Seeing The Underworld Of Iceland’s Lava Tunnels

Seeing The Underworld Of Iceland’s Lava Tunnels

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Signe Smala
Words by
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Iceland’s lava fields have their own particular beauty. Their velvety moss carpets and waves of dark rock peaks have a peaceful vastness. But it’s not only the view that makes them special—the unique process of their formation has led to fascinating natural underworld, hidden to the unknowing passerby.

Curiosity to see for ourselves, we embark on a trip to one of Iceland’s accessible lava caves, located in Bláfjöll mountain range just east of Reykjavik. The adventure begins with the friendly guide scheduling me for a footwear change to improve ankle support—very important while staggering over sharp lava rocks.

Into the dark

After an hourlong drive, we find ourselves in the middle of a large lava field. The hidden entrance of the lava cave reveals itself just a two minute walk from the road—a round hole on one side of a rocky pit, with a path quickly vanishing into darkness. It doesn’t look very welcoming, but our guide leads the way. We flick on our helmet lights, and in we go.

Walking through the round tube of solidified lava, you see all sorts of peculiar formations, from fragile (almost) stalagmites to frozen lava streams on the ground, and colorful splashes on the walls. However, the thing that really bring this fascinating place to life is the explanation behind it. Our guide tells us all about how the cave was formed by boiling lava streams; how the molten, dripping rocks took just seconds to solidify, and have been hanging almost mid-fall for over 1000 years. Our guide’s words bring this frozen past to life, and I imagine myself standing in a fiery red tunnel of molten lava.

Underground weather

This tour has nice seasonal elements as well. In wintertime, it has a sparkly icicle-covered ceiling, whilst in summer it’s a rare shelter from the never-ending daylight. In spring and autumn, well—some indoor rain is present, due to the gathering moisture. So don’t forget your waterproof coat.

We continue into the tunnel, crouching, staggering and sometimes almost crawling through the ragged walls and aisles of the cave. The tunnel isn’t awfully long, so there’s no need to deal with any fear of getting lost in the depths. Those who suffer from claustrophobia might need to steel themselves for the experience, but to all other adventurers—buckle up your headgear, and go for it.

After the dark underground walk, we finally reemerge into the dim winter light. It’s nice to take a deep breath of fresh air. All in all, this tour offers the chance to learn about some amazing hidden aspects of Iceland’s nature, and have some fun, excitement and exercise in the process. Pretty nice, if you ask me.