Between Volcano and Sea
For Lovers of Mountains, Glaciers, Rivers and Nature, Öræfasveit Is a Choice Location
When the first Viking settlers, Ingólfur Arnarson and his wife, Hallveig, reached Iceland in 874, they wintered on the south coast under the largest active post-glacial volcano in Iceland, Öræfajökull, before moving on to Reykjavik.
A spectacular location, the area became a wealthy, densely populated farming society, with many large farms by the mid-14th century. All that changed in June, 1362 when Öræfajökull erupted explosively, causing the inhabitants to flee and changing the ecology of the area, as massive glacial bursts led to devastating floods that swept away a large number of farms.
The area became known as Öræfi – the Wilderness. Isolated, with large rivers on either side almost impassable except with skilled guides, few chose to live there for many years and few visitors struggled with the conditions.
The building of the Ring Road brought a major change as the rivers were bridged, opening up the area. Around the same time, tourism began to take off with visitors discovering what makes the region unique.
Svínafell Accommodation and Camping
Just 3 km from the Freysnes petrol station is Svínafell, nestled at the base of Öræfajökull. In the settlement era, it was considered a place of great nobility, inhabited by Flosi, made famous in the Njáls saga.
If you have your sleeping bag, Svínafell has both accommodation and a camp site where you can stay to enjoy the area, with views of the mountains and glaciers and the sands of Skeiðará, the scene of devastating floods in 1996.
With a large kitchen and dining room, where you are welcome to prepare and enjoy your own food, a laundry with a coin-operated washing machine and dryer and with good shower facilities, it’s an inspiring base from which to explore the area.
The staff are happy to provide any information you might need about the area and its services. The camp site is open until 30th September.
Guides at the nearby Skaftafell National Park Centre can take you up onto the glaciers. (It’s not safe to attempt this without a guide.)
– 785 Öræfum
TEL: +354 478 1765
GSM: +354 868 8193
Drive just a few more kilometres and you’ll see a sign on the side of the road pointing to Ingólfshöfði – Ingólfur Arnarson’s first winter home. You can’t reach it by car but one family, whose ancestry living here goes back to the settlement days, is offering a unique tour there.
Their tractor and haycart have been converted to get across the sands to the nature reserve where thousands of puffins, great skuas and others have their nests. Whether you’re a baby or an 80 year-old, if you have the spirit of adventure, this 2 1/2-hour tour to see these colourful little birds alone makes this trip worth it, never mind the experience crossing the waters, marshes and sands, and the walk around the reserve.
For those staying in the area, the photography tour starts at 6:45 am to get the best possible lighting conditions during this 3-hour tour from June to August. With a maximum of 15 people, the focus of the tour is on the photo opportunities.
Remember, this is Iceland and you should be prepared for hot sun, winds, rain and even the occasional sand storm!
– 785 Öræfum
TEL: +354 478 1682
GSM: +354 894 0894
Driving under the tip of the glacier and heading east about 47 km from Skaftafell, you’ll find a sign for ‘Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours’, which have become increasingly popular with top 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor.com.
Being less ‘touristy’ than its neighbour some way further down the road, with small, intimate groups, each trip is also filled with spontaneity, fun, interesting and personalised commentary from the professional guides. Your photographic skills can be fully used as the zodiac boats weave through the floating icebergs in the stillness and silence, in a dream-like creation.
Breiðamerkursandur – 785 Öræfum
Tel: +354 666 8006
Email: [email protected]
Photos: Einar Rúnar Gunnarsson