As soon as I saw the volcano erupting in Iceland at the start of the year and people getting a good peek at its incredible lava flows, I was itching to go. Covid-19 had other plans, though, and lockdown meant there was little chance due to restrictions at international borders and the resulting lack of flights.
Fortunately this wasn’t a short lived volcano. The last time it erupted, the lava kept spewing out for hundreds of years and the tourism chiefs of Iceland will be hoping for a similar outcome this time. So when the lives webcam of the volcano showed it was still active in the summer holidays, I knew it was time to head up to Reykjavik, the most northerly capital on the planet.
The volcano couldn’t be more conveniently located. It’s as if the whole thing has been planned to boost post-pandemic visitor numbers to Iceland. Lucky tourists will be able to see the eruption as they fly in to Keflavik off the skies are clear. From the airport, it’s a 30 minute journey to Grindavik – curiously twinned with Penistone in South Yorkshire and the nearest town to the site.
Newly created car parks and a refreshment van run by a guy called Helgi are now part of the infrastructure on a previous lava field created by the volcano centuries ago. From there, the party leads into the mountains. The eagerness to get closer to the volcano may surprise some people, but as a shield volcano this is very different from, say, the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii. As long as you don’t get too close, this is a friendly eruption that will cause little damage and have a big impact in the economy as people stay, eat and travel around the country’s newest attraction.
Approaching the lava field put down in March 2021, the first thing to hit me was the smell. The burning could be sensed long before you reached the rock, the gases and steam adding to the unique aroma being emitted from the now cooled and solidified lava. It has formed in the most amazing, intricate patterns, breaking into thin, glass-like shards on the surface and leaving hollow tubes beneath the hot lava continues to flow beneath the rock that was first to cool.
At the edge of the lava field, rocks that were already there sat half consumed by the new, menacing outpour. At every step, a stunning shape formed by the world’s newest rock has me reaching for the camera.
We climbed further up the mountain, through stream and eggy sulphur smells, but the clouds dropped and the rain started. There would be no view of the crater today. But fortunately we had more days to spare and so would be able to try again. And in a further blog, we will discover the real hot stuff.