In 2006 I went on an impromptu trip to Iceland. Along the south coast, I drove through some of the most overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. It was beyond anything I could have imagined beforehand. The moment I saw those mysterious island shapes of Vestmannaeyjar shimmering on the horizon, I felt immediately drawn to them. I decided there & then I just had to go back.
Vestmannaeyjar shimmering in the distance. Those mysterious wisps of fog swirling around the island to the left (Elliðaey) are what is called ‘dalalæða‘ in Icelandic – a spectacular phenomenon to see!
Shaped by volcanic activity
The islands were coughed up from the sea in a series of eruptions from the hotspot that flows underneath, which continues to create more additions at irregular intervals. In 1963 another island, Surtsey, arrived in spectacular fashion, and in 1973 a grassy field on Heimaey erupted out of nowhere and created a whole new mountain. It was still steaming in places when I stood in its crater in 2007.
Spectacular harbour entrance
Sailing into Heimaey harbour, through a narrow opening surrounded by a jumbled chain of steep cliffs and a huge field of intimidating lava flows, is just mind-blowing. The history of the island, and the way the people dealt with their erupting backyard is also very fascinating. In 2014 the Eldheimar museum opened, where this compelling story is told with impressive images and interactive displays. It’s built around one of the houses excavated from underneath the lava flow, and it also features the Surtsey eruption. (*)
NaturePic Challenge – Remote Islands # 7: Vestmannaeyjar
Midnight sunset on Heimaey.
Herjólfsdalur – the Valley of Magic.
The unpronouncable glacier mountain
There’s this beautiful craggy mountain massif with a glacier on top looming across on the other side. It was that very sight that had got me raving on my first trip. I had no idea what it was called. On Heimaey I bought a card with a stunning view to it, and its unpronouncable name written underneath. A couple of years later, it actually became rather famous… 😉
The ‘unpronouncable’ but utterly beautiful IslandMountainGlacier, three years before it literally erupted into world fame…
How to get to Vestmannaeyjar
Since 2010 the ferry connection (*) is from the new Landeyjahöfn harbour, directly across from Vestmannaeyjar on the south coast of Iceland. The ferry takes only 35 minutes and departs from Landeyjahöfn most of the year. However, Landeyjahöfn harbour is prone to shifting sands washing in from the coast, and needs to be dredged out on a regular basis. When the conditions are bad or the waves too high & furious for the ferry to come in, the company will change to the old route to Þorlákshöfn further to the west. This route takes nearly 3 hours. During winter time the ferry will only go to & from Þorlákshöfn. The exact schedule can vary, but usually includes the period from December or January to March. There are two daily buses from Reykjavík Mjódd bus station connecting with the ferry; sometimes three in Summer. You can find the timetable here. Another option is to take the 25-minute flight directly from Reykjavík domestic airport.
New Vestmannaeyjar ferry
(*) From 2019 the Vestmannaeyjar ferry will be operated by the Herjólfur Vestmannaeyjar company. The link is updated with the new details.
The Visit Vestmannaeyjar website offers more information about places to stay & things to do.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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Surtsey and Eldfell – Iceland’s youngest volcanoes
(*) You can see a fascinating summary of the Surtsey and Eldfell eruptions in this short documentary, featured in the ‘Savage Earth’ series from the early 2000’s. ‘No-one had ever fought a volcano and won’ – but on Heimaey in the end they did.
More stories & inspiration
Vestmannaeyjar! – Þar sem hjartað slær…!
Kerlingarfjöll – Steaming valleys and surreal landscapes
Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley
The walking track to Herjólfsdalur – The Valley of Magic
Flower Art – Vestmannaeyjar fields of lupines