I love each and every trip to Iceland as a Field Studies Tutor for Rayburn Tours. I thoroughly enjoy the chance to share some of the wonders of this fantastic island with eager students, and am particularly happy when I get to try something new.
Although I have in the past explored a number of lava tubes in Iceland (as well as at other locations such as Hawaii and New Zealand) , on my last trip I had the opportunity to visit a new location – the Leidarendi Lava Caves on the Reykjanes peninsula.
Although the previous few days had been decent spring weather, when we set off on our journey to the lava caves it began to snow heavily. As we were to spend a good bit of time underground, this obviously didn’t matter too much – and it certainly added to the atmosphere of the day.
The caves are located just a few miles south east of Hafnarfjordur, one of the southern suburbs of the Reykjavik metropolitan area. They are found in a giant scoria crater called Stori Bolli (‘Big Cup’), and were first opened in 1992, and were created around 2000 years ago when a major eruption produced a huge lava field in this part of south west Iceland.
Lava caves (or tubes) were formed when surface-flowing lava solidified – while molten lava continued to flow in a tunnel (or tube) below the surface. The tubes eventually drain as the lava flow ceases, and the rock cools to leave a long, narrow cave.
When we arrived at the caves, we were met by our excellent guides from ‘Iceland Expeditions’, who kitted everyone out with safety helmets and head torches. The entry into the cave system was pretty narrow, but once inside it was possible to walk through the old channels – with a few spots demanding a crouched posture or all-fours, and one or two a bit of a crawl with chest on the cave floor.
While underground, we were given some fascinating information about the volcanic activity in the Reykjavik area, and were able to explore a good length of the lava tube system. With our head torches lighting the way, the smooth cave walls were clear to see – and it didn’t need a great imagination to visualise how flowing lava streams had sculpted and polished these channels.
One distinct feature of the Leidarendi system is the presence of lava-icicles – stalactites and stalagmites on the cave floor and ceiling – formed from dripping and splashing lava. Lava flakes that had fallen from the walls and roof due to frost and erosion littered the tunnel floor beneath our feet.
It was a strange feeling re-emerging from this sheltered underground world back into a raging snow storm – but a great experience that really brought alive the scale and wonder of the volcanic activity that has formed this unique subterranean landscape.