Vatnajökull – meaning ‘glacier of the lakes’- is in the southeast corner of Iceland and accounts for more than 8% of its landmass. There are several volcanoes beneath it. The last of these erupted violently in 1994 causing considerable flooding. Access is by snowmobile or boat. Intrepid travellers who visit are lost for words to describe shooting steam and water bubbling upwards from craters. It is an otherworldly experience as if you are on another planet.
Getting To Vatnajökull Glacier Iceland
The glacier Is set within the boundaries of the Vatnajökull National Park. Much of this is highland area, and adventurers should take precautions in case weather delays them overnight. Visit the Safe Travel website if you are contemplating self-driving by hire car or motorhome rental. On second thoughts, forget the idea. Take a tour with a reputable operator; it is just not worth the risk going solo.
Once there, the Park has rules it asks you to respect like sticking to main roads. This is necessary because the surface of the volcanic soil is brittle. Ruts caused by thoughtless tyres can cause erosion, prompt unofficial routes and take decades to recover. Choose a tour guide who sticks to official tracks. This place is wild. Do not be fooled by seemingly placid photos in this post.
Place of Giants
Vatnajökull Glacier is 8,100 square kilometres in extent (3,120 square miles) making it the second largest frozen mass in Europe. The ice is on average 400 meters (1,300 feet) thick (that’s equivalent to a 121-storey building). In stark contrast, Iceland’s tallest peak Hvannadalshnúkur is on its southern boundary and rises to 2,100 meters (6,900 feet). It is a great attraction for experienced mountaineers who are up to the challenge.
In spring, Iceland thaws and Vatnajökull gives birth to streams, rivers and cataracts. The tundra perks up, rodents scurry around in the undergrowth. Reindeer males spar in preparation for the mating season. The Earth is refreshed, the tourist season begins. Vatnajökull Glacier is one place not to miss on the planet.