During a three-week tour of Iceland, every day was filled with wonders. But the most wonderful day of all was a day tour from Reykjavik to Heimaey in the Westman Islands.
The Westman Islands (more correctly Vestmannaeyjar) are a small volcanic archipelago off the south coast of Iceland. Heimaey is the largest and only permanently inhabited island. Surtsey, the youngest island, emerged spectacularly from the sea in the 1960s. And Heimaey is famous for the Eldfell eruption in 1973, which almost destroyed the harbour and main town.
Getting to the Westman Islands
There are scheduled ferries and flights to Heimaey in the summer – see here for timetables. However, we chose instead to go on a fantastic day trip. The trip started with a very early-morning flight in a tiny plane to Heimaey from Reykjavik. Then we joined a fantastic two-hour coach tour around Heimaey, followed by time to explore. The flight back detoured over the Myrdalsjokull glacier so we could see the glacier from above, and then flew over Geysir and Gulfoss before returning to Reykjavik. For details, and other available tours, see Eagle Air.
You can also check out Viator’s site for a wide range of tours throughout Iceland.
Our tour began with an early morning pick-up near our hotel in Reykjavik. Arriving at the City Airport, we got a first look at the tiny plane we were going to fly in.
The experience of flying in such a small plane was exhilarating. As was landing on the airstrip on Heimaey.
Coach Tour of Heimaey
On arrival we joined a waiting coach for a guided tour around the island. The tour was absolutely fascinating and very informative. Not least because our driver had lived on Heimaey all his life, and had actually experienced both the birth of Surtsey and the Eldfell eruption.
He told us about going to the beach as a child and watching ‘the greatest firework show on earth’, as Surtsey emerged from the waves. And he brought to life the incredible story of how the Edlfell volcano erupted during the night of January 23rd 1973. A fissure opened less than a mile from the main town on Heimaey, producing spectacular fire fountains. The eruption was totally unexpected. The resulting lava flows threatened both Heimaey’s town and the harbour, which is one of Iceland’s most important fishing ports.
For some spectacular pictures of the eruption, and the ways in which the islanders fought back and protected their town and harbour, click here.
We visited new land that was formed during the 1973 eruption, and climbed to an area where the land still feels distinctly warm.
During the tour we also witnessed how the eruption changed the town and the coastline. New land was formed, which has subsequently been eroded by the sea, creating a fascinating changing landscape. A lighthouse had to be rebuilt twice, and is now on wheels!
As well as being fascinating, Heimaey is also beautiful. There are views of the mainland and other islands, interesting turf houses, and a huge puffin colony.
Near the harbour there is also a lovely replica of a Norwegian stave church in a picturesque setting.
The Flight Back
On the return flight the pilot took us on a tour over the Myrdalsjokull glacier, where we had lovely views of the glacier from above. We then flew over the Geysir, where we saw and eruption, and Gullfoss. The power of Gullfoss was particularly aparent from the air, because you could see the extent of the spray.
To read more about our journey around Iceland see Iceland – A Magical Journey Around the Ring Road.