Jökulsárlón, or ‘Glacier Lagoon’, is considered one of the natural wonders of Iceland. It formed when the glacier that once reached the Atlantic Ocean began to recede. The melting ice has formed a pool of water that now stands 1.5km from the ocean’s edge and covers an area almost 7sq km in size. The lagoon formed only 60 years ago, is almost four times as large as it was in the 1970s.
As the glacier continues to melt, chunks of ice calve off from its toe and float towards the sea. The icebergs gather near a small channel and bunch together, melting until they are small enough to escape to the sea. During the winter months, the lagoon freezes over and the icebergs are trapped until spring.
When the warm weather returns, the glacier begins to melt once again, icebergs form and drift towards the ocean, and when they do escape, the waves push them up against the shore, pounding them as they continue to melt. Some are washed up onto the black sand beach where the heat of the sun warms the dark sand and they make a last stand before disappearing completely.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
As we approached the region of the lagoon, we could see the Vatnajökull glacier off in the distance, rising to over 1,000m. The ocean was on our right, and a low glacial ridge to our left. But where was the lagoon? We could see the tall supports of the bridge that spans the glacier’s river in the near distance, but the lagoon was hidden from view.
It wasn’t until we turned off the highway and drove towards a group of parked cars that the lagoon appeared in all its splendour. And what a stunning sight it was! It was all I could do to wait for Anil to park the car, to keep myself from opening the door while the car was still moving, to leap out for a better view. I don’t remember being that excited since I was a child waiting to get to a lake in Alberta on a hot summer day.
As we walked towards the lagoon, the first icebergs that caught my attention were ones that contained a good deal of ash from ancient volcanic eruptions. My first impression was that the iceberg resembled a group of Emperor penguins huddled together to keep warm. It reminded me of the award-winning movie The March of the Penguins.
I remembered reading that the lagoon has been featured in several Hollywood films including A View To A Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. I was almost glad that I haven’t seen any of those films; because I prefer to see beautiful sights such as these first-hand, and let the views come as a surprise. It’s true that I never knew the lagoon existed until I saw Adia and Geoff’s photos from their trip two years earlier, and it was their enthusiasm that got us thinking about travelling to Iceland in the first place.
We spent over an hour admiring the lagoon and now and then we could see inflatable boats taking tourists for rides across the lagoon, passing very near the larger icebergs floating in the distance. We hadn’t allowed enough time for us to take a ride in one of the boats, but I didn’t mind too much because we appreciated the incredible silence that existed when the boats weren’t out on the water.
Instead, we stood and watched the floating icebergs make their escape into the small channel that would take them to the ocean. I took some video and you can hear the enthusiasm in our voices as we wait for the icebergs to collide. We had a surprising visitor during this time at the lagoon, click here to have a look: Icebergs On Parade.
We turned to leave, but knew that our visit was not yet over. The American couple that we had met at the guesthouse in Reykjavik had told us not to miss walking out to the beach to see what happens to the icebergs when they get washed up on shore. They told us they had enjoyed walking there as much as they enjoyed the lagoon itself. I was surprised that our guidebook made no mention of the icebergs on the beach.
We drove the short distance to the edge of the ocean, and parked our car beside two others. It was wonderful to come at a time when there were so few other travellers, because I had read that the region has been nicknamed the ‘Tourist Conveyor Belt’. Tour operators conduct snowmobile and jeep tours of the glacier during the summer months and dozens of large buses can be seen parked here at those times.
We enjoyed walking along the jet-black beach, watching the icebergs crash against the shore and studying the ‘beached’ bergs to determine what their shapes reminded us of. It was a little like lying in the grass on a prairie summer afternoon, studying the shapes of passing clouds. It was hard to tear us away.