Incredibly, I had not heard of Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon, until a week before I left for Iceland. Of course, I knew that Iceland is full of beautiful scenery and that there is a very good reason that it is known as the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’, but I didn’t expect anything quite so spectacular.
One of the downsides of travelling is the tendency to start comparing new sights with things that you have seen before and thus you become harder to impress. It is difficult to appreciate a temple when you have seen Kinkakuji or Angkor Wat; to marvel at a mountain when you have driven through the Andes; or to enjoy a beach when you have spent days on a deserted Caribbean island.
Jökulsárlón, however, took me completely by surprise. It wasn’t just the cold air that took my breath away. The lagoon is caused by large chunks of ice calving from the face of the glacier. These gigantic lumps of ice are held in the lake until they break down enough to float out to the sea, which results in the incredible spectacle of icebergs resting on the black volcanic sand of the beach.
We arrived at the lagoon after a rather tense car journey with a hostile and unpleasant tour guide from whom we were very relieved to escape. Bad weather the day before had caused a number of British school tour groups to lose their bookings and they had been rescheduled, fully booking out all the boats available. Happily, the lovely staff offered to take us out in a Zodiac boat, even though the Zodiac tours had already finished for the winter season, when the ice closes in too much for the small boats to pass through.
A zodiac boat is a small inflatable boat that has the benefit of being lower in the water, faster, and able to go much closer to the icebergs than the larger type of boat available. As there was only 5 of us in our party it was a great way to see the lagoon.
We were provided with a large fluorescent jumpsuit something akin to a space suit; flattering it was not but it kept the Arctic chill out. Feeling 5 sizes bigger, we jumped into the boat and sped off into the lagoon.
Johan, our pilot and guide, was knowledgeable as well as friendly (a skill that our tour guide back in the bus lacked). Casually telling us about the geology of the glacier he artfully piloted the boat between the floating ice. The icebergs dazzled in shades of white, and blues that ranged from baby blue to brightest azure.
We headed into the centre of the lagoon towards the largest sculpture. It wasn’t until we were right up-close and the iceberg loomed over us that we could fully appreciate the vast size of it. I let out a sigh “That is quite possibly the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen” There was no argument from anybody in the boat. The ice could have been sculpted by a master craftsman, so perfectly carved it seemed. Reflecting in the clear water, the symmetry was simply breath-taking.
After our boat ride we walked down to the beach to watch huge waves rolling in over black sand, crashing violently against the large chunks of ice that lay strewn across the shoreline. For a tourist destination, there were surprisingly few people around and we had the beach almost to ourselves.
Photographing the ice becomes a risky business as the waves are unpredictable and can take a photographer—fully immersed in the business of taking a picture—unawares. All of a sudden a large wave races in much further than the others and it is easy to find yourself up to your waist in water. Whilst it might be amusing to watch people springing out of the way of large waves, there is a real chance of danger. The glacial water is cold and the current is strong: a person swept out to sea would not last long.
Jökulsárlón is a 5 hour drive from Reykjavik (seems much longer when you have a rude and hostile driver, but more to come on that in a later post), yet it is worth every minute of the journey. Even better would be to stay nearer to the lagoon so that you can visit it at different times of day, or maybe even get a glimpse of the Northern Lights over the icebergs?
I think that I have just created a new Bucket List item.
What is the most incredible natural wonder you have ever seen? Has anywhere ever taken your breath away? Let me know in the comments below.