By Aileen Wilson
There are direct flights from New York City to Reykjavik, and direct flights from Edinburgh to Reykjavik so three trips to teach at Iceland Academy of the Arts have included holidays with family from Scotland. The Golden Circle bus tour took my mother, son and I to Þingvellir National Park and stopped at the rift valley, the fissure between North America and Europe caused by the separation of the tectonic plates. From the side of the road a group in wetsuits were preparing to dive the fissure – Silfra. The tour guide proudly informed us that this was a popular place to dive, the vision in the glacier water from nearby Langjökull over 100 meters.
Two years later my cousin David, the diver, and I are in Silfra. Snorkelling with three young Swiss men I can see the divers below. The tour guide had been right – the glacier water was crystal clear but he had forgotten to say how intensely blue the lagoon is.
We drive north. It is beautiful. Snow covered mountains, bright sunshine. Akureyri, the second largest city with 17, 500 residents, is close to “some of the world’s most fascinating diving” at Eyjafjörður. Strytan, a giant geothermal cone (55m) rises up from the ocean floor, and pours out hot water. Diving, a lunch of Slátur(described as sheep intestines, liver and lard tied up in a sheep’s stomach and cooked) and hot chocolate made with the water gushing from the cones is organized by Erlendur Bogason. Working with the Environment Agency of Iceland, Erlendur ensures that the area remains well maintained and protected. Cones made from magnesium-silicate are home to wolfish, starfish and cod and as the divers meet Stephanie, the local wolfish, I see whales coming into the fjord to feed where they will spend the summer.
These two natural wonders in Iceland – Silfra and Strytan – are best enjoyed in dry suits.
Info about the area – In the UNESCO World Heritage site, Thingvellir National Park, is Silfra, the space between the two continental plates. At the deepest parts the depth is 23m with boulders and glacial silt at the bottom. Silfra Lagoon (photo 3055) is the shallowest part and is beautifully blue and glacially clear.
Strytan Divcenter is located in Hjalteyri 22. km north of Akureyri. GPS location N 65°51.055′– W 18°11.583′.
Info about the area – “The Iceland Environment Agency has made a contract with Erlendur Bogason, on behalf of Strytan Divecenter, to take over the administration and operation of the protected natural phenomena Strytan and Arnarnesstrytur on the bottom of Eyjafjordur. Strytan is the only geothermal cone found in the world you can scuba dive to, the others are found at 3000m or deeper. Strytan is rising from the seafloor at a depth of 65m to 15m under the surface so the Strytan in Eyjafjörður is 50m high. Around 100 liters of freshwater per second at 72°c is coming from the cone. Arnarnesstrytur- the home of Stephanie the Wolffish- was protected in 2007 and are the second underwater protected area in Iceland and the protected area is 400 meters wide and 1000 meters long with lot of samll cones. We usually dive at the shallowest cone at 18m depth. There you can see 78°c hot fresh water steaming from the cone.”