Aug 02, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer
After having experienced deep fjords and small islands teeming with birdlife, we got to see another side of Iceland—the south shore. Our day began docked in Djúpivogur, a small fishing village that was a trading post during the Danish rule. After an early breakfast, we headed out in groups for our daily expeditions.
The earliest departure were the glacier hikers, heading for Skaftafell National Park to experience the mighty glacier Vatnajökull first hand. Vatnajökull is Iceland’s largest glacier, covering 3,100 square miles, and Europe’s largest by volume.
The next departure was for the Super Jeeps, big 4x4s outfitted with huge tires ready to take on glacial rivers, rocky highlands, and even the glaciers themselves. The Super Jeeps headed for Lón valley on the southeastern side of Vatnajökull.
The last departure was for Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon, which bega to form only 70 years ago when the outlet glacier Breiðamerkurjökull began its retreat inland from the south shore. The glacier’s retreat carved out the lagoon that is actually Iceland’s deepest lake at 1,000 ft. Once we arrived at the glacier lagoon, we saw it was teeming with life—of both the tourist and wildlife varieties. Barnacle geese were nesting in the area. We spotted the now-familiar Arctic tern nearby as well as great skuas devouring a small trout, Arctic skuas searching for prey, and juvenile kittiwakes practicing their fishing skills. We also saw a couple of harbor seals that had come in with the high tide as seawater flowed into the lagoon.
The south shore might seem dull on paper, with its black sandy deserts, little vegetation, and the highest average precipitation in Iceland. However, as we experienced this otherworldly landscape, unlike anything we have seen elsewhere, we realized that Iceland truly is unpredictable. The glaciers play such an integral part in the continuous formation of the south shore. Volcanic eruptions occur on average once every four years and cause huge glacial floods that flush out enormous amounts of sand and silt that can extend the shoreline to up to 2.5 miles in one run! Some mountains along the south shore are still called islands because that’s what they used to be.
As we returned to Djúpivogur, the sun was shining and, as an Icelander, I am always grateful for sunny days—especially with winter around the corner. In the afternoon, we headed toward the Westman Islands to see what surprises Iceland has in store for us there.
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