On June 7, after years of preparations, Vatnajökull National Park was formally founded. The park is Europe’s largest national park and includes some of Iceland’s most stunning natural treasures such as the Vatnajökull glacier, Skaftafell National Park, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park and the surrounding area. Today the park covers around 12% of the country but the government hopes to increase its size to 15,000 km2 in the next couple of years, which will make the park cover 15% of Iceland’s surface. If that becomes a reality, Europe’s most powerful waterfall Dettifoss, the enormous Eldgjá canyon and Lake Langisjór will also belong to the National Park.
In her opening speech, Minister for the Environment, Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, said that Vatnajökull National Park is the largest nature protection project in Iceland’s history and that with its foundation a large step has been taken in nature conservation. She furthermore stated that the area is so distinct that with its preservation the Vatnajökull National Park could meet the strict requirements of becoming an UNESCO World Heritage Site in the future. At the same time, the area is expected to attract a growing number of visitors, which will help develop the region and create new job opportunities in the tourism industry. According to the Iceland Tourist Board, four new visitor centres are planned to open by 2012, to accommodate an estimated number of 30,000 to 42,000 additional visitors in coming years.
The extensive area is a unique natural phenomenon. Majestic mountains, stunning waterfalls and the continuous interplay between fire and ice creates a striking contrast in the landscape, with geothermal sites, ice caps, glacial rivers, active volcanoes, lava expanses, sandy wastelands and green valleys. Adventurous travellers will find plenty of activities within the Park’s boundaries, from ice climbing or snowmobiling on Europe’s largest icecap Vatnajökull, to river rafting down Jökulsá á Fjöllum. More relaxed excursions include sailing among ice-sculptures on Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, as well as the numerous scenic walking trails that lead through caves and canyons. Opportunities to explore the wilderness are limitless.
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