We drove past the lava fields on a gloomy day. It had rained in the morning and the green moss gave a bright contrast to the black volcanic landscape.
David, our tour guide, pointed at the mountains ahead of us and said: “We are nearly there. Do you see the green mountains over there? They’re called the Blue Mountains, Bláfjöll. And that’s where we’re going.“
We were heading out to Leiðarendi, a lava tube cave just a 25-minute drive from Reykjavík, at the foot of Bláfjöll. David explained that the name Leiðarendi means “End of the road“, and refers to the skeleton of a sheep found half way into the cave about 20 years ago.
Once we reached the lava field, David handed out helmets with attached torches to everyone and we walked down a small path through the lava fields.
We reached the opening of the cave and the eight of us—folks from the UK, US and Australia—stood gathered around our guide, who tells us about Leiðarendi: “We normally wouldn’t find these caves as they are underground, under the lava field,” he explains, “but sometimes there are small openings, or in this case, a part of the ceiling of the cave has collapsed, granting us access.”
He noted the rather unsettling fact that the Bláfjöll ridge is still an active volcano. “There are magma chambers underneath and scientists say that it is just a matter of time for an eruption to take place in this area. Not whether but when!” Scary stuff.
We started our descent into the cave over the rocks, which used to be part of the ceiling After reaching the ground of the cave and walking a few metres, we found ourselves in a red and brown coloured part of the cave, just big enough to stand upright. Basalt is a common volcanic rock formed from the rapid cooling of basaltic lava. It is usually grey to black, but the fiery colours in this part of the cave were due to the oxidation of its iron-rich minerals into rust, as our guide explained.
We continued our walk and the ceiling of the cave started lowering down. The rubble and rocks on the ground required us to watch every step as falling would have ended up as quite a painful ending to this adventure. We constantly had to move our heads up and down to watch our steps and our heads. Those parts of the cave with lower ceilings required us to duck; and at times, we had to squeeze through tight passages. It felt like cross country hike in a cave.
At the beginning of our adventure, David had pointed out basic rules in order to leave the cave as untouched as possible. “Sadly, a lot of people visiting the cave have broken rock formations, sometimes by accident as they did not know how fragile some of them were,” he concluded. As we walked further into the cave, it became clear why. We were looking at a plank that had been put up in the shape and size of a stalagmite, engraved on it was the year it was removed—a gravestone for the stalagmite. “In this case, the entire stalagmite was removed and probably traded, perhaps amongst geologists, sadly.”
Once we reached one end of the cave, David suggested turning off the torches. One by one we turned them off and when the last torch went off, we found ourselves standing in utter darkness. My head kept turning from side to side and I tried squinting my eyes thinking I would be able to see shapes or a hint of light. But, nothing. Just the pitch black dark. I felt as helpless as the sheep that lost its way and life in this cave as it gave it a name.
David began telling us a story to break the silence. In the background we could hear water flowing down the walls of the cave and dripping down stalactites.
On our way back out of the cave, we reached a fork. David gave us the option of walking back the way we had come from, or going through the more adventurous part of the cave. Of course, we all chose the latter option.
The most impressive rock formation were the thousands of little shiny shark tooth like stalactites covering the ceiling above our heads. The water dripping from the grey stalactites made the entire ceiling look like melting metal. It looked fascinating, almost magical, and we found ourselves gazing at the wonders of nature.
In the last part the cave, the ceiling was so low that we had to literally crawl on our bellies, moving sideways. After this last slightly tougher physical activity we heard David say: “I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.” However, I did not want this adventure to end. I wanted to see more of Iceland’s exotic and mysterious underworld.
Resting in the lava field
After we climbed out of the opening of the cave back to the surface, the colours of the Blue Mountains and lava fields just overwhelmed us. Having spent an hour in a dark space made the ‘outside world’ seem brighter and more colourful.
We followed David on the narrow path through the lava field until he stopped and told us to have a seat in the moss. When we all had found a comfortable spot to sit in, David pulled out a flask and cups from his bag and poured us hot cocoa. After an adventurous journey through the inside of the earth, we found ourselves overlooking Iceland’s picturesque green lava fields and comfortably seated on the softest—it was a blissful moment, and the perfect ending to our underworld adventure.
- Lava tube caves are found throughout the world in areas with volcanic activity. After a volcanic eruption, the lava flows down the sides of a volcano and along the contours of the landscape. The lava can be several metres thick. While the surface cools down and hardens, the lower part continues to flow below the surface in a tube like form. When the flow from the source stops, the remaining lava moves through to the end, leaving a hollow tube.
- Iceland has over 500 known lava tube caves
Price: 12,900 ISK
Duration: appr. 3-4 hours
Free pickup daily in the Reykjavik area