22 August 2017
Our final day in Iceland was jam-packed with more geological fun.
We drove along the coast of Southern Iceland to Reynisfjara, a black sand and pebble beach with very interesting basalt rock formations along the shoreline and in the water. The drive to the beach had stunning scenery. Those basalt sea stacks out in the sea behind me in the photograph are called the Reynisdrangar.
“According to legend,” explained Oregano, “these two formations represent two trolls who, one night, were trying to pull a ship out of the sea, just as the sun began to rise. As the rays of the sun hit the trolls, they turned to stone.”
I think, if you look closely at the Reynisdrangar, you can actually see the resemblance to the trolls.
I could also see huge glaciers, waterfalls and steam rising out of holes in the ground. When we arrived at the beach, we climbed on the basalt towers and into a cave hollowed out by the ocean. The Hálsanef is a rocky step pyramid formed by regular basalt columns. It was fascinating to see the underside of those columns.
The waves were very rough and boy oh boy, was it ever windy! I’m glad I had four friends who could keep me safe while I was enjoying this beach.
As if the rock formations, black sand and crashing waves weren’t enough, I got to see hundreds of adorable puffins flying overhead and sitting high up on the rock cliffs. Paprika let me look through her binoculars to see them up close. They are so cute and not at all mean like those Arctic terns we encountered on our hike to the Arctic Circle.
After spending quite a bit of time enjoying the beach, we hopped back in the car and drove to a waterfall known as the Skógafoss waterfall. This is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, with a width of 15 metres and a drop of 60 metres.
The sun had come out so we were treated to a double rainbow in the mist. People near the waterfall looked very wet, so I opted to hang back and just enjoy the view from a distance. But doesn’t it look absolutely magical?
“According to legend, there is a treasure buried in the cave behind the waterfall,” Paprika told me. “It was hidden there by the first Viking settler, Þrasi Þórólfsson. When locals found the treasure chest, they could only grasp hold of a large ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared; they gave the ring to a local church, where it was mounted on the church door. It is now in a museum.”
“So does that mean that there may still be a treasure hidden behind the waterfall?” I asked, intrigued.
“Perhaps? Who knows?” chuckled Oregano. “But I’d advise against trying to climb through that waterfall, Flat Kathy. You’d be swept away by the torrent!”
“Ah yes, that is true,” I sighed.
We were tired, but we still had one more exciting stop to make, Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park. This park has geological and historical significance. For two weeks a year, beginning in 930 AD and lasting until 1798, this location was the site where the Althing (or Alþing, an assembly representing all of Iceland) held meetings to establish laws and settle disputes. The National Park was founded on the 1000-year anniversary of the Alþing, in 1930 – and it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004.
“Geologically, this park is where two tectonic plates are separating,” explained Paprika, who had been studying her guidebook. “It’s the mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are being pulled apart at a rate of 2 cm ever year; this is creating the Thingvellir Rift Valley.”
“There are rifts and fissures along the edges of the plates,” she continued. “You can walk between those plates and see what the edges look like, so that’s what we’re going to do in a moment.”
Oregano chipped in – “If you are brave enough and can tolerate frigid water, you can actually don a dry suit, mask, fins and snorkel and swim along one of the fissures, such as the Silfra Gorge – where you would be swimming between two continents!”
Isn’t that fascinating?
“I can see Flat Kathy would love to do that,” remarked Cheerio, winking at me. “Should we?”
“Definitely not!” interrupted Paprika, wagging her finger sternly at me. “We promised Reggie that we’d look after Flat Kathy – and that we’d send her back to Cape Town after our adventure in Iceland. We can’t do that if she goes swimming!”
We opted to walk down and view the fissure while staying on dry land.
Oh my dear friends around the world, we have had such an amazing time visiting Iceland’s many wonders. The scenery, history and geology of this country make it such a fascinating place to visit! I hope you have enjoyed reading these stories.
And I will always be grateful to Paprika and Oregano, Cheerio and Chamomile for taking me with them on their adventure of a lifetime. Thank you!