The scenery in Iceland is spectacular. It is mostly a volcanic island, so you see different volcanic formations everywhere. I saw some very impressive column basalt formations. When thick lava flows cool very slowly, they sometimes crystallize to form large columns with polygonal cross sections, so-called column basalts. These were especially impressive when there was a waterfall flowing over such a column basalt formation, like Svartifoss (Black Falls), named for the black basalt columns. Svartifoss is in Skaftafell National Park. You can reach it with an easy 20 minute walk.
Waterfalls are everywhere. Some of them were quite spectacular, one of them rivaling Niagara Falls. The lava flows generally have sharp edges that can be dozens of meters high, which makes them ideal for forming waterfalls.
Lava formations form some spectacular sights. There are large lava flows, volcanic craters, and bizarre lava columns. On the south-east coast there is a place near Dyrhólaey with some lava pinnacles and lava arches carved by ocean waves.
There are quite spectacular lava tubes in a few places. Raufarhólshellir is the most spectacular that I saw. It is about 15 m (49 ft) in diameter and 1.3 km (0.8 miles) long. It does not have a path in it, and no lighting. You have to climb over lava rocks with just your flash light. Since I had only a small flash light and not much time, I only went to the beginning of the tube. It is not a good idea to venture into a 1.3 km (0.8 miles) dark tunnel without a path, over man-sized rough boulders, with just one flash light. If that light fails you are in BIG trouble.
Since the island is volcanically very active, there are lots of hot springs and steam vents everywhere. Steam is used to provide power in a few places, most notably at Kröflustöð. This is the site of a very recent volcanic eruption in 1975. They were drilling a deep hole to tap into a large underground steam reservoir. The volcano didn't like that and blew its top. There is now a big crater. Parts of the drilling rig were found 3 km (1.9 miles) away, but miraculously nobody was killed.
The center of the island is covered mostly with volcanic ash, sand, and gravel (wherever it is not covered by ice caps). In a lot of areas there is nothing growing whatsoever. It reminds you very much on a moon scape.
One interesting mountain is Herðubreið. This mountain is a volcano that grew under an ice cap and got its characteristic shape from that. When Vatnajökull melts, the few mountains under that ice cap will look very similar.
Talking about Vatnajökull, ice caps are the other spectacular feature of Iceland. There are at least 13 of these ice caps in Iceland.
Here is a list with their size in km²:
Vatnajökull (8,160 km² (3,151 square miles))
Langjökull (950 km² (367 square miles))
Hofsjökull (925 km² (357 square miles))
Mýrdalsjökull (590 km² (228 square miles))
Drangajökull (160 km² (62 square miles))
Eyjafjallajökull (77 km² (30 square miles))
Tungnafellsjökull (48 km² (19 square miles))
Þórisjökull (32 km² (12 square miles))
Þrándarjökull (22 km² (8 square miles))
Eiríksjökull (22 km² (8 square miles))
Tindfjallajökull (19 km² (7 square miles))
The largest cap, Vatnajökull, is the 3rd largest ice cap in the world after Antarctica and Greenland. It is larger than all the other glaciers in Europe combined. It is about 120 km (75 miles) east-west and about 80 km (50 miles) north-south. All along the south-eastern coast of Iceland are glacier tongues reaching down the valleys from this large ice cap. In a couple of places they reach ocean inlets and produce icebergs. The most spectacular one of these is at Jökulsárlón.
Other smaller ice caps are in various parts of Iceland. The most famous of these is arguably Snæfellsjökull, in western Iceland. This is where Jules Verne staged the beginning of the journey in his book "Journey to the Center of the Earth".
The last impressive feature of Iceland are the Eastern and Western Fjords. These ice-carved valleys are beautiful to visit. I visited several of the Eastern Fjords at the beginning of my trip. Some of them are easily accessible, others can be reached only over wild tracks over the mountain range between adjacent fjords. I saw only a small part of the Western Fjords. I drove to the western-most part of Iceland, Látrabjarg. This is the western-most point of Europe. You drive along and through several of the fjords on the south side of the Western Fjord area. But as I understand it, the more beautiful areas are further north in the Western Fjords.
Fauna and Flora
As far as flora is concerned, I was there late in the year, so I missed out on some. The vegetation for the most part is grasses and mosses. There may be some low bushes around, but not much more. This is in part due to the fact that there are sheep everywhere, so trees have no chance of growing. In most places they probably wouldn't grow anyway. In some places there are small wooded areas, in particular around Egilsstaðir. I saw a lot of wild flowers, they were still blooming at that time of year. But large areas are sparsely populated with plants or not at all.
In some areas, all the vegetation is mosses. This was especially beautiful on the 4WD road through Landsmannalauga The whole area is a bright green due to the moss cover. It looked quite spectacular.
As far as animals are concerned, it is all about birds. There is nothing else to see. The birds in general were very shy. They didn't let me et close at all, so it was difficult to get good pictures.
There are supposed to be some arctic foxes around, but they are rarely seen. There are no larger wild animals on Iceland. In the ocean there are dolphins and whales, unfortunately I didn't see any of the whales.
Unfortunately I was there after the nesting season was over, so I didn't get to seem as many birds as I hoped. I went to Látrabjarg, the western most tip of Iceland. In the cliffs in that area are nesting colonies of many of the birds, in particular the puffins. All I saw there were some seagulls and one cormorant. If you are interested in birds, you need to go much earlier in the season to see them.
Pictures of birds in Iceland and other nature pages are separate:
Iceland is located right on top of the rift area between the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate where they move apart. This picture shows the rift area with the North American plate at the right and the Eurasian Plate at the left. The location of Iceland at the rift between the two plates is the reason for the active volcanism on Iceland. (902k) One of the fjords in the West Fjord area. (530k) Low clouds over a fjord in the north of Iceland. (547k) The end of one of the fjords in the West Fjord area. (552k) Coming down from the mountains, looking at the cloud deck below into the fjord. (532k) Mývatn, a lake in the north of Iceland. You can see several of the pseudo craters. (664k) Volcanic landscape in the interior. (751k) Many of the volcanic areas have no vegetation whatsoever. (842k) One of the west fjords in the rain. (519k) A rainbow over the interior of Iceland with a nice secondary rainbow. Did I mention that it rained a lot? (576k) A complete rainbow during my drive on the Sprengisandur. (577k) On the road to Landsmannalauga, with the ever-present cloud deck above. Everything is lush green in that area, but not from grass, it is all moss. (653k) A lake on the road to Landsmannalauga, reflecting a moss covered mountain. (513k) A small brook running through the moss covered plains. (873k) A small river running though layers of volcanic tephra, the black sand and gravel ejected by large volcanic explosions. (684k) Multi-colored mountain on one of the interior roads. (582k) In the Askja caldera you can see old and new snow. It had snowed the day before, and the new snow is bright white, while the old snow is gray with dust. (857k) Strange soil formation. This was in a volcanic area, but I don't know how this regular bumps formed. I think it is caused by freezing/thawing cycles. (1219k) The island Málmey in Skagafjörður. Note the basalt needle on the left side. (390k) A heavenly search light looking for the island of Lundey near Husavík. It was a captivating light phenomenon. (404k) Basalt formation on the south coast near Dyrhólaey. (766k) Basalt pinnacles near Dyrhólaey. (683k) Basalt arch near Dyrhólaey. (716k) One of the flat areas on the southeast coast, filled with volcanic sand brought down from Vatnajökull by the glaciers. The Skeiðarársandur is the largest such area, a large river delta filled with volcanic sand. (691k) Close-up of the sand in a glacier outflow area. (523k)
There was lots of water in most parts. Did I mention that it rained a lot? (1018k) This was a raging river on the way to Kverkfjöll. One of the few bridges in the interior was over this river. (838k) A small river running through a lava flow on the Kaldidalur road, with a rainbow in the background. (916k) A waterfall near Seyðisfjörður. (643k) A waterfall with rainbow in the West Fords. (929k) A waterfall over a high lava layer on the south shore. (1070k) Skógafoss on the south shore, a spectacular waterfall, about 60 m (200 ft) high. (726k) A rainbow generated by the spray of Skógafoss. (789k) Seljalandsfoss, another spectacular waterfall on the south coast. (665k) A closer view of Seljalandsfoss. (700k) Gljúfurárfoss (Canyon River Falls). It falls into a very narrow canyon, about 30 m (100 ft) from the front of the escarpment. (1208k) Svartifoss (Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park. This waterfall is the most picturesque with the water falling over the column basalt formations. It is about 40 m (130 ft) high. (905k) Hraunfossar. The water emerges over a width of about 100 m (330 ft) from underneath a lava flow. (1016k) Selfoss, the first of a series of waterfalls in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. It is only 11 m (36 ft) high, but quite wide. (751k) Close-up of Selfoss. (803k) Dettifoss. It is 44 m (144 ft) high and produces a lot of spray and noise, quite an impressive sight. (675k) Closer view of Dettifoss. (564k) View of Réttarfoss from Ytra-Þórunnarfjall in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. (793k) Goðafoss (Fall of the Gods), another spectacular waterfall, south of Husavík next to the Ring Road. (634k) Close-up of Goðafoss. (746k) Overview of Gullfoss, arguably Iceland's most famous waterfall. (617k) The upper part of Gullfoss. (579k) The lower part of Gullfoss, where the water falls over a wide ledge into a narrow canyon, reminiscent of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. (529k)
An eroding thick lava flow. (774k) Lava sand in the interior. (848k) The volcano Hekla (the Hooded) in the southern parts of Iceland. Its summit is mostly shrouded in clouds. (447k) Herðubreið, a volcano with a very characteristic shape in the northern interior part of Iceland. (448k) A thick layer of tephra, deposited during a large volcanic explosion. (735k) Lava deposit. (840k) Large lava flow in the interior. (969k) Young lava flow at Krafla. It is from the 1984 explosion, and is still steaming. (748k) A small lava tube in the Krafla lava field. (1266k) Volcanic crater in the Kafla lava field. It was created during the 1984 explosion and is still hot. (675k) The Viti explosion crater in the Krafla area. It has a diameter of about 320 m (1,050 ft). (639k) Another volcanic crater on the Ring Road near Hverarönd, a couple of kilometers east of Mývatn. (840k) A large volcanic crater just off the eastern shore of Mývatn. (711k) A pseudo crater at Skútustaðagígar on the south shore of Lake Mývatn. These craters originate from steam eruptions, not lava eruptions. (533k) View into Raufarhólshellir, a huge lava tube in south-west Iceland. (553k) Another view of this lava tube. It is about 15 m (49 ft) in diameter. (628k) Sign outside the Raufarhólshellir lava tube. (569k) Lava flow in the Askja caldera. (682k) Brightly colored volcanic sand in the Askja caldera. (790k) Öskjuvatn, the lake in the Askja caldera. (617k) The small tephra crater Viti, next to Öskjuvatn. It has warm water, people can go swimming in this small crater. (553k) Spectacular column basalt formation at Hljóðaklettar in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. (1012k) Another extrusion of column basalts. (846k) Close-up of the column basalt rock. (1306k) A volcanic spring with bright orange mineral deposits. (1390k) A hot springs field south of Keflavik near the south shore. (989k) Brightly colored mineral deposits in this hot springs area. (1125k) A bubbling hot mud pool in the same area. (948k) Close-up of the bubbling mud. (622k) This was a tiny hot spring in the same area, bubbling away. It was only about 20 cm (8") in diameter. (886k) The hot springs field at Hverarönd, east of Mývatn. (538k) Mud pools at Hverarönd. (576k) Bubbling mud pool at Hverarönd. (736k) Steam vent at Hverarönd. (800k) A big steam vent at Hverarönd. (495k) It produces a lot of steam, with a long plume streaming downwind. (658k) Strokkur, the small but reliable geyser in the Geysir thermal field, just before eruption. (782k) The eruption is starting. The following pictures are each about 1/3 seconds apart. (391k) Going up. (387k) And up. (388k) And up. (379k) And up. (370k) It has reached maximum height. (363k) It still gets larger, but not higher. (357k) It fills out some more. (351k) It starts collapsing. (354k) A large eruption from a bit further away. (451k) Another of the pools in the Geysir area. The water is very clear, the pool is quite deep (several meters). (480k)
In the distance is the southern border of Vatnajökull. Every valley in the mountain range has a glacier tongue coming down the valley from the ice cap. (574k) View of Hofsjökull through a narrow gap between the high plains and the cloud deck. I had just descended on the road out of the clouds. (458k) This is all I saw of Snæfellsjökull, the famous ice cap where Jules Vernes staged his book "A Journey to the Center of the Earth". (487k) A series of waterfalls coming down a valley from the Vatnajökull ice cap. (694k) View of the Mýrdalsjökull icecap from the road to Þórsmörk. (736k) One of the glacier tongues coming down from Vatnajökull. (742k) A steep glacier tongue from Vatnajökull. (600k) Sólheimajóll, a much shallower glacier tongue from Mýrdalsjökull. (710k) It is an easy walk to get all the way to Sólheimajökull. (706k) Outflow from Sólheimajökull. (875k) Outflow from Sólheimajökull. (873k) View of Skaftafellsjökull. (766k) Closer view of Skaftafellsjökull. (802k) There are serious crevasses in Skaftafellsjökull. (963k) The Skálafellsjökull glacier, an outflow from Vatnajökull. (824k) Close-up of the crevasses on Skálafellsjökull. (777k) Approaching Vatnajökull from the north, with colorful lava sand in the foreground, and the huge ice cap in the background. (642k) A volcanic cinder cone with Vatnajökull behind it. (625k) A close-up of the cinder cone with the huge ice cap behind it. (434k) On top of the ice cap. (991k) The glacier portal at Kverkfjöll, one of the outflows of Vatnajökull to the interior. (1046k) Closer view of the glacier at Kverkfjöll. (1057k) The main glacier portal at Kverkfjöll. (930k) Close-up of the main glacier portal at Kverkfjöll. (790k) At Fjallsárlón the glacier reaches a lagoon and calves icebergs. (623k) A closer view of Fjallsárlón. (667k) Icebergs in the lagoon at Fjallsárlón. (641k) The edge of the glacier at Fjallsárlón. (621k) The lagoon at Fjallsárlón. (628k) Icebergs in the lagoon at Jökulsárlón. (572k) The ice of the glacier itself is very clear, but there is lots of volcanic dust embedded in the ice, which makes it look black. (753k)
Flora and Fauna
One of the few areas with trees. (915k) Typical grassland along the south shore. The white dots are Scheuchzer's Cottongrass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri, german: Scheuchzers Wollgras, french: Linaigrette de Scheuchzer), a grass with cotton-like tufts. (932k) Close-up of the Scheuchzer's Cottongrass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri, german: Scheuchzers Wollgras, french: Linaigrette de Scheuchzer). (632k) It was drizzling all day, every grass blade was covered with little water drops. It was glittering whenever there was a little sun. (1038k) Close-up of the water droplets on the grass. (479k) Black Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum, german: Schwarze Krähenbeere, french: Camarine noire). (745k) Alpine Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla alpina, german: Alpen-Frauenmantel, french: Alchémille des Alpes). (1258k) Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris, german: Besenheide, french: Bruyère callune). (610k) Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia, german: Rundblättrige Glockenblume, french: Campanule à feuilles rondes). Some insect had cut a hole in the side of this one. (423k) Field Gentian (Gentianella campestris, german: Feld-Kranzenzian, french: Gentiane des champs). (611k) Mushroom. This was an edible variety. (734k) Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima, german: Strand-Grasnelke, french: Armérie maritime). (628k) This plant was completely red, stem and all. (1013k) Pink Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, german: Gemeine Schafgarbe, french: Achillée millefeuille). (502k) Sea Campion (Silene uniflora, german: Klippen-Leimkraut, french: Silène à une fleur) growing in the volcanic sand. (931k) Variegated Horsetail (Equisetum variegatum, german: Bunter Schachtelhalm). (1208k) Various plants, including some mosses and lichens, growing together. (1409k) Very commonly a bunch of plants of different species grow together in a clump with bare volcanic soil around it. (1175k) The whole area here was a lush green. This green was due entirely to moss, there was no grass growing there at all. (562k) Close-up of the moss cover. (1191k) Typical landscape with mosses, small plants, and the occasional small bush. (1.5M) Close-up of the moss and heath. (1256k) Lichen and moss on some rocks. (999k) Lichen growing on a lava rock. (1104k) All the light color in this rock field is caused by lichens. (642k) A tiny bush on volcanic sand. There was not much growing in that area, just the occasional plant like this. (1450k) You can see how sparse the vegetation is in this area. (872k) There was only the occasional flower in the sand, no grass at all. (1317k) Sheep are everywhere in Iceland. The incessant wind was blowing through their hair. (874k) And here is the black sheep of the family. (806k) White-beaked Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris, german: Weißschnauzendelfin, french: Dauphin à nez blanc). (883k) White-beaked Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris, german: Weißschnauzendelfin, french: Dauphin à nez blanc). (960k) White-beaked Dolphin. (746k) Partial whale skull in Husavík. (958k)