The Land of Fire and Ice


The Land of Fire and Ice

By Tate Hession, year 11

First things first, the trip was amazing! It really was a once in a lifetime experience that you could never explain with a video or in a classroom. To start off we had the anticipation of what was to come. Everyone was ready and on the flight we were eagerly looking out of the windows for a glimpse of the foreign landscape that had only been previously described to us: the land of fire and ice.


On the day of arrival after a comfortable but long and tiring journey we stayed in a cosy hotel where we enjoyed our first meal (soup then with a main of meatballs, gravy and mash and finishing with dessert of fresh fruit). This was in a town called Hveragerdi (get used to some interesting sounding names!) After the filling meal we had our first real outdoor experience on a short walk to the closest supermarket which was a ‘Bonus’ – a popular supermarket of Iceland’s branded with a pink pig for its logo. The cold wasn’t bad as we were all well-equipped with our layers, but most of us were more bothered about the snow than the cold – there was so much of it! After our little expedition down the street we enjoyed the facilities at the hotel and had our first experience of geothermally powered water in the hotel’s outdoor pool.

The water was the perfect temperature with the air giving a refreshing feeling. We used the pool and the hot tubs, and even got pelted by snowballs by the onlooking teachers… Soon after the lights were out, knowing a long day was ahead of us.


The first full day started with tour guides in tow for a day of geological experiences. We hopped on our buses and headed for the first site. It was one of the old test sites looking for the location of a new geothermal power station. After a couple of years, the project was abandoned in this area and later the old hole collapsed leaving muddy pits that smell of sulphur and boiling streams of water. After walking through this and seeing the glorious Icelandic sunrise (and some more snowballs!) the next stop was an extremely large lake (called Kleifarvatn) frozen over with the sun rising leaving a beautiful scene across the solid ice sheet. The next destination was a little different as we headed to Reykjavik for lunch and experienced another Icelandic swimming baths where we had a soothing experience in another outdoor geothermally heated pool.


After the relaxing experience we travelled out of the city and visited the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant – Iceland’s largest – where the processes of power production and global plate margins were described in an informative presentation. There was also a large exhibition showing a sectioned piece of pipe full of insulation and two viewing decks into the active turbines supplying power to the local people of Reykjavik. This helped show in reality some of the things we’ve learned about in our Geography lessons so was good to see it ‘in the flesh’.  Then we were back on the buses and soon found ourselves arriving in Hvolsvollur for our next accommodation in some humble lodges.

They really were in the middle of nowhere! We sorted our arrangements and went for food which was a delectable lamb curry or chickpea alternative. We then discussed the agenda and timing for the next day and returned to our cabins for a bit, before heading to bed.


The second full day was full of excitement and hopefulness as whilst the wind was picking up, we were expecting to climb onto a glacier. Luckily the guides were amazing and allowed us to go ahead as the wind settled and with the equipment provided and the will to go on we all started the trek into the valley where the Solheimajokull glacier once stood, looking down into the lake left by the melting glacier covered by ice and the beautiful dark crystalline blues reflecting from the scattered ice bergs. The glacier was in view now and every step closer seemed more unrealistic.


We then climbed up onto the glacier and followed in single file the leaders with our ice picks in hand and crampons digging deep. The guides stopped along the way, telling us of the formation and origins of the eight-hundred-year-old ice we were walking on. We were even able to pick pieces off seeing through the completely clear rocks with only pockets of ancient ash or rainbow pockets of gas. We climbed through the glacial cracks and over onto the top where winds were dramatic, blowing snow past your feet making it seem like we were stood in a river of mist. The view was breath taking and every moment worth the hike.

Thanking the guide we left once again and got on the coaches to see the black sand beach caused by the erosion of basalt over millions of years, creating the eerie but cool coastal features. Only a 2 minute drive away was the Lava Show where they melt volcanic sand in front of you to make real lava, and show you some of the rare and cool features whilst explaining how Iceland has formed over the 250 million years it has been around.

To finish off the day off we visited 2 waterfalls covered in massive icicles – Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss – and visited a farm that sits in the shadow of and was affected by the 2010 volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. It was another chance to see for real something we had previously learnt in school.

We then returned to the cabins, enjoyed our tea and a hotly contested quiz, before going to bed and getting ready for the final full day.


As the third and final full day came we were all tired but still excited for the activities ahead, starting the day with a visit to the secret lagoon which is a geothermal hot spring creating a natural pool. It was extremely relaxing with a natural gravelled floor and smooth rock seats. With the easy start finished we continued to the ‘Golden Circle’, first heading to Geysir which is a huge water vent which spews boiling water up to 20 metres high (one of the only three thermal vents in the world which erupts regularly!)

Next was Gullfoss which is an amazing two-storey waterfall that when we visited was half frozen with streams of water carrying icebergs downstream eroding the deep valley where it resides. To finish the day of we finally visited Thingvellir on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which separates the north American plate and the Eurasian plate. Here we got a magnificent view of the rift valley between the plates, topped at either end by mountain tops and volcanoes.

After the long day we then proceeded to the capital for our last stay in Reykjavik. After our food we went out into the city exploring the Icelandic culture, passing the rainbow road and various food shops. We even went aurora hunting across the sea front as we headed back for our 3 hours of sleep, unfortunately not seeing the Northern Lights.


It was finally time for us to leave,. All packed up and ready to leave we got on the coach at 4:30am for our hour-long drive to the airport and all of a sudden a bright green light appeared and we managed to see the Northern Lights: a fitting end to our trip.

The journey home was without flaw due to the excellent work of the staff and we finally said our farewells as we all slumped home exhausted from the amazing journey and overall experience.

Special thanks need to go to all the teachers who planned and assisted with the trip along the way, and especially Mr Corbridge.