Vestmannæyjar, Iceland (Westman Islands) September 2011
Ferry to VestmannæyjarThe brand-new ferry dock in south Iceland cuts the ferry trip from 3 hours to 30 minutes.
Landeyjahöfn ferry dockOpened in 2011, the brand-new terminal is a source ofcontroversy. Engineers arguethe wrong location was chosen.The harbor silts up andrequires dredging, and theterminal is now too shallow forusing the larger ferry.
Vestmannæyjar in the distance – strong winds blew ash from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökulleruption off the glacier and into the atmosphere, creating a smoky haze.
The mountains of Eyjafjallajökull recede as the ferry heads to Vestmannæyjar. Rough seastoss us about, eliciting shrieks from a girls’ soccer team.
Elliðæy Island – home to my dream house
Helgafell and the town of Heimæy
1973 EruptionAt 1:45 am on January 17, withoutwarning, a brand-new fissure openedjust east of town. The five-month longeruption led to the evacuation of theisland as ash and lava buried the town.By the end of the eruption, one-third ofthe town was under lava and the brand-new volcanic cone of Eldfell stood onthe horizon. The island also increased insize on the eastern shore, a reminder ofhow volatile the Earth really is.
Locals battled an estimated 30 milliontons of lava as they watched theirhomes burn. After the eruption, most ofthe evacuated population returned, butabout 1700 people decided to remainon mainland Iceland. The growing lava field threatened to completely cut off the harbor – critical to the town’s economy – so they frantically pumped seawater to cool the lava. Now Heimæy has a better protected harbor than before the eruption. Photos from Folk Museum in town library
New and old – Eldfell and Helgafell
A spooky house graveyard – reminders of homes buried beneath the lava flow
Paths crisscross the Eldfellshraun – the 1973 lava flow
Moss has alreadycolonized the lava flow,beginning the processof digesting the rockinto soil, which maytake up to 3,000 years.
HelgafellNow dormant, Helgafell last erupted 5,000 years ago.
Street signs in the Eldfellshraun – another reminder of the town buried beneath.
The edge of the lava flow, where it stopped in June 1973.
Hike to the crater rim of Eldfell
View of Helgafell from Eldfell
From the summit of Eldfell
View across the Eldfellshraun to Heimaklettur and Ystiklettur
The soil here is still hot – 500°C just a meter down
Vestmannæyjar formed 11,000 years ago through a series of submarine eruptions on theMid-Atlantic Ridge. Eldfell is the latest volcanic incarnation.
Entrance to Heimæy’s harbor
Edge of lava flow, which threatened the historic Landlyst – maternityhospital where midwife Sólveig reversed the island’s 80% infant mortalityin the 19th century.
Stafkirkjan – reconstructed medieval wooden stave church, present from Norway in 2000.
Water tanks crushed by the lava
Rebuilt section of Skansin Fort, once used to defend the harbor from pirates.
Landskirkja – iconic church from photos of the 1973 eruption
Even Heimæy has a team in Iceland’s club soccer league.Iceland is as soccer crazy as any other European country.
Golf course at Herjólfsdalur
Hæna and Hani
Colonies of birds flock to Vestmannæyjar, including puffins, which had mostly migrated forthe winter by the time I visited.
A series of islands trail off Heimæy to the south. Somewhere out there is Surtsey, the islandthat formed almost overnight with a explosive eruption in 1963. Surtsey is now a UNESCOsite used by scientists for research.
Stórhöfði and Suðurey
Hike up Stórhöfði
Brimurð beach – where Algerian pirates attacked the island in 1627, killing, pillaging, andkidnapping 242 islanders as slaves. A disaster in a community of only 500. They eventuallyraised money to buy the freedom of 27 of their kidnapped neighbors.