How many shades of blue did you see today? We saw this many….
As if one day of glorious sunshine wasn’t enough, Iceland gave us another day like that today too! We couldn’t waste it so we decided to take a trip to the Jökulsárlón, one of Iceland’s largest glacial lagoons. Jökulsárlón is on the far south-eastern coast of Iceland, about 5 hours’ drive from Reykjavik. It’s a long way for a day trip but after the glimpses of glaciers we got to see yesterday, we wanted more! The drive took us past the farmlands and waterfalls we saw yesterday, and through the village of Vik. The other side of Vik the landscape changed from farmlands to lava fields. Great expanses of crumbly, ragged lava; some of it so new it hasn’t even been covered by moss yet*.
*Iceland’s Laki volcano began erupting on June 8, 1783, and continued doing so for months, causing a major environmental disaster. The volcano spewed out ash and toxic fumes that spread over northern latitudes, causing widespread losses of human and animal life. The ash cloud from the volcano caused a summer heat wave, widespread famines, crop failures and livestock losses – it’s even speculated that the volcano-induced crisis might have hastened the French Revolution. The following winter, record cold was seen around the Northern hemisphere. In Iceland the volcanic eruption caused a toxic mist to settle over the land for months, producing such devastation that 80% of their livestock and 25% of the human population died. The Icelanders call this time the Móðuharðindin (translation = The Misty Hard Times). The lava flow from the Laki explosion was the largest ever recorded and is so recent that it is mostly still barren, with just a light covering of moss over it.
After about 4 hours Vatnajökull began to appear in the distance. This massive glacier is Europe’s largest – it covers a surface area of 8,100km2 and is 500-1,000m thick. The glacier conceals a number of mountains, valleys, plateaus and volcanos, reaching a maximum height of 2,000m above sea level and a low point of 300m below sea level. This thing is HUGE!
We were able to get really close to the edge of the glacier which was amazing; to see something of such magnitude and force sure does leave you feeling insignificant and small. This glacier was grinding its way past mountains, creating valleys and flattening hills long before humans even existed; no doubt it will still be there shaping the landscape long after we are gone.
Jökulsárlón lagoon sits on the southern edge of Vatnajökull. The lake connects directly to the ocean and waters flowing off the glacier flow through the lake on their way out to sea. The lake is filled with fish (e.g. herring, trout, salmon) and seals gather in large numbers at the mouth of the lake to catch fish during the winter (in summer the seals are out at sea eating and having babies). It’s a big lake – over 284m deep and covering an area of 18km2; it wasn’t always that big however, the size of the lake has increased four-fold since the 1970s. This is believed to be due to Global Warming, though no one knows for sure (all over Iceland glaciers are retreating and thinning though so something is going on). With the waters a deep aquamarine blue and numerous icebergs bobbing around in the frigid waters, Jökulsárlón looked like something off a postcard – it just didn’t look real (felt VERY real when we stuck a hand in the water however – the water hovers around 2-3C in summer and often freezes over in winter).
We spent as much time as we could walking around the lake and were even able to cruise around the lake on a boat, getting close enough to some of the icebergs to touch them. It was absolutely stunning.
After a couple of hours of admiring the lagoon it was unfortunately time to head home. Today was our last big outing in Iceland and WOW, what a day trip it was. If you’re ever in this part of the world and are trying to decide whether to make the effort to go all the way Jökulsárlón – DO IT! Today was definitely a highlight for us, something we will remember forever.