Lakagígar is a row of craters, formed in one of the world's largest mixed eruptions in recorded history. This continuous series of eruptions emitted a vast quantity of lava and substantial amounts of volcanic ash from a fissure stretching 25 km across the area west of the ice cap. The craters are regarded as a globally unique phenomenon and are as such a protected natural monument.
In 1783, a huge lava flow streamed from Lakagígar in what became known as the "Skaftá Fires." This is believed to have been one of the greatest lava flows in a single eruption in the history of the world: the molten lava filled the gorges through which the Skaftá and Hverfisfljót rivers flowed, and swept down in two branches into inhabited areas, to spread over the lowlands where it laid waste many farms. The eruption produced large quantities of volcanic ash. For residents of the region, and Iceland as a whole, the results of the eruption were catastrophic: this time is known as "Móðuharðindin" (the Haze Famine).
The Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Peaceland between the mountains
The pearl of the central highlands, Landmannalaugar, and its surroundings are too colorful and magnificent to describe with words.
The Stafafellsfjöll mountains dominate the skyline east of Vatnajökull glacier and have long included one of Iceland's most extensive protected areas, known as Lónsöræfi. Besides the deep, rugged canyons, the landscape displays a wide range of colours due to rhyolite and other attractive rocks. In contrast, there are lushly vegetated, sheltered valleys, and a good chance of spotting reindeer. Numerous trails make this a perfect hiking territory.
Öræfajökull: Iceland's highest mountain
Extending south from the Vatnajökull icecap and towering to around 6,870 feet (2,110 m), Öræfajökull is Iceland's highest mountain. Its height actually varies with the season and the depth of snow and ice, since the peak itself, Hvannadalshnúkur, is topped by ice which is thickest in spring and thinnest in autumn.
The mountain and surrounding areas offer good skiing in winter, and are very popular with walkers and hikers throughout the year.
Scenic nature, favorable weather conditions and a network of hiking trails make Skaftafell an ideal destination to enjoy outdoor activities in Icelandic nature. Short and easy trails lead to the waterfall Svartifoss and Skaftafellsjökull glacier, but for those who want to reach further out Morsárdalur valley and Kristínartindar mountain peaks are perfect in terms of distance and labour. Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those who seek to climb Iceland's highest mountain peak, Hvannadalshnúkur.
Private travel companies operate in Skaftafell and offer guided hikes on the nearby glaciers and mountains. Also on offer are sightseeing flights over Vatnajökull glacier and other renowned attractions.
Þingvellir (Icelandic "Þing": parliament, "vellir": plains) is a place in the southwest of Iceland near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic area.
It is famous for two reasons:
As one of the most important places in Icelandic history. In the year 930 the Alþingi, one of the oldest parliamentary institutions of the world, was founded. The Alþingi met yearly, where the Lawspeaker recited the law to all of the gathered people and decided disputes as well. In the year 999 or 1000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After the conversion it is said that, upon returning from the Alþingi, Þorgeir then threw his statues of the old Norse gods into the waterfall that is now named Goðafoss ("Waterfall of the Gods"). At this historical place, the independence of the Republic of Iceland was proclaimed on June 17, 1944.
As a national park (since 1928) because of the special tectonic and volcanic environment. The continental drift can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which are traversing the region, the biggest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon. This causes also the often measurable earthquakes in the area.
Þingvellir is situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, the biggest lake of Iceland. The river Öxará traverses the national park and is forming a waterfall at the Almannagjá, called Öxaráfoss Together with the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysirs of Haukadalur, Þingvellir is part of the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle.
Þingvellir is a designated UNESCO World Heritag Site
Thingvellir, 50 km (31 miles) to the east of Reykjavík, is the national shrine of Iceland. Icelands most historic site, and one of its most beautiful places, it is also part of The Golden Circle tour. The oldest existing parliament in the world first met here in AD930. The Alþing met here every year to enact laws, including the law passed in AD1000 to introduce Christianity into the island. It has always been the focal point for the country, and whenever a major event is to be celebrated, thousands of people come here. At the celebration of the 1,100th anniversary of the first settlement in 1974, more than 60,000 people packed into Thingvellir.
Nearby Lögberg is the cliff overlooking the place where the Alþing (assembly) met, and speakers stood to address the gatherings from this point. Nearby is Drekkingarhylur (The Drowning Pool), where mothers of illegitimate children were drowned. It is sited in the river Öxará in Almannagjá, a lava gorge, which with the Öxarárfoss waterfall, is an impressive sight.
Peningagjá (The Money Chasm) is a deep fissure filled with crystal clear spring water; people throw coins into it from the bridge that lies across. The coins give off strange reflections as they drop through the water, it is said that if you can follow the coin all the way down until it comes to rest on the bottom, your wish will come true. Scubadiving and snorkeling in wet suits is becoming increasingly popular here.
There is an old church at Thingvellir. Beside the church is the national burial ground.
Thingvallavatn is the largest lake in Iceland, 83sq km (32sq miles) and over 100m (328ft) deep. The only outflow from lake Thingvallavatn is the river Sog, a famous salmon river with beautiful blue water. The lake's catchment area is 90% underground and the water from the thousands of cold springs has a constant temperature of 3-4°C the whole year round.
The anglers, who use boats for their fishing, have to be careful and watch out for changes in the weather. The lake becomes a boiling pot, when the wind starts blowing. The catch in the lake has always been a necessary part for the survival of the farming families on the lake. They have netted the lake traditionally for centuries. Angling permits are sold in the little shop and visitors centre in the camping area or at Hotel Valholl. The catch consists of brown trout and lake char.
It is said that these fish became isolated in the lake in the wake of the last ice age when the terrain rose at the south end of Þingvallavatn. These two species are a living testimony to how the evolution of species occurs in nature, as over a period of 10,000 years they have adapted themselves to various habitats in the lake. The constant, regular influx of groundwater into Lake Þingvallavatn, together with a very varied habitat, has created good conditions for fish and other life forms in the lake, to which they have adapted even more.This has resulted in the fact that both the brown trout and char in Thingvallavatn are amongst the largest to be found in the world. The trout are said to be as big as over 20 kg (max weight) and the char over 10 kg (max weight), which is at the max of both species size range.
The lake is part of the Þingvellir National Park. The volcanic origin of the islands in the lake is clearly visible. The fissures around it - the famous Almannagjá is the biggest of them - indicate that here the tectonic plates of Europe and The Americas are in a conflict. In this lake, the large quantity of sulfur and salt, the lake is extremely light and the water seems to be in less weight than other lakes.
Vatnajökull National Park, established in 2008, encompasses not only all of Vatnajökull glacier but also extensive surrounding areas. These include the national parks previously existing at Skaftafell in the southwest and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north, so that today's national park covers 13% of Iceland and ranks as Europe's second largest.
In general, national parks are protected areas which are considered unique because of their nature or cultural heritage. The unique qualities of Vatnajökull National Park are primarily its great variety of landscape features, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic and geothermal activity.
Vatnajökull is Europe's largest glacier, with a surface area of around 8,100 km2. Generally measuring 400-600 m in thickness and at the most 950 m, the glacial ice conceals a number of mountains, valleys and plateaus. It even hides some active central volcanoes, of which Bárðarbunga is the largest and Grímsvötn the most active. While the icecap rises at its highest to over 2,000 m above sea level, the glacier base reaches its lowest point 300 m below sea level. Nowhere in Iceland, with the exception of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, does more precipitation fall or more water drain to the sea than on the south side of Vatnajökull. In fact, so much water is currently stored in Vatnajökull that the Icelandic river with the greatest flow, Ölfusá, would need over 200 years to carry this quantity of water to sea.
The south side of Vatnajökull is characterised by many high, majestic mountain ridges, with outlet glaciers descending between them onto the lowlands. The southernmost part of the glacier envelops the central volcano Öræfajökull and Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur. Sheltered by the high ice, the vegetated oasis of Skaftafell overlooks the black sands deposited to its west by the river Skeiðará. These sands are mostly composed of ash which stems from the frequent eruptions at Grímsvötn and is brought to the coast by jökulhlaups, or glacial floods. Substantial volcanic activity also characterises the landscape west of Vatnajökull, where two of the world's greatest fissure and lava eruptions of historical times occurred, at Eldgjá in 934 and Lakagígar 1783-1784. Vonarskarð, northwest of the glacier, is a colourful high-temperature area and a watershed between North and South Iceland.
The objectives of designating Vatnajökull as a preservation area, along with the main regions it affects, are the following:
• To protect the nature of the region, including the landscape, biota and geological formations, as well as cultural features
• To allow the public to get to know and enjoy regional nature, culture and history
• To provide education on nature and nature conservation and on regional history, society and cultural features, as well as encouraging research to gain greater knowledge of these aspects
• To strengthen communities and business activity in the vicinity of the park.
Visitor centres and other tourist information offices working with the park
Visitor centres and other tourist information offices working with the park provide information and services for the park and its immediate environs. The following offices operate along the south coast of Iceland:
Skaftá Visitor Centre | Kirkjubæjarklaustur | open in summer
Skaftafell Visitor Centre | Skaftafell | open all year*
Skálafell farm | Suðursveit | varying hours - all year
Hólmur farm | Mýrar | varying hours - all year
Hoffell farm | Nes | varying hours - all year
Höfn Tourist Information Centre | Höfn | open in summer
* Closed on December 25 and January 1.