I purposefully closed my eyes, not in fear but in an effort to prepare my senses for the sights to come. In just six short minutes, I would be wandering; touching; experiencing the inside of the magma chamber of a volcano. As we descended 120 meters down the throat of the once fiery abyss, listening to the pitter patter of the rain drops also eager to get inside, I thought about how anywhere else in the world, the suggestion of exploring the inside of a volcano would be met with exclamations of insanity. But not in Iceland. In Iceland, it is just another day.
Before that look of lunacy and bewilderment gets permanently printed on your face I should explain how this seemingly out-of-this-world experience is possible. Roughly 4,000 years ago, the volcano we now call Thrihnukagigur exploded in a violent eruption. However, unlike in other eruptions, the geological pressure associated with the eruption is believed to have vented through various tunnels and arteries deeper in the earth, preserving an opened chamber safe for mankind to wander without worry of being swallowed up by magma or suffocated by gases. In 1974, a local doctor by the name of Árni B. Stefánsson became the first person to be lowered down inside Thrihnukagigur. Under Stefánsson initiative, commercial tours were developed for journeys inside the volcano – the first of which was run back in the summer of 2012 on a trial basis.
Today, if you visit Reykjavik between May and September you have the option of 6 tours run each day by the experienced team at Inside the Volcano. Unfortunately, due to the extreme winter weather conditions of Iceland and an effort to maintain a balance between preserving the volcano and opening it up to tourists the tour does not run between October and April. But there’s plenty of other otherworldly activities waiting for you if you find yourself in the country during these cooler months.
As for the experience itself, all you need is the ~$390AUD, a willingness to hike 3.5 km along flat mostly-even path to the crater and the guts to descend 120 meters to the bottom of the crater in an open cable lift, usually reserved for the task of cleaning exterior windows of sky scrapers. But don’t worry if you do happen to find yourself with some pre-descent jitters, look out for the friendly teen arctic fox looked after by the Inside the Volcano crew and get some of their freshly brewed lamb stew in your belly – to quote Goldilocks it is “just right”.
- Be sure to pack those gloves, beanie and raincoat (even in summer) as inside the volcano it is a more-or-less constant 6 degrees Celsius year round.
- Book early as this tour is only becoming more and more popular as the word spreads.
- Don’t try to take photos from the elevator with a strap-free camera or iPhone. Let’s just say there’s a reason that there is a ribboned off area called the ‘iPhone drop zone’ at the bottom.