Geology Rocks

Iceland is fast emerging in a blaze of sub-Arctic sunshine as one of the top adventure travel destinations of the moment. Its all-round appeal is undeniable: wintry pilgrimages to see the ethereal Northern Lights, wildlife enthusiasts taking to the seas for a chance to spot Orcas, humpbacks and dolphins cavorting in the waves, or the oddly appealing summer phenomenon of the midnight sun. With such high praise being heaped on this strange volcanic world, we asked our local partner Oskar Helgi Gudjonsson why Iceland is the place to be…

The ground shifts and churns. It rumbles, it explodes and belches steam and hot ash. Generally a landscape is assumed to be stable, a fixed phenomenon, but here the earth is alive, perched upon the fissure between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates around the planet’s core. Iceland is the geological love child of the most primal forces of nature: fire and ice.

 Exodus leader Sue Bishop. Fissure at Hverir. Credit: Exodus leader Sue Bishop.

No exaggeration is involved when Iceland is called unique. Nowhere else in the world do active volcanoes, ember-red lava fields and steaming hot springs rub shoulders with silver-blue glaciers that groan, crack and slide into the Atlantic Ocean. Nearly 12% of Iceland creaks under the weight of these glaciers, the largest found outside of the Polar Regions.

Exodus’ Sales Team Leader Ian Langford at a glacial lagoon Exodus’ Sales Team Leader Ian Langford at a glacial lagoon

Volcanic eruptions are mostly small, frequent but thrilling, spewing tempestuous vapours or hot ash into the air. The volatile nature of Icelandic volcanoes is no secret after Mt. Eyjafjallajokull hit headlines in 2010. In the wake of the eruption, new trekking routes have sprung up and it’s one of the most popular places to hike in the country.

Wilderness, wild and vast, is never far off. Forestless plateaux stand undisturbed, and in summer walking is popular across the boulder-strewn river beds to the foot of roaring waterfalls, diaphanous rainbows dancing the spray. Gullfoss waterfall is a staggering 32 metres high, just one highlight of Iceland’s ‘Golden Circle’ – a devastatingly beautiful ring of natural phenomena, including Strokkur and neighboring Geysir, the original geyser, and the striking Thingvellir National Park.

 Exodus’ Natasha Preston Strokkur. Credit: Exodus’ Natasha Preston

For a more tranquil aquatic dip, bubbling thermal springs simmer across the country. Bathing beneath pseudo craters, smouldering lava flows, the hot steam lifts off the surface in pale, wispy curls as the warmth soaks into your bones. Relaxation is complete.

Originally written in 2012. Updated and revised November 2014.
From Walking & Trekking or Cycling to hunting the Aurora Borealis: find out more about Exodus' Iceland holidays.