Bárðarbunga eruption by Superjeep: what it’s like

Thursday, 4th September 2014

Destination Specialist

iceland south west superjeeps daytours

Travel journalist and Wanderlust Associate Editor Sarah Baxter headed into the Icelandic Highlands by Superjeep on 3 September 2014 to witness Bárðarbunga volcano erupt – here’s her account of the experience.

Thank goodness it’s a more pronounceable beast. Bárðarbunga, not Eyjafjallajokull, is currently causing some excitement in Iceland. And rather than run a mile from a lava-spewing, ground-a-rumbling volcano, we were trying to get as close as possible…

Icelanders have an intimate relationship with their volcanoes. Inevitable really, since they’ve got stacks of them. And the ground they live on is still being formed by their various eruptions and eructations. “We are proud of them,” guide Saeli tells us as we lump and bump over the weird, black, barren interior, on our way to try to glimpse the latest crater to gurgle…

Our timing is both brilliant and bad. Activity around Bárðarbunga is on the rise. Exciting, but a worry for the National Crisis Coordination Centre, which has enforced a no-go area around the spew-zone. The big worry is under-glacier explosions and the resulting floods, far more devastating than a river of lava. Still, we are not deterred.

The journey towards Bárðarbunga isn’t exactly dull anyway. We pass the dramatic leftovers of eruptions past: perfect craters, black desert, troll-like rock formations, electric-green shoots forcing their way into this lost land. ‘Lunar-like’ has never been a more apt description; indeed, astronauts train hereabouts.

But we are here to see one volcano in particular, and drive on and on, our Superjeep making light of the wild roads. We pull to a stop at a road block, where two mountain rescue volunteers are smoking a pipe, eating hotdogs and barring our way. It feels over cautious – we’re still a long way from danger, no? Then one of them points behind his shoulder: distant but now unmistakable, the towering puff of an angry volcano.

We’ve seen it! A long way off, but still… It’s not often you get to witness the earth venting its fury at such close quarters. But we haven’t finished yet.

We drive on, and just as darkness falls, top a remote hill. And there it is: Bárðarbunga, glowing pink-red on the horizon, like a surreal sunset. Or a really, really big bonfire.

We are around 18km from the main event. Maybe tomorrow they’ll open more areas; maybe tomorrow people will be able to get closer. But then that’s the nature of, well, nature. You never know what you’re going to get. Which is what makes the journey and the effort so worthwhile.

We watched for a while, part willing it to do something spectacular, part dreading that it might. Then, all that remained was to bid Bárðarbunga goodnight and make the journey home. With just the one stop – a quick leap outside to see a faint flurry of the northern lights. Or Nature showing off just one more time…


From live eruptions to dormant volcano explorations, for many years we’ve been sending our clients to experience the splendour of Iceland’s iconic volcanic landscape. Eruption viewing holidays and excursions are available now – call our Travel Specialists on 01737 214 250 if you’re interested in arrange immediate travel to Iceland.

You can read updates and analysis from renowned geologist, volcanologist and author Ari Trausti Guðmundsson, as well as more information about the volcano here.

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