As the frigid lake swirls around and envelops you, it‘s not unusual to experience a sharp involuntary intake of breath. And as you slip below the surface a serene peace washes over you, delivering you from the turbulent world above.
Welcome to the cold, watery world of Daviðsgjá—one of Iceland’s best-kept scuba secrets.
Þingvallavatn—the liquid glacier
Þingvellir National Park has a crisp chill to it on the February morning that we arrive. The visitor centre is closed, its empty car park a reminder that Iceland has achieved yet another day of tourist-free status. However the park and its lake—Þingvallavatn—never close.
Langjökull, the glacier some 50km to the northeast, provides most of the water for Þingvallavatn. Ice melts and the run-off water spends years seeping through subterranean lava fields towards the lake, but this process makes it no warmer. Þingvallavatn remains a reliably chilly three degrees Celcius year-round.
At the north end of the lake lies Silfra, the world-famous site beloved of divers and snorkelers who come for its magnificent underwater fissure—a crack in the crust of the earth. But as beautiful as Silfra is, today’s mission is to investigate her darker, more mysterious sibling, Daviðsgjá—a dive site hidden five kilometres away, on Þingvallavatn’s eastern shore.
I meet my dive guide Clarence and after a brief run through what we are about to do, we gear-up and slide off the rocky bank into the lake. After that aforementioned involuntary sharp intake of breath—the suits don‘t cover your head, or your hands—we descend into the cold, alone. There is not another diver in sight.
The Daviðsgjá fissure—a crack in the earth
The landscape underwater is as breath-taking as the temperature shock. As we drop into the clearest water imaginable—no hint of cloudiness to reduce the visibility—huge angular boulders loom on either side of us, placed there by millennia of seismic sculpting to form a channel. Above the lake, the absence of wind creates a mirror-like surface, the underside of which reflects our watery chasm to make it appear twice as tall. The low, wintery afternoon sun glances on the lake, reluctantly illuminating the greys and blues of our rock and water cathedral.
The fissure is only six metres deep at this point; it drops to 21 metres further south, in parts inaccessible today due to the icy surface. But even in this relatively shallow water, the feeling of expansive space is striking, as is the sense of peace and solitude.
The only evidence of life that Clarence and I see is each other. The only thing to break the silence is our breathing through the scuba equipment. And the only communications to distract us from our thoughts are the occasional hand signals that divers flash to check in with each other.
As we move slowly through our private aquatic canyon, we eventually reach the edge of the ice above. The sunlight hits it and filters through, causing flashes and sparkles that catch a diver’s eye and tempt them further under the thick, solid surface. As we shallow up to take a closer look, our exhaled bubbles congregate under the ice, forming little trapped quicksilver pools that flow and dance. They’re attempting to find the edge of the ice so that they can escape upwards into the air; quite the opposite to us.
Eventually with our air supplies getting low—and our core body temperatures to match—we emerge reluctantly from our watery realm of ice, rock and light, and get stuck into the flask of hot chocolate thoughtfully provided by Clarence.
When Þingvellir‘s visitor centre is open again and the crowds have returned to Silfra, remember Daviðsgjá tucked away further around the lake. If it’s post-covid isolation you’re looking for, this may be the perfect spot.
You need to be trained in order to scuba dive, but you can book a snorkelling tour in Silfra—and other amazing Icelandic locations—with no prior training. Our thanks to dive.is and Go Car Rental for their help in making this dive possible.
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