Enter The Underworld: Lava Tubes And Ghosts In South Iceland

Enter The Underworld: Lava Tubes And Ghosts In South Iceland

Jessica Peng
Words by
Photos by
Art Bicnick

It was just another day in Iceland in February. Heavy rain was pouring down, with howling winds reaching an impressive 40 km/h. We had scheduled a tour with our guide Erla from Fjallahalla Adventures, and I was worried that the inclement weather would affect the trip. But we headed out undeterred. Soon, we’d be out of the elements, as our first stop was underground, at the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel.

Finding Joy Division

Raufarhólshellir formed around 5,200 years ago when a volcanic eruption occurred near the Bláfjöll mountains. About a 30-minute drive from Reykjavík, the lava tunnel is near the road, and easily accessible. We put on helmets, headlights and crampons, and we were ready to go.

“As we walked into this ancient lava tunnel, it felt like we were entering a sacred space.”

As we walked into this ancient lava tunnel, it felt like we were entering a sacred space. Snow piled up under three naturally-formed skylights near the entrance. As we ventured further down the 1.4km long cave, the light started to become dimmer. Colonies of cylindrical stalagmites covered most of the ground, with twin stalactites hanging from the ceiling. If you look closely at one of these natural sculptures, you’ll see an intricate pattern. Oh, wonderful nature.

While carefully observing the texture of rocks, I discovered something surprising on one side of the wall: the album cover of “Unknown Pleasures” by British band Joy Division. Well, not exactly the album cover, but a geologic pattern that bore a striking resemblance. So in case you were wondering, you can indeed find Joy Division in a lava tunnel.

Soup by the sea

Our second stop was lunch at the Blue Sea Restaurant (“Hafið Bláa,” in Icelandic) located near Eyrarbakki on the South coast. The restaurant is a beautiful wooden house with an excellent view of the ocean and the wide black sand beach out back.

“The wind blew away my worries, and the roar of the ocean cleansed me.”

By now the rain had stopped, but the wind was still going strong. Sipping the delicious lobster soup, I looked out to the window, watching the ocean waves come crashing in. It was a mesmerising sight.

Hot chocolate and soup had warmed me up, so I decided to venture out to the beach. Standing still in the incredibly strong wind was a difficult task, but it made me feel alive. The wind blew away my worries, and the roar of the ocean cleansed me. I was able to focus on the present moment.

Elves and ghosts

The final stop of the day tour was a museum named Icelandic Wonders, dedicated to elves and ghosts. The museum is in the small town of Stokkseyri. We learned about Icelandic folklore centred around the invisible elves (“Húldufólk,” or “hidden people”), and a dozen vivid ghost stories from the past. It was slightly spooky, and a good insight into the dark side of Icelandic culture.

All in all, the day was nothing short of amazing. With focused attention from our guide Erla, the experience was inspiring, fulfilling and relaxing. I won’t forget about this trip for a very long time.

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