioned Eyjafjallajökull volcano? It made headlines throughout the world in 2010. Imagine being a broadcaster attempting to get the pronunciation of the volcano’s name.

There have been a few past eruptions of this volcano, but nothing of a similar scale. A rather small, but long eruption, took place between 1821-1823, and there were also eruptions in 1612-1613 and in the year 920, but not much is known about these.

At Christmas 2009 the volcano started to show signs of being active again. On 27 March 2010 it started to erupt. On 14 April 2010 Eyjafjallajökull started to erupt again heavily. Many people had to be evacuated.  Volcanic ash was thrown several kilometres into the atmosphere. The dust blew over northwest Europe on the 15th and 16th April 2010. It became very dangerous for planes to fly and so all commercial flights were stopped in most parts of northern Europe, where 20 countries had closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic, affecting nearly 10 million travellers, the largest air travel disruption since WWII.  The ash continued to be a problem in the airspace for the next month. This caused chaos for many air travellers, but in comparison to Iceland’s biggest eruptions in the past, it was a relatively minor event.

Towards the beginning of June, another crater opening was formed and began spewing small quantities of volcanic ash. Eyjafjallajökull was monitored for the next few months and by August was considered dormant. The 2010 eruption was the largest one in Eyjafjallajökull to date.

After we left the amazing informative Lava Centre, we travelled about 22 Ks to SELJALANDSFOSS  waterfall –  one of the 10,000 waterfalls scattered throughout Iceland and Seljalandsfoss is one of the most photographed. 

 Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

The waterfall has one drop and is around  60 m (197 ft) high. It is part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajokul that towers above the waterfall and the Eyjafjöll mountains feed meltwater to the river Seljalandsá which then runs down the slopes before finally descending off the Seljalandsheiði heath in the form of Seljalandsfoss waterfall of Seljalandsfoss and consists of pure glacial water from Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

After spending some time at the waterfall, we were back on the coach again heading south towards Vik which is about 60ks.

The road was quite flat with mountains on one side and farmlands on the other. There were quite a few farms that had their hay all baled up.

Our next stop was at the Skogafoss Restaurant, Hvolsvollur for lunch. The hotel is located at the foot of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

When we alighted from the coach it was blowing extremely hard. Erik was assisting me and it was a nightmare to get into the restaurant. I don’t mind admitting I was absolutely terrified and thought I would be blown away.  We finally entered the restaurant for lunch – a lovely meat soup that warmed me up and an Irish Crème. 

From the restaurant, was a view to the Skogafoss waterfall.

View of Skógafoss Waterfall from our lunch stop.

After our lunch and the wind had settled down, we visited the Skogar Folk Museum.

Skogar Folk Museum

Skogar Museum in Skogar, Southern Iceland, is a cultural heritage collection of 18,000 regional folk craft artifacts exhibited in 3 museums and 6 historical buildings.

Skógar Museum opened December 1st, 1949. Originally housed in Skógar Regional School, the museum was founded on the initiative of Þórður Tómasson, who curated the museum since its inception until his retirement in 2013, at the age of 92.  On the 70th anniversary of Skógar Museum,  Þórður (now 98) gave a speech and was applauded for his prolific work.

In the early years, principals of the Skógar school assisted Þórður in his efforts. During summer vacations, when the schoolhouse was used as a hotel, and the museum’s collection were exhibited in classrooms.

In 1952 the eight-oared fishing-boat Pétursey was donated to the museum by businessman Jón Halldórsson of Suður-Vík. Þórður Tómasson continued to collect more and more objects, and soon the museum’ space filled up.  

Once the museum had acquired its own facilities, work commenced on reconstruction of historic buildings on the site. In 1968 the first building was moved to Skógar and reconstructed; this was a storehouse from Varmahlíð under the Eyjafjöll mountains, built by Þórður’s great-grandfather around 1840. This was soon followed by a baðstofa (communal room where the household slept, ate and worked), kitchen with open hearth, parlour and pantry.

Many more buildings were gradually added to the museum’s collection, most recently a church and schoolhouse. All the buildings on the museum site have been brought to the museum from various places in Rangárvallasýsla and West Skaftafellssýsla and reconstructed on the museum site.

In 1990 an extension to the museum building was constructed. The fishing-boat Pétursey built in 1855, which was in use until 1946 was moved into the new building. For the first time the museum’s collection could be presented in separate sections: Fisheries, Agriculture, Handcrafts, Furnishings and Crafts and Natural history collection.

The Fisheries section contains a large collection of objects relating to fisheries along the south shore of Iceland. Fisheries in this region were unusual in that Iceland’s sandy south coast has no proper harbours; boats had to be launched from beaches that lie open to the North Atlantic waves. The centrepiece of the section is the eight-oared fishing-boat Pétursey,

The Agriculture section contains tools and utensils used on farms in olden times, riding gear, haymaking tools, dairy, woodworking and ironworking equipment, etc. In a subsistence economy, farming households had to be self-sustaining, making and repairing all their own tool and utensils.

The Furnishings and Handcrafts section contains a variety of everyday household items from olden times, including ornamental handcrafts made by both men and women: needlework, weavings, woodcarvings, metalwork, etc.

The Natural History section contains a variety of stuffed birds and animals, skeletons, eggs, plants etc., which was the private collection of Andrés H. Valberg from Skagafjörður.

At the back of Museum are reconstructed buildings of how the people of Iceland lived in past times. These buildings include a school house, a farm house that was inhabited until 1970, a church consecrated in 1998 the first timber house built entirely of driftwood in 1878. The house was lived in until 1974. Situated on the turf farm is a cruciform cowshed from 1880 until 1896 a sitting room. The reconstructed turf farmhouse and other recreated builds are excellent representatives of south Iceland building tradition. The exterior walls are mostly built of rock – hyaloclastite and basalt – and the roofs are covered with stone slabs, then turfed. Most of the wood in these buildings was driftwood. Other timber was always in short supply. The interior all from the 19th century until the oldest section in 1896.

We then drove around to view the SKOGAFOSS WATERFAL from the front.

Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. After the coastline had receded seaward (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skogar), the former sea cliffs remained, parallel to the coast over hundreds of kilometres, creating together with some mountains a clear border between the coastal lowlands and the Highlands of Iceland.

Skogass Waterfall and walking the 527 steps to the viewing platform

The majority of the group did not climb the 527 steps to the top of the waterfall on the official path alongside the cliffs surrounding the recess containing the falls to yield precarious top down views of not only the waterfall but also the view towards the Atlantic Ocean.  When the “climbers” returned we drove about 35kms to VIK.  The beautiful town of Vík rests at the southernmost point of Iceland, the fierce North Atlantic crashing into the black sands of the nearby coast.

In Vik

This was a stop to get provisions and have a meal if needed.  I wandered around the huge store and bought quite a few souvenirs.

It was then onto the coach to go to our accommodation in Hotel Klaustur in Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  It is one of the most tongue-twisting words to pronounce of any location in Iceland.   In Iceland. Kirkjubæjarklaustur =  “Klaustur,” as locals say. The town itself has a rich history, dating back to even before the first Norse settlement in Iceland, when Irish monks are thought to have lived there. The town’s original name was ‘Kirkjubær’ which literally means ‘Church town’. In the year 1186 a convent of Benedictine nuns settled in Kirkjubær and remained there until the Reformation in 1550. The word ‘klaustur’ meaning ‘convent’ was therefore added to the town’s name. Many local landmarks have names referring to the convent’s history, such as: Systrastapi (“the Rock of the Sisters”),  Systrafoss (“the Waterfall of the Sisters) and Systravatn (“the Water of the Sisters”)

It has developed into a village, the only centre of population in the district, with about 150 inhabitants

It is a short distance to many beautiful natural wonders of Iceland, like Jökulsarlon glacial lagoon and Skaftafell National Park and moss and lava fields.

We settled into the hotel and had our dinner.   Once again we were told that the conditions to see the Northern Lights were favourable so a few of us ventured out for a walk down to what was supposed to be a good spot.  Well, after going so far, Jenny and I decided it was too cold and the wind was bitter so we came back to the hotel.  It was quite exhausting battling the strong cold wind. As it turned out it was another disappointing night.  Thank goodness Jenny decided we made a better decision by returning to the hotel. Bed late again.                     Travelled approximately 200kms

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