Day 2: A Lava Cave, a Glacier, and Whales
Helgafell – The Holy Mountain
Shortly after waking and meeting our guide around the corner from our AirBnB we were driven out to Helgafell – The Holy Mountain, 45 minutes west of Reykjavik, where we would be going underground into one of the many lava caves that pepper the country. The entire way out there the only thing I could think of was the roads in Ireland and how we would hold our breath as if that could make us and the car skinnier – the roads were mostly covered in inches of unplowed snow, but our guide was awesome (an obviously skilled at powering through the stuff). The only time I was a bit nervous was upon first entering the access road as she chuckled at the sign that said “Impassible!” in English and Icelandic.
Lava Cave Entrance – Holy Mountain
But we made it though! Upon getting out to the site the sun was just starting to rise – this was about 9:15 am at this point – the wind was intense to the point that our guide helped another guide by holding his van’s door in place so it didn’t blow back and break off the hinges. We strapped on our boots, crampons, and helmets, and followed her out to the cave site where the other company’s guide was already at work digging the entrance out. It’s apparently been snowing here more than usual, so between the additional snow and high winds, the way in was completely stopped up with snow. About 15 minutes later we shimmied our way into the cave – claustrophobes beware.
Inside the lava cave
In we go
Once inside the space opened up immediately to the point where we could stand at our full height (most of the time). Over the course of the next 90 minutes we walked through two major channels within the cave and explored the hardened lava that seemed to form drips and waves on the ceiling and walls – completely alien landscape. This experience hands down was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had while traveling. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking down below.
After exploring the lava cave we jumped back into the van and headed down the snow-covered roads to continue our tour at the Perlan Museum (the “Pearl”), which is where most of the city’s hot water is stored – but was semi-recently turned into a museum. Inside you can walk through an indoor ice cave that was created from part of a glacier they have now moved and self-contained within the museum. Once inside we were able to see an awesome photography exhibit, spend time inside the ice cave, and then walk out onto the Perlan’s 360 observation deck for some awesome views of the city and surrounding countryside. This was a really inexpensive way to spend a few hours and learn a lot about the area.
Afterwards, our tour guide was kind enough to drop us off at the whale museum (Whales of Iceland), which was something that was definitely on Brendan’s to do list. The museum was pretty cool in that it was a self-guided and self-paced audio tour through one of the big buildings along the harbor. Inside they had massive models of different whales suspended from the ceiling, as well as an interactive touchscreen (and a coffee shop, because I was fading quickly).
Tour and museum’d out we headed for what turned out to be a 3-hour awesome experience at a local bar we stumbled upon named Skuli Craft Bar. The bartender, originally from Stockholm, was beyond engaging and talked with us for almost two hours before we then both were pulled into two different conversations with other travelers. Environment and vibe alone I’d recommend this place in a heartbeat if you need to sit and take in some great Icelandic beer and conversation.
Skuli Craft Bar
Since it was pushing 6pm at this point we decided on a late dinner reservation at Essensia, which was featured and raved about during one of the in-flight promos. Sad to say the food was average at best, so we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a must-do – not a bad meal though. We just should have stayed at Skuli instead! Lesson learned though, 4.5-star reviews aren’t always as they appear!
Thoroughly fed and “hydrated” we trudged back to the AirBnB in the Icelandic rain and wind – onto the next adventure tomorrow.