Summer makes all the difference! (Apology: I feel like living in Iceland automatically results in the right to create trite truisms about summer, but I apologize all the same.) My point being that after a winter of drifting around Reykjavik’s museums, bars and coastal paths with an occasional foray to a waterfall or storm-shrouded glacier summer has finally arrived and every weekend is a new chance for adventure. This weekend we went camping on Heimaey or “Home” island – the only populated island among the Westman Islands off the South Coast of Iceland, and the weather was glorious. We even got a little sunburned.and may I just say how strange it is to be happy about that?
The RU Traveling Gang
This was the first time we used the Sterna bus system instead of renting or borrowing a vehicle. These buses go all around the ring road of Iceland, and you can even buy a bus pass that allows you to hop on and off at will. We bought return tickets to Landeyjah?fn – where the 30min ferry to Heimaey leaves from several times a day. The early Saturday morning bus ride there was sleepily pleasant, while the Sunday afternoon bus ride back to Reykjavik was a sardine can roller coaster with every seat taken and a bus driver intent on almost hitting everything in his path – from cars to geese.
Entering/Exiting the Heimaey Harbor
The ferry ride was a blink-and-you-missed it trip through calm – but still rolling – summer seas. You enter the Heimaey harbor through a fairly narrow channel created by the resident volcanos – the newest eruption in 1973 almost sealed off the harbor but stopped just short after islanders sprayed streams of sea water on the encroaching lava. Our campground was in the crater of the old volcano on the other side of the island, and we found a nice mossy patch to pitch our tents on that was protected from the golf course next door by a well-situated rock. Still the place where Chris and I pitched our tent ominously had a golf ball sitting in the center of it.
After a picnic lunch we headed off to explore the volcanos Eldfell and Helgafell, and the newest addition to the island – the 1973 Eldfell eruption added several kilometres to the coastline.
Me in Lupins by Eldfell
(I’ve received a reader complaint that I never put up any pictures of myself, so I am including two in this post as compensation ). Heimaey – and a lot of Iceland – is absolutely covered with flowers in June, and not just with the non-native purple and white Lupins introduced for erosion control. There are buttercups and dandelions to add some yellow to the green pallet of moss and grass, a variety of small pink flowers that grow out of the moss and rocks, tiny blue forget-me-nots and other blue mini flowers, white bells, and dark pink wildflowers I’ve never seen before.
Hiking up the red and black rocks of the Eldfell crater made for avalanche-inducing fun and amazing views. The ridge at the top was punctuated with even more colorful rock formations jutting out over the steep inward slope of the crater. The best part was that if you walked all the way along the rim of the crater you came to an area where could see heat shimmering from some of the crumbling rock pits if you looked really closely, and you could feel intense heat coming up from the earth.
The Pompeii of the North
After sliding down a path into the center of the Eldfell crater, we walked through the lava fields flowing down to the town and harbor. This area used to be a part of the town, but was never reclaimed after the 1973 eruption and is now called the “Pompei of the North” – I assume to make the island more of a tourist attraction. There are plaques marking the location of people’s homes several metres below, and wooden street signs for streets that no longer exist. However, since everyone was safely evacuated during the eruption there are no ash-preserved bodies under the new ground.
Sadly, we saw only painted puffins our first day on Heimaey – an island famous for its thousands of nesting puffins where locals catch puffins with enormous butterfly nets as they dive in and out of their cliff burrows. We made it our mission to see a puffin up close the next day, and we did. Of course, before being lulled to sleep by thousands of squawking seabirds we went into town to watch the “Volcano Show” at the local cinema and get a drink at the trendy Volcano Cafe down by the harbor. The Volcano Show’s grainy footage of the 2010 Eyjafjallaj?kull eruption, the 1973 Eldfell eruption, the Surtsey eruption, and life on the island including the Puffin Ball and a performance of the musical Oklahoma put me to sleep several times but included a few nice eruption images.
Before heading south down the coast to look for puffins Sunday morning we climbed a steep trail up the old crater wall right above our campsite. We immediately spotted several puffins watching us from rocky perches as we climbed, and of course lots of sheep. After all, the steep wall of a volcano crater is the perfect pasture for Icelandic sheep. The view of sparkling blue ocean, grassy cliffs, and the South Coast of Iceland’s mainland in the distance made the climb well worth it.
The Crater Where We Camped
After breakfast we bypassed the golf course and the giant Mormon monument to the settlers who left Heimaey for Utah, and headed south down a coastal trail towards the southern-most tip of Iceland. Chris and I didn’t walk all the way to the tip this trip, but cut back through some flower-filled pastureland to get lunch in town before catching the ferry. We did however see lots of puffins – swimming in the sea, darting through the air, and perched on the cliffs below.
I can’t believe how much we saw of Heimaey in less than two days – not that it is that large (13 square km). Did I mention the size of the blister on my big toe? The amazing things is that even though you can easily walk anywhere on the island, the 4,000 residents own 1,000 cars. Tourists can also bring their vehicles on the ferry, but it really isn’t necessary. After all, if you do walk all the way to the southern-most tip of Iceland you can always call a taxi to take you back to town.which is exactly what two of our party members did.
Vestmannaeyjar Iceland is a nice place really worth spending your summer holiday.
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Author: marushastewartsenovichThis author has published 26 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.