Published November 30, 2018
“This piece of ice is a thousand years old,” our boat guide exclaims. He holds up the ice between his hands for everyone to see. It was not before the guide allowed me to touch the ice—originally part of the Vatnajökull Glacier, now floating in the beautiful Jökulsárlón Glacial lagoon—that his words sank in: the glacier has outlived generations of humans. If global warming will not have its way, it will also outlive me.
At that moment, I was grateful I’d made the long journey from Reykjavík to experience this magnificent natural phenomenon.
We began our eastbound, day-long excursion to Jökulsárlón with BusTravel Iceland earlier that same day—7:00 AM on a cold yet sunny morning in Reykjavík. Throughout our trip, our guide Hannes shared historical knowledge and random facts about Iceland, such as the fact that Icelanders use geothermal water from hot spring sources to heat up their houses. Warm and personable, Hannes was proud to show us his home country and inform us of its many interesting quirks.
As we drove out of Reykjavík, I noticed that many people had taken advantage of this opportunity to see Jökulsárlón. The large bus that carried us there was nearly full. Yet the bus ride was comfortable and each person had two seats to themselves, should they need the extra space.
After a few hours on the road, we drove through Mýrdalssandur, a large black desert. Huge flat fields surrounded us on all sides and seemed to continue on forever. Only an occasional passing car served as proof that some form of civilization had to exist beyond these barren grounds.
Hannes told us that while this desert is inhabited by lupins during the summer, it has not always been so. Before the arrival of this flower, Icelanders would worry about this particular desert, saying that “the land is blowing away.” To help solidify the ground, Hannes said, the lupin was brought here because the plant was known to be gentle and retreat when other plants arrive. However, Icelanders did a miscalculation of the behavior of this plant in the Icelandic environment, and it spread like wildfire. Icelanders now have a love/hate relationship with this plant—although it suffocates other vegetation, it is very pretty, Hannes explains.
Ruggedly beautiful lava field
Although the countryside is beautiful, it can be easy to drift into sleep when driving for hours. Fortunately, Hannes had found a perfect balance between serving us pieces of information, leaving us to watch the bypassing landscapes in silent contemplation, and letting us drift into dreamland.
As we began to approach Jökulsárlón, Hannes explained to us that we were passing the biggest lava field in history, Eldhraun. Covered in moss, the field was breathtaking in its contrasting colours: black rocks as far as the eye could see, while a glowing, luminous green adorned the top of each rock, like big blankets.
“The moss is very fragile,” Hannes explains. He told us that he wished more visitors of Iceland were aware that you should take off your shoes and walk barefoot on the moss. “It’s a brilliant feeling,” he said. “And it saves the moss from breaking under our feet.”
When we reached Jökulsárlón some seven hours after boarding our bus, the beauty of the glacial lagoon didn’t pass us by unnoticed—many of us couldn’t help but let out a huge gasp at the sight of it. The clear, blue water looked like something you only experience at the movies, and the white, tiny icebergs—spread throughout the lagoon—made it seem like we were suddenly at the North Pole.
We were eager to get off the bus and hop on a boat that would take us out into the lagoon and up close to the icebergs. Once on the boat, we all marveled at the rich variety of shapes that these icebergs took: one looked like the Sydney Opera House while another resembled a giant duck.
Before heading home, we visited the Diamond Beach, only a 10-minute walk from the glacial lagoon. Located by the ocean, the black beach was adorned by beautiful, giant pieces of ice that have washed ashore. The sun shone down on us from above and made the ice sparkle like blue crystals.
Waterfall at sunset
On the way back to Reykjavík, we made stops at Stjórnarfoss, Vík, and Seljalandsfoss. By the time we reached Seljalandsfoss, the sun was setting. With the orange and pink sky as a backdrop, the beauty of this waterfall, the only waterfall in Iceland that you can walk behind, was simply stunning.
We drove back into Reykjavík at 21:30 in the evening feeling enriched from our day exploring Jökulsárlón and the south coast of Iceland. What a beautiful day we’d had.
About Our Guide:
Name: Hannes Ingvar Jonsson
Favourite part of the job: “I love being out in nature,” Hannes says. “This is the best office view I’ve had. Also, my job is ever-changing since new visitors come on every tour and I get to interact with different people each time. I love that.”
Strange guide moment: “Define ‘strange,’” Hannes says, grinning. “People always surprise me on these tours. We once had a guy from Canada go into the water at Black Sand Beach. That taught him a lesson! You should never go into the water at Black Sand Beach.”