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Iceland's Natural Wonders

By | August 7, 2014

Viking ship skeleton

Our trip started with a delicious breakfast at the Loki Café, in downtown Reykjavík, followed by a visit to the magnificent Lutheran Cathedral that overlooks the city. A quick visit to Perlan, the shopping mall situated on top of the hot water storage tanks perched atop another hill, completed our brief introduction to the city. The soothing voice of Tour Director Árni Magnússon soon lulled most of our weary, jet-lagged travelers to sleep during the hour and a half ride to our hotel in Borgarnes. Sunny skies insured a delightful afternoon visiting the boiling spring at Deildartunguhver, the home of saga writer Snorri Sturlusson, and the beautiful Hraunfoss waterfall, where water pours out of the rocks between two lava flows, all just a short ride through the countryside from the hotel. The day was capped with my talk about the plate tectonics of Iceland.

Day 2 was a ride around Snæfellsnes, the long peninsula on the opposite side of the fjord on which Reykjavík is situated, with world renowned volcanologist, Haraldur Sigurdsson, who grew up there. No one understands the geology of this part of Iceland better than Harald. In addition to the fascinating geological story, a stop at farm provided the opportunity to sample putrified shark meat, an Icelandic delicacy, chased with Brennivin, the Icelandic schnapps. Bekah, Cayce, and Lexi, three teenaged Journeys travelers, did not try it because their parents would not allow them to follow it with a chaser.

Grábrók, Iceland’s most climbed volcano, was our first stop on the third day. Nathaniel, who is 6 years old, thought it was great and brought a rock for me to break open. The horse show at Gauksmýri and the visit to the stables allowed everyone to become friends with the gentle Icelandic horses. After lunch in Blöndhós, we stopped at the old Viðimýri church, constructed of driftwood and sod. The afternoon ride through the mountains to Akureyri was full of glacially carved features. Many people ate on the balcony of a restaurant overlooking the harbor on the fjord.

Dettifoss Waterfall

Waterfalls and volcanoes were the theme of the fourth day. Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods, is where a local king threw his pagan idols into water when he converted to Christianity. Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall (above), thundered away as we ate a picnic lunch on the west bank. The volcanoes around the large lake, Mývatn, developed because the midocean ridge passes through the area. At least 10 different varieties of volcano can be seen there. Short hikes were done at both waterfalls, the Námaskarð  Hverir geothermal area, and the volcanic areas at Skútústaðir and Dimmuborgir.  Nathaniel was introduced to troll caves and spotted many of them throughout the day.

Good weather provided calm seas for our excursion to Lundey, the puffin island north of Húsavík, where we saw thousands of the birds. A volcano talk at lunch was followed by walks to the chaotic columnar basalts at Hljoðaklettar and the dry waterfall at Ásbyrgi. People spread out to enjoy the restaurants of Akureyri at dinner time.

We were up early for our morning flight back to Reykjavík. Unfortunately, cloud cover prevented viewing the magnificent glaciers and volcanoes below. A light drizzle accompanied us on our “Golden Circle” tour of Þingvellir, Gullfoss, and Strokkur geyser but good weather is not necessary to be awed by these places. The staff at the Hótel Rangá greeted us with open arms and we quickly settled in to enjoy its hospitality.


The most phenomenal day was kicked off with a talk about glaciers. It was followed by visits to the Solheimajökull glacier (above), Eyjafjalljökull volcano and visitor center, the Skógasafn folk museum, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, and the sea stacks and sea caves at Reynisfjara beach, with views of Dýrholaey sea arch. The only disappointment was that Katla volcano remained hidden in the clouds for the entire day. Many people had their picture taken while framed by a rainbow at Seljalandsfoss just before we returned to the hotel.

Jim Reynolds

Jim Reynolds is Professor of Geology at Brevard College, teaching all Geology courses and a section of Introductory Environmental Science. Since 1984, his research has focused on the uplift of the Andes in Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia and the geology of the Caribbean Plate. Jim has led international geological field trips since 1996. He made his first trip to Iceland in 1996 with a student group from the Netherlands. Since then, he has returned four times, leading student groups for the Geological Society of America and for Brevard College. Jim is an ardent environmentalist and a strong advocate for environmental issues. As a field-oriented scientist and educator, Jim is very enthusiastic to provide outdoor and hands-on learning experiences.

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