Teacher Tales: 5 places in North East Iceland that take me back
About the Author: Paul White is the Head of Geography at Vardean School in Brighton, a large secondary school for 11-16 year olds. Paul also recently trained as a Teacher Tour Leader for Discover the World Education.
For years now, I’ve been longing to recapture the authentic, rugged Iceland that I discovered in 2001 on my first visit. I wanted to show my students the Iceland that I’d fallen in love with and I was finding that year after year, the South West of the island was becoming more crowded and losing its raw, untamed nature.
This year, after training to become a Teacher Tour Leader with Discover the World Education, I felt confident it was time to explore more of what Iceland has to offer, so with the help of my Travel Specialist I planned a trip to the North and East. We spent a mere 36 hours in Reykjavik and travelled the classic golden circle route before heading to this uncharted territory to explore a side of the island I’d not seen before, a side that reminded me of the remarkable island I first visited 16 years ago.
The trip was awesome, there was so much to see and do. It was a challenge to narrow it down but here are my geographical must-see’s.
5 destinations in North and East Iceland that can’t be missed!
1. Dettifoss waterfall and dry riverbed to the east
On arriving at Dettifoss, you could hear the rumble and thunder of the water cascading downstream. There are three excellent vantage points to see and talk about the waterfall where you can also see the splendid gorge that’s carved out the mountain downstream.
As you walk over to Dettifoss the track (from the east) takes you through an old river bed. This provided an excellent opportunity to talk about physical processes on both the riverbed and bank with students. As they walked they could really visualise the power the water has had on the landscape.
2. Leirhnjukur volcano
Here students were blown away by the sight of the 1984 volcanic eruption of Leirhnjukur and being able to walk amongst ‘fresh’ lava fields. The beautiful colours of the minerals and rocks in the landscape provided the perfect geological discussion on the climb to the volcano’s crater.
As we climbed, we could see the extent of the lava flows that spewed out across the valley. When we reached the summit, the students were mesmerised by the heat from the ground from the lava and some were even anxious the volcano was about to blow!
3. Hunting for fossils at Tjorneshreppur where the Jokulsa a Fjollum river meets the sea
This excellent geological adventure isn’t for the faint-hearted (or those scared of heights!) As we drove down the steep mud track in a 70-seater coach there were one or two nervous faces. But it was all worth it as the layers of bedrock are phenomenal both in the river valley and on the cliffs as you drive down. (Remember it’s illegal to take fossils and stones from Iceland, so you can look but don’t take!)
Students here were astounded by the amount of fossilised sediment that could be seen on the ground and on the bedrock. The talking point of the day was the clear layers of sediment in the cliff and valley sides – even for a human geographer like me it was hard not to be impressed. I’d really recommend this as a ‘must-stop’ even if you have to walk down the track to reach the beach.
4. Dimmuborgir lava fields
On arriving at Dimmuborgir, you will be struck by the sheer size and scale of this magnificent lava fields with caves and unusual rock formations. Any Game of Thrones fans will be particularly excited to walk amongst the filming locations for various scenes in the series. The sheer size and scale of the rock formations is overwhelming and reminds students of the power of volcanic eruptions. A stop here is made even more interesting as recent tectonic activity along a fault line has opened up several large cracks in the ground. What better way for students to learn about the dynamic nature of our planet?
Of course, any trip to Iceland isn’t complete without some folklore stories and here you won’t be disappointed. You’ll learn about the mischief that the ‘13 Yuletide lads’ get up to in the 13 days before Christmas and you can even go into one of their caves and see what items they would have stolen if they really existed.
5. Lake Myvatn Nature Baths
The quintessential item on any Icelandic itinerary is a trip to a geothermal pool. Myvatn Nature baths are the North’s equivalent to the Blue Lagoon, set on the edge of Lake Myvatn in natural surroundings, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better way to unwind after a hard day exploring. You can also take a trip to the nearby Krafla Power Station that feeds the baths for some extra geography gains.
The three different pools, various hot tubs and steam rooms were the perfect settings for a couple of hours downtime. To really enhance the experience, after a cloudy few days, the sun came out and we watched the most wonderful sunset as we relaxed and bathed for a good few hours.
I couldn’t help but think this would also be a great stop to try and spot the northern lights, though we weren’t lucky enough on our visit.
A trip the north was truly remarkable and I would encourage schools to take their students to the North and East to see a less congested, more authentic Iceland.