The Incredible Westmann Islands
Julie Sarperi joins the guest bloggers here at Stuck in Iceland. This is her second article for Stuck in Iceland but previously she wrote about her visit to the Great Fish Day Festival in the northern village of Dalvík. This time Julie embarks on a journey to the Vestmann Islands off the south coast of Iceland. Julie has a fantastic travel blog in her native language.
On Monday, July 25th 2013, we leave the village of Hveragerdi for the Westmann Islands. The scenery on road to the ferry docks at the harbour at “Landeyjarhöfn” is pretty amazing. The Westman Islands (“Vestmannaeyjar” in Icelandic) is an archipelago of several small islands, 7 km off the south coast of Iceland. The largest island is called “Heimaey” (“Home Island”) an it is the only inhabited island. It is home to some 4.000 inhabitants.
Climbing the volcano Eldfell
The advantage of visiting Iceland in the summer is that you can go hiking at 6:30 in the evening. The ascent of the top of the volcano Eldfell (“Fire Hill”) is easy it only stands some 221 meter high. If you go to Vestmann islands this hike is a must. The view at the top is amazing at the top. You get a 360 degree panorama of the infinite ocean, the island itself, the Icelandic “mainland,” the lava fields on Heimaey and the other islands of the archipelago.
Heimaey: the village buried by lava
January 22, 1973: In the dead of night there is an volcanic eruption and the Eldfell volcano is formed. All of of the 5.000 inhabitants are successfully evacuated, most of them escape the inferno on fishing boats surreptitiously in harbour due to bad weather. The eruption goes on with continuous lava flow for more than five months, burying some 300 houses. Half of the town is destroyed, the other half is covered in a thick ash layer. About 2.000 people returned after the eruption and clearing all the ash was a lot of hard work to say the least.
You can actually see where some of the houses buried by the ash used to stand. Their locations is marked with plaques with drawing of the houses and the date when they succumbed to lava and ash.
A volcanic island is born
The youngest Icelandic island is a part of the Westman island archipelago and is called Surtsey. It also one of the youngest islands in world. It was formed by underwater volcanic eruptions that took place between 14th of November to 5th of June 1967.
In these catastrophic events, nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed. Rocks do not escape the cycle of “life.” Here, an island is created, there land disappears underwater. An island appears in only a few years with a lot of explosions!
Surtsey is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is only and is accessible only to researchers (and sea birds).
Exciting cliffs and puffin watching
From april to august the puffins are found in the cliffs of Iceland. The Westmann Islands are the place to see those birds, they are, after all the largest colony of puffins in the world. They are fun to watch. They are very beautiful, colorful and rather funny. The picture isn´t perfect however. When the chicks are often attracted to the lights from the town when they leave the nest instead of the ocean where they should be heading. Local children collect hundreds of chicks, keep them in boxes at home overnight and take them to the sea in the morning. This takes place around the middle of August each year.
Unfortunately, the puffins are on the menu at the local resturant. Just like the whale. There is no way I would ever eat it.
A few more pictures and useless information about the Westmann Islands 🙂
Keiko, the killer whale which starred in the movie “Free Willy” was brought to the Westmann Islands in 1998 after spending twenty years in captivity. The idea was to acclimate him to the wild again. This was only a partial success and Keiko ended up dying of pneumonia in Norway after returning to human care. I am sorry about the unhappy end (I warned you it was useless).
A boat ride around the island. But this is a big zodiak that looks to go fast. Not sure this is very environmentally friendly?
There is a massive annual music festival held in the Westmann Islands that has the cool name of “Þjóðhátíð” or “National Festival” in English. It takes place over the Icelandic national holiday of “Verslunarmannahelgi” (“Shopkeeper Weekend”) which is held over the weekend preceding the first Monday of every August which is a day off for everyone. The “Þjóðhátíð” is a huge outdoor event/concert with thousands of people partying, watching fireworks and listening to live bands. It looks to be really frenzied with lots of teens drinking lot of beer. No, I think I will avoid it!
And finally, The Westmann Islands are amazing for playing golf. If that is your thing!
Words and pictures by Julie Sarperi
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