Published December 20, 2017
“Greig, do you want to go snorkelling?” I was asked by a colleague, recently. “It’s mid-December!” I retorted. “You must be joking!”
As it turns out, it most definitely wasn’t a joke, and since this is Iceland, it most definitely wasn’t regular snorkelling either. It was snorkelling in 2°C water, between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates with Arctic Adventures. But before my date with the ice—and perhaps with destiny—at the Silfra fissure in Þingvellir National Park, the company’s Black and Blue Tour would first show me fire at the Leiðarendi cave, where magma flowed over 2,000 years ago.
Leiðarendi, meaning “end of the road”, is a 900-metre-long circular lava tube near a volcanic crater south-east of Hafnarfjörður. First mapped in 1992, the cave was named after the carcass of a several-hundred-years-old sheep found inside, which presumably got lost and couldn’t work out how to escape.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a stunning sunrise; the winter morning’s pink and blue hues accentuated by the desolate white-out of the snowy landscape. After navigating the cave’s treacherous, icicle-ridden entrance, the magma-smoothened walls and the ashen floor could be appreciated, with both serving as a reminder of the chaos that once occurred within. The ceiling, comprised of myriad drip stalactites, strangely resembled the wood-chip wallpaper your grandma used to have, only beautiful and igneous, not trashy.
In the second phase of the tour, we crawled through some of the more intricate, claustrophobic formations, before turning off our flashlights and immersing ourselves in complete darkness. When a whole 30 seconds had passed, the group became paralysed by fear that crawlers from ‘The Descent’ would emerge and we turned our flashlights back on, and briskly headed for the exit.
Jun Þór, a Japanese native who, after being in Iceland for over 20 years, is now a citizen. As an Icelandic language fanatic and a former resident of Denmark, you can banter with this polyglot in almost any language of your choosing.
Next came the pièce de résistance. After a short break for lunch and a 30 minute drive, it was time to do the unthinkable. In the biting -10°C midwinter, we layered up, pulled on our drysuits and mentally prepared ourselves for the plunge. On went the flippers, de-misting spit was applied to the goggles, and we were ready to go. “What am I doing?” I pondered.
I flopped into the stinging water and began to float along with the gentle current, face-down, the drysuit acting as a buoyancy. From the moment I disembarked the pier, Silfra’s beauty became apparent. If it hadn’t been so punishingly cold, the sublime, jagged rock formations could have convinced me that I was wearing a VR headset. “I know I’m awake, but it feels like I’m in a dream,” I thought.
When the ridge’s 18 metre depth was fully revealed, the previously turquoise shades descended into total darkness. For a few uncomfortable moments, I snapped out of my state of childlike mesmerisation and felt like I was a naive horror film protagonist, who after being lulled into a false sense of security, was about to be eaten. Thankfully, any ancient river monsters lurking beneath were kept at bay, probably by the terrifying presence of floundering, clueless foreigners such as myself.
Zolty, from Hungary: “You have people who come here with no snorkelling experience whatsoever and choose to do it here, so there are surprises.”
As beginner experiences go, the Black and Blue tour is surely one of the most visceral money can buy, exposing tourists to Iceland’s incredible extremes. If you want to go winter snorkelling in one of the world’s best destinations, book with Arctic Adventures here.
Livestream from the snorkeling: