How many times have you made the Golden Circle tour? How many times have you seen Gullfoss and Geysir?
Are you ready for something you can brag about when you get home?
Something that hardly anyone else has done and yet you can be picked up at your hotel to be whisked away to this exotic adventure. You can even choose the ease or difficulty of your adventure.
Do you want to be able to say when you get home, “You won’t believe what we did.”
If you do, then the next time you are in Iceland, explore a lava tube cave. It’s a surreal adventure available to everyone.
When I think of caving, I think of people flat on their bellies, squeezing between narrow passageways far beneath the earth. To do that kind of caving, you have to be fit and not claustrophobic. Visiting a lava tube cave isn’t like that.
Because there have been lava flows in many places in Iceland, there are long tubes left from which the lava emptied out. Some of these caves have floors that are easy to walk on. There are short tubes and long tubes. There are organized tours. You can pick the cave that suits you.
When lava flows steadily in a confined channel for hours or days, it can create a roof as the surface lava cools. This turns the flow into a stream inside a lava tube. Once inside this tube, the lava stays hot because it is now insulated from the colder air. Because this lava remains hot, it can move great distances from the eruption.
How fast the lava travels depends on how thick it is. You have to think of syrup and water. Both are liquids but water runs much faster than syrup. The more silica there is in the lava, the slower it flows. The less silica there is, the faster it flows. Low silica content lava can flow at 15-50 kilometres an hour.
Many lava tubes are usually not completely dark because there are openings in the ceiling. One type of opening is called a spatter cone. It was formed when the lava was still flowing. The other type of opening is caused by the thin ceilings collapsing. In any case helmets are provided in the unlikely case something falls on you.
You can explore lava caves all over Iceland but some of the easiest to access are between Þingvellir and Laugarvatn. How many times have you been to Þingvellir and never known that there were lava caves below?
There is one company, Iceland Holidays, that offers two lava caving trips, Underworld summer and Underworld winter. The summer version is in Þingvellir National Park. In winter, because of the harsh winter conditions, they change to the Leiðarendi cave in the Blue Mountain area. At 900 meters long it is considered to be a subterranean wonder world. However, there are a number of companies who offer tours of the caves so you can choose both your caves and your tour guide. Extreme Iceland also offers caving tours. It is led by a geologist, Bjorn Hroarsson.
The Gjábakkahellir cave is a perfect example of an Icelandic lava tube and is situated in one of the most active volcano areas in the world. It is 364 metres (1194 feet) long but because it is quite rocky, cavers will have to walk, crawl and climb so it is for the more fit adventurer.
Then there is Surtshellir the largest and best known of all caves in Iceland. Surtshellir Lava Tube has a long history, having been first described in 1679. For a time, robbers lived in the cave and used the cave as a base from which to raid the countryside. Local people believed that ghosts lived in the cave and would kill anyone who entered. The god Surtr was believed to have lived within the cave. He was a fire giant and people thought that he had created the cave with his fire.
There are lava fields and a cave tour close to Reykjavík. For example, you can visit the lava field Tvíbollahraun with its beautiful caves.
One of world’s most spectacular lava tube caves is Búri in the Leitahraun-lava field. It is probably the most prized of all the lava tube caves. It wasn’t known until Bjorn Hroarsson a vulcanospeleologist discovered it in 2005. It is considered one of the most important discoveries in Speleology in Iceland in a thousand years.
For visiting some of the caves you will need warm outdoor clothing, a waterproof jacket and pants. Good hiking boots and gloves are recommended! The company will, if it is necessary, supply a headlight and a helmet. You don’t need to know anything about caving to go on these tours. Check with the company offering the tour as to how long it will take and how easy or hard the visit will be.
When the tour is over, if you’ve any sore muscles, you can relax at the Blue Lagoon.