Clive Stacey witnesses a volcanic eruption in Iceland
“I think we will find it difficult to find an experience to top this one…”
Our MD Clive Stacey writes about his initial reactions to hearing about the eruption in Iceland, and his own experience of viewing some of this awesome display of nature.
There’s an eruption!
In the early hours of the morning of the 21 March I was awoken by a text message from Iceland – an eruption had occurred at Fimmvorduhals, close to the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. I knew this could cause serious disruption for some of school groups and individual travellers either in Iceland or about to leave, so the rest of the night was spent trying to find out the extent of the eruption and when the main Ring Road would be reopened along the south coast – allowing free movement.
By 9 o’clock on Sunday morning our team was in the office, making sure everyone travelling with us in Iceland and those who were about to travel were fully briefed of the situation. Luckily by midday it was established the eruption was located on a small deserted pass between two glaciers (at Fimmvorduhals) and there was no danger outside the immediate area. Roads were then reopened, flights were allowed to leave – our website was updated and our team were free to enjoy what was left of their weekend!
On the Monday we contacted all those on our Volcano Hotline (register at firstname.lastname@example.org) and started making travel plans for those wanting to see the eruption. The first passenger left that evening.
As the week went on we found there was a great deal of interest in going to see the eruption – which was understandable as it is truly one of nature’s most impressive spectacles – something Iceland has more than its fair share of!
Off to Iceland…
Ten days later I found myself on a plane bound for Keflavik with two of my children Ben (16) and Gemma (13) – we had also been bitten by the volcano bug. After a comfortable night in the Northern Light Inn we had a relaxing dip in the famous Blue Lagoon. The weather was a little chilly but wonderfully bright and we took the seldom travelled southern route along the Reykjanes Peninsula – which I would really recommend.
By mid afternoon we arrived at my favourite hotel in Iceland – the ranch style Hotel Ranga. I have known the manager Bjorn and the owner Friðrik for many years and both have become good friends. It is from here that our visits to the volcano would start the next day. But, in the meantime we took life easy, relaxing over a game or two of pool and dip in a hotpot.
We stayed in the Japanese Suite with a view of the volcano some 30 kms away. That night in the restaurant we enjoyed some wonderful food with more views of the eruption – which as darkness fell became even more spectacular… and then the northern lights made a brief appearance. Not a bad way to round off the day!
Just after lunch the next day we took one of the helicopters, based at the hotel for the most amazing flight I have ever experienced in my life. We flew over spectacular Markarfljotsandur outwash plains, followed the edge of the glaciers and finally came to the site of the eruption we had come to see. It certainly did not disappoint and we landed on a hill close by the volcano and stood in awe as the volcano belched out molten lava and thundered away in an amazing display. All too soon it was time to go and the helicopter returned to collect us. We bid adieu to the volcano and returned to Hotel Ranga – but I had a little surprise arranged for later in the day!
A few hours later we boarded a Superjeep – which was to take us in comfort over the glacier to approach the volcano from the ground. Driving Superjeeps is an Icelandic art and our driver, Ragnar was both skilled and great company. At the edge of the glacier he stopped to reduce the pressure of his giant 38ins tyres to 8 psi (normal pressure of a tyre is no less than 28 psi). We drive onto the glacier and proceed to ‘float’ over the surface.
The driver finds his way by Sat Nav and before we knew it we could see the evidence of the volcano all around us in the shape of ash which had added a gray speckled appearance to this normally virgin white world. We traversed amazingly steep slopes, but the traction of this super beast just seemed to cope with everything the glacier could throw at it and before we knew it the volcano was in front of us again.
As evening came the twilight made this gigantic firework display even more spectacular and then something even more amazing happened – a second fissure opened and we were now looking at a volcano with two vents! The new vent was some 450 metres long and as it burst into life we felt privileged to be amongst the handful of people on the planet who have witnessed such an event.
As night fell and temperatures dropped to around minus 20 it was time to head back to civilisation. It was just amazing to have time to reflect in the warm comfortable vehicle, as it blasted across a glacier with only a Sat Nav display to confirm we were going in the right direction. And… before we knew it we were back at base. Time for a bowl of soup and a chat about the day before we crashed. The next day we were to return home – but this night we lay awake thinking about the amazing spectacle we had witnessed.
I have been coming to Iceland most of my adult life – and the kids have been here many times before. This amazing surreal island never disappoints but I think we will find it difficult to find an experience to top this one… but I’m sure one day Iceland will come up with something even more mind blowing – it has a habit of doing that!
Clive Stacey, Managing Director
Iceland, April 2010
Please note as a safety precaution a 1km restriction has been placed around the immediate area of the eruption and the resulting lava flow.