It’s outlandish to travel to Iceland without visiting its ice-capped mountains and glaciers. Or ‘Icelandish’, as Zoe Macfarlane claims, as she explores South East Iceland’s glacial landscapes with Hidden Iceland.
It’s a long-standing opinion that someone was having a laugh when Iceland and Greenland were named. It’s more Iceland-ish than a land of ice.
The country’s verdant mountains, dramatic canyons, and moss-covered lava fields are crowd-pleasers, for sure, but they’re not all the destination has to offer. It shouldn’t be an either/or decision to visit Iceland’s icy panoramas. In fact, with 269 glaciers, skipping time on the ice is like skipping leg day at the gym. You can get away with it, but your balance is off.
With Iceland’s glaciers receding, if ever there was a time to get out there, it’s now.
While most tour companies operate a one-day race of point-and-shoot glimpses of the vast Vatnajökull National Park (Europe’s largest), Hidden Iceland, endorses getting on it. The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon tour is designed to connect you to the magnetism, fragility, and significance of Iceland’s ice.
A focal point of the brand’s two-day tour is the time spent on Falljókull (falling glacier), a striking crevice-capped peak within Vatnajökull. We’re armed with crampons, helmets, and a pickaxe, a thrilling-yet-serious-looking uniform. Our exuberant guide, Ingi, informed us that we’d be making our way to the gaping cracks above.
It’s sensible to watch your feet as you troll-stomp your crampons up the 2,5000-year-old glacier. It’s challenging, however, in the presence of such an astonishing landscape, and one that is purported to disappear within five years.
“In spikes I trust”, became my motto as I discarded the potential risks for the present-moment rewards of watching the panorama transform. The Icelandic climate moves quickly up here. During our four-hour expedition, each cloud shift from light to dark gave the landscape a new persona.
To the left, an emerald peak appears to have escaped the suffocation of the glacier. Though, did it really? Icelandic lore claims the mountain is the stupefied body of a female troll, Hella.
She lay down to rest and missed the sunrise (deadly to an Icelandic troll) and has been trapped in the mountain since. As I squinted to discover Hella’s face in profile, I felt appreciation for Ingi taking the time to share these stories. The folklore of elves, trolls, and hidden people, reveal a part of Iceland’s culture that is as much about respect for the land, as it is about the creatures that guard it.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Ice(green)land without spending time in the country’s less frozen brilliance too. The feathered wings of the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon were a personal highlight. It looks like a place for legends and lore… or Justin Bieber. Yes, the Biebs filmed his “I’ll Show You” music video here.
Wild waves pounded selfie-taking tourists as they clambered the basalt columns on the black sands of Reynisjjara Beach. Here, and under the power shower of Skógarfoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, I felt grateful for Hidden Iceland’s rented waterproof jacket, pants, and boots.
With their tours capped to 12, Hidden Iceland allows for some wiggle room for ad hoc requests. I experienced this firsthand as Ingi cheerfully accommodated a quick detour so I could replicate Iceland Air’s #InstaInspo of the sod-covered roofs of Hofskirkja.
The number of tourists coveting an Iceland trip makes finding hidden parts of the destination a challenge. It’s about 75 times smaller than Australia, after all. Hidden Iceland has, however, found a way to deliver beyond solely finding a place empty. Ingi connected sights with insights in a way that made me feel like I had been given a backstage pass at my favourite band’s concert.
I guess that makes me an Iceland groupie now.
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