Circumnavigating Iceland, Part 4: A Glacier Lagoon and the Pompeii of the North

After a long overnight haul, we arrived at Djupivogur, a fishing village in southeastern Iceland and where we disembarked for a glacier excursion. It was a long bus ride but definitely worth it, with lovely vistas along the way — not to mention the sun was out! I apologize that one of these photos was clearly taken through the bus window.

Here you can see the tongue of the glacier

Jokulsarlon is a large glacial lake on the edge of Vatnajokul National Park. It developed as a lake as the Beidamerkurjokull (say that ten times), a tongue of the Vatnajokull glacier, gradually receded from the edge of the Atlantic. It is now a little less than a mile away from the ocean and is reported to be the deepest lake in Iceland at 814 feet. Jokulsarlon has been the setting for several movies (A View to Kill, Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins) as well as being a stopover in the TV series The Amazing Race. As one of the natural wonders of Iceland, we were going to take a boat trip on it.

Once there, we got off the bus to the squalks of Arctic terns, who were nesting nearby and who dive bombed anyone who got to close, and wandering sheep.

An amphibious vehicle drove us into the lake and we drove around, sampling the ice (pure water) and admiring the ice formations. A seal decided to take a nap on one of them.

The smallish bergs float out to sea on a river

and we were driven to the nearby beach, called black diamond beach, because of the diamond-like pieces of ice highlighted against the black sand.

After we returned to the ship, we immediately began our trip to the Westman Islands on Iceland’s south coast for our excursion the next day.


The Westman Islands were formed by volcanic eruptions 10,000 years ago. The newest island, Surtsey, only emerged from the sea in 1963. We would visit Heimaey, the only inhabited island, where half-buried houses remain from a violent eruption of its volcano, Eldfell, in 1973.

We first went to a gorgeous valley where a replica of a Norse farm house has been built. The roof is sod and the larger building on the right held the family (likely upwards of 20 people) while the left, smaller house was a barn for the animals.

There is a single room inside with a central fire pit and a hole in the ceiling for a chimney. The number of people living inside, the fire and the proximity of the animals would have kept the room moderately warm.

The island itself is stunning – the vistas were incredible.

Heimaey is known as the Pompeii of the North because 200 million tons of lava and ash enveloped over 400 buildings. Only one person died when he went back into his basement where lethal fumes had accumulated, and the entire population of 5,000 plus most of the animals were evacuated by the fishing fleet to nearly towns. The fishing fleet just happened to be in the harbor, which was a miracle! The eruption continued from January to July, and as the lava flow threatened to destroy the entire town, water pumps provided by the US Navy were used to pump cold sea water on top the lava to get it to solidify and stop its flow.

Here are two views of where the lava was stopped, plus the remains of a house that was swallowed.

Many of those living on the eastern side of the island returned to find their homes under 40 feet of lava.  Since that time the town has rebuilt and there is an outstanding museum dedicated to the event. Here are two pictures of the event from the museum.

At the end of the day we took our last Zodiac cruise to see the birds in the rookeries along the stone cliffs lining the harbor. All those little white things are birds, roosting. Some chicks, too.

Along the way we got a view of a replica of the Haltdalen stave church, originally from around the 1170s, built in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the conversion of Iceland to Christianity.



15 thoughts on “Circumnavigating Iceland, Part 4: A Glacier Lagoon and the Pompeii of the North”

  1. That was a fascinating trip you took and I’m enjoying your tour guide as I sit on my back deck drinking my coffee and dreaming of going to Iceland. The pictures looked like landscape paintings with vivid blue ocean against the bright green grass. I want to go.

  2. I swear some of those glacier pieces in the lake are the same ones that were there in March! Doubtful, of course. I’m glad you finally got some sun, and jealous of your trip to Heimaey. But at least I got to walk on the Jokulsfall (another arm of the Vatnasjokull).

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