If you’re into icy scenes then a trip to Iceland is a flight in the right direction as its landscape is filled with glaciers.
The Nordic Island nation continues to make great contributions to volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. They have a respect for nature and massive glaciers are protected in Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks.
If you’ve ever flown with Icelandair, you’ll likely know all of their transatlantic planes are named after Icelandic volcanoes. But now in celebration of 80 years of aviation Icelandair have opted for an edgy revamp and used the Vatnajökull glacier as its muse.
The new sassy flying piece of art is adding grandeur to the skies as its been spray painted by hand, by a team of artists, the same group who created the Hekla Aurora plane for Icelandair in 2014.
From its snow-capped volcanoes to its vast expanses of lava the Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacial mass within Europe and it stretches over an area of around 8,200 square-kilometres and a volume of 3,300 cubic-kilometres. It covers eight per cent of Iceland’s land mass and is considered one of the seven natural wonders of Europe.
After almost two hours of lounging the big moment had finally arrived, the Vatnajökull plane had made its grand entrance onto the runway. Its arrival ushered in a flurry of passengers taking selfies by the hand-painted Boeing 757-200 aircraft, bearing the image of the ice cap.
There’s no mistaking this fleet is a Vatnajökull glacier themed plane. Its design consists of an ice cave-like cabin interior, an electric blue-coloured LED lighting system and a “glacier soundtrack” to “create the right atmosphere”. The devil is in the detail on this flying piece of art, as the plane’s drinks trolley has been made into a “mini ice cave” while cups, napkins, and sick bags have also been decorated in glacier prints.
Meanwhile, the headrests on the seats have been decorated in white and turquoise hues with fun quirky Icelandic facts. Such as did you know ‘Iceland’s highest peak is in the majestic mountain range where the Southern edge of Vatnajökull rests?’ This short and sweet flight path to Iceland’s south east region is exciting as it gives the opportunity to have a sightseeing trip of the natural phenomenon of glaciers even before you land.
Of the four regions of the Vatnajökull National Park, the southern region includes the largest share of the glacier. As most of the park lies in highland area it goes hand in hand with unpredictable weather all year round, so you can expect all four seasons in one day.
After arriving in Egilsstaðir, our quest to the Vatnajökull to continued by coach as Iceland does not have a public railway system. The scenic route showcases some of Iceland’s south eastern treasures including the Hvalnes lighthouse. The signature orange building is the perfect and resplendent spot for great photos of the Hvalnes cliffs.
For us the weather was gloomy with rain, the rough winds from the North Artic Sea was raging as a wild animal, but nonetheless the beauty of Iceland’s Mother Nature couldn’t be dimmed. The adventure stepped up a gear as we headed to Höfn, an Icelandic fishing town famed for both its lobster and close proximity to the Vatnajökull glacier.
More and more privately owned properties in the vicinity have become attached to Vatnajökull National Park. We checked into Fosshotel Vatnajökull, an attractive hotel which has the spellbinding view of the majestic glacier as a backdrop.
After a scrumptious seafood feast at Pakkhús, a restaurant overlooking the harbour in Höfn, the night still felt young as we travelled to Hoffell. Uncovering both mainstream and secluded geothermal pools in Iceland is a must-do for any traveller in the country.
The Hoffell Guesthouse is one of the best places to ditch the thermals and be warmed up by nature in Iceland. With the clock fast approaching 11pm, the thought of wearing a swimsuit seemed insanity and a sure way to get pneumonia. But none the less I knew there was a method to the madness as I headed up the pathway to the five Hoffell hot tubs, situated by the guesthouse. The pools are fed piped by geothermal spring water ranging between 70 and 110 degrees.
With a million stars lighting a spectacular view of the mountains, glaciers, it was safe to say I was having an ‘at one with nature’ moment. It was exhilarating and made dealing with the six to nine degrees cold temperatures worthwhile.
The following morning we travelled to Hoffelsjökull, the eastern most valley glacier in Hornafjordour and where you’ll find the glacier’s ice tongue. Despite it shrinking a great deal since about 1880, the beauty of the mountains and the sun reflecting on the lake still make it an idyllic alpine spot.
Meanwhile, further up the road at Heinabergsjökull the landscape is desolate and rugged. We had the perfect mixture of hiking and exploring the jaw-droppping views up the glacier towards the ice sheet. In no other part of the country have people been as closely aware of the immense changes that have come with Global Warming.
Tinges of sadness struck me as our guide delivered the morbid verdict about Iceland’s glaciers losing an important part of its natural beauty. It’s hard to fathom that all I was observing will no longer exist in 50 years and will melt away due to climate change.
While hiking gives you the opportunity just to gaze at Vatnajökull and its guild of glaciers, there’s no better way to experience this incredible glacier than by a snowmobile.
On arrival at Glacier Journey’s headquarters, the guides gave our group of 28 a safety talk and explained what we could expect during this two hour adventurous activity.
Looking like a strong team of snow cadets we donned our electric blue wind and waterproof overalls and helmets and hopped onto our minibuses. It felt as if we were being taken on a top secret mission to meet our snowmobiles all under the watchful eye of the magnificent Vatnajökull glacier.
The terrain was rough but as we rode through this vast unspoiled sanctuary of rugged and wild landscapes, stunningly beautiful valleys and vast mountains the journey became exhilarating.
Once we arrived to our snowmobiles, we got on in our pairs and drove into the endless vision of white. While in the driver’s seat there wasn’t much for me to see as my helmet was being splattered with constant hailing of snow.
But nothing beats the feeling of getting to experience Europe’s largest glacier at very close quarters, with the added thrill of knowing that several active volcanoes are lurking under the hundreds of metres of ice below.
Snowmobiling is the most adrenalin junkie filled activity in the area but Jökulsárlón, with its floating icebergs is the region’s brightest gem. The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon tour is now one of Iceland’s best-known attractions, vying with Gullfoss and Geysir for tourists’ attention.
As we began to cruise on the waters between these majestic icebergs we had the perk of being given a piece of glacier to taste. These frozen maze of tall, towering ice formations are popsicle-blue due to the density of the glacier which absorbs every other colour of the spectrum except blue.
The continuous dance between forming ice and breaking ice, which creates the whimsical patterns on the sea’s ice, is simply a magical and awesome experience which words can’t describe and do justice to its natural beauty.
Mother Nature was clearly hard at work that day as she orchestrated for us to witness the rare sight of a big glacier, rocking back and forth, before breaking in half collapsing into the water. Always expect the unexpected at sea!
Contrary to popular belief Iceland is filled with beaches, the country is a volcanic island and therefore its beaches are created from volcanic minerals and lava fragments. A stop off at Iceland’s south coast to Reynisfjara black beach was worth the journey as its renowned for being the country’s coolest beach. It has pitched black sand and lots of pebbles to add to your collection if that’s your thing.
You won’t find chairs to take a seat on but taking a break to sit on the beach’s famous basalt columns is the perfect location to have a glimpse of the puffins nest on the cliffs above. With large caves to sit it is easy to find your Zen while watching the crashing oceans with snowcapped mountains in the far distance. Nature at its finest!
It’s safe to say a trip to Iceland will leave you with many waterfalls to see. Seljalandsfoss is one for the bucket list as it’s one of the country’s best known scenic spots and is almost never overrun with tourists. The waterfall drops 60 m (197 ft) and is part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Visiting this waterfall is a great thing to do if you’re on a budget as it’s free of charge but donations are always welcome.
Visitors can get up close and personal with the waterfall by using a walkway into a small cave which can give you fantastic though not entirely spray-free panoramic views.
There are also some little streams of water which you can drink from which are purer than bottled mineral water! The world is really your oyster when you book a trip to Iceland due to its geographic position. It is on the shortest flight path between Europe and North America which means it offers some of the quickest transatlantic routes.
After three days of a wide variety of nature and scenary my stopover in the land of geysers, waterfalls, volcanoes, giants, elves, lava, fields, glaciers and magic was coming to a magnificent end. A five hour flight to Toronto was calling!
From the UK, Icelandair flies from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports via Iceland to Anchorage, Vancouver, Edmonton, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Toronto, Orlando, Washington DC, New York (JFK&Newark), Boston, Halifax, Chicago and Montreal.
The Vatnajökull plane is in normal circulation and passengers can also request to fly in one through the airline’s website where they can see its latest available routes. The UK routes on which it is most likely to operate include Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, London Heathrow and Gatwick.
It will also serve other European routes as well as North American ones.
Belfast has become be the newest UK Gateway with flights already launching this month.
For more information on Icelandair and its flights head to http://www.icelandair.co.uk/