The cultural and geographical exploration of Iceland

November 10, 2023

Monmouth students standing in front of Lake Myvatn Hofdi lava pillars.

This October half term, 41 pupils from Years 11-13 embarked on a cultural and geographical tour of Iceland. Pupils were promised some amazing landscapes and geographical features, shaped by tectonic and glacial processes.

Iceland is truly “the Land of Fire and Ice”. Iceland is also known for its beautiful waterfalls, diverse bird and marine life as well as a vibrant music and arts scene. We were also hoping to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights, and we were not disappointed!

Our itinerary was jam-packed so a short trip report does not do it justice, however a brief overview will give you a taste of what we experienced during our seven-day visit.

Students standing in front of Dettifoss; second most powerful waterfall in Europe.

Departing school Friday afternoon, we headed to Heathrow ready for our Icelandair flight. A slight delay meant we arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Reykjavik past midnight, however spirits were high with students eager to see the wonders of the Golden Circle Tour the following day. This tour of the natural wonders of south-west Iceland was a highlight of the trip. It included the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall, the geyser area, and Þingvellir – the site of Iceland’s first parliament and the point where the Eurasian and North American plates are diverging.

The most active geyser in the area is Strokkur (translates to the ‘Churn’). It sprouts hot water as high as 30 meters into the air every few minutes. We were also fortunate to visit a family-owned dairy farm – Efstidalur, which serves some of the tastiest ice cream you can find, including Mr Meek’s favourite, liquorish flavour. The all you can eat pizza buffet that evening was a big hit, plus we also celebrated Gareth’s 16th birthday. The surprise chocolate cake not only looked spectacular but tasted delicious. A chorus of happy birthday, Pen blwydd Hapus, rounded off a very special and enjoyable day.

Visit to Reykjavík

Day 3 saw us take an internal flight north from Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest settlement. We were informed that not many schools visit the north of the island, their loss as it contains some of the most spectacular landscapes and geological features of the country. We visited the breathtaking Goðafoss waterfall, the Hverfjall ash crater, Lake Myvatn Hofdi lava pillars and the Skútustaðagígar pseudo-craters, before heading to Hotel Laxa overlooking Lake Myvatn.

We were able to walk up Hverfjall, a high tephra explosion crater which erupted 2500 BP ejecting ash over the Lake Myvatn area. The back ash cone is 1km in diameter and the views over the Lake Myvatn area are spectacular. Students discovered that the Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters (created 2,300 years ago) were formed by hot lava flows over cool, wet ground causing steam to be trapped under the lava, producing extreme pressure and steam explosions.

About to board an internal flight to Akureyri.

Day 4, we woke to fresh snow and mist, making our locations for the day feel atmospheric and surreal. We returned to Lake Myvatn, used as a location the Game of Thrones series, and then on to Dettifoss, the second most powerful waterfall in Europe. The fascinating Namaskard hot springs in Hverir proved too sulphurous and pungent for some. At Grjótagjá, students were able to view a subterranean geothermal bathing cave used up until the 1970s by the local population. The area has many fissures caused by divergent plate movements. Another highlight of the day was the fermented shark (hakarl), bought by some adventurous students. I can’t say it was popular, the pungent taste and aroma is not for everyone.

The fermented shark (Hakarl) which had a mixed response.

Day 5 – Our final day in the north offered views over a local geothermal power station, the spectacular Jökulsárgljúfur canyon part of the Vatnajökull National Park, Ásbyrgi Canyon – a horseshoe-shaped depression with 100 metre high cliffs and thick birch and willow woodland, formed by glacial outburst floods, also a location for Game of Thrones. Our last stop before the flight back to Reykjavik was the luxurious Geosea geothermal spa, located in Húsavík, with its stunning views over the Arctic Ocean. The late afternoon flight with glorious sunshine gave us some spectacular views of Iceland’s interior glaciers and U-shaped valleys.

Geosea geothermal spa

Last day – Reykjavík promised an informative and enjoyable guided walk, colourful wall art, sculptures, Flyover Iceland  – ‘the ultimate flying ride’ over Iceland including wind, mist and scents, gift shopping, cinnamon buns and the famous Iceland hotdog! This jam-packed final day rounded off a fantastic trip, but more was to come with a glimpse of the aurora borealis – northern lights later that evening.

A special thank you to supporting staff, Mrs Harper, Mr Morgan and Mr Seaton, without their help, support and good humour this trip would not have been possible. Also, a special thank you to Mrs Moore, with all the School Post trip letters and data gathering.

Jokulsargliufur Canyon

This was my final overseas trip and the best, the students were a pleasure to be with, their behaviour was impeccable, together with some spectacular scenery and geography, they made this an unforgettable experience. I can’t recommend Iceland enough, especially the north, there is no other place like it!

Mr Nick Meek — Head of Geography, Monmouth School for Girls.