Westmann islands tour with optional boat excursion
Day 6, May 17th, 2002
Where are the Westmann Islands and why they are so interesting? The Westmann archipelago is still quite unknown to mass tourism, but here you can experience the real power of undersea eruptions and learn some intriguing story about the main fishing village located on the main island.
Information about Westmann Islands
Vestmannaeyjar (The Westmann Islands) lies several kilometers off the south coast of Iceland and it is one of the most interesting place in Iceland, because of their very unusual history. Numbering between 14 and 18, depending how much big a lava formation should be big in order to classify it as an island, they are product of volcanic activity and geologically very young as they are only 10000 - 12000 years old. The island's only town stands on the Helgafell lava fields, it is the Iceland's largest and most important fishong centre and counts around 5000 residents. There are a lot of incredible and bizzarre, sometimes tragic, stories about the islands.
On November 14, 1963 a seamen fishing 20 kilometers to the southwest noticed heavy weaves and smoke rising from the sea. Firtly they took it for a burning boat, but it later transpired to be something much more serious: a volcanic eruption at a depth of 130 meters on the sea floor has begun. Four hours later a cloud of gas and ash rising for 3500 meters in the atmosphere has been reported, followed by a series of tremendous explosions. The second day a new island rose out of the sea.
But the volcanic activity on these islands, didn't stop with this event and, in the month on January 1973, an eruption begun suddenly, without any warning, very close to the houses on the eastern part of the main island. The eruption was accompanied by an heavy amount of ash and a cloud that rose as high as 9 kilometers in the air. People had to escape quickly from their houses, then they used boats to reach safer places. After the eruption, some 400 houses were destroyed and completly buried under ash and lava, and another 400 suffered varying degrees of damages, but no a single life was lost.
After a 25 minutes flight from Reykjavik, I land in Vestmannaeyjar airport, where I take a bus tour of the main island. The pictures here, are the craters Helgafell and Eldfell, as well as a board illustrating the 1973 event.
A water tank and an house destroyed by lava. On the top-right picture, the lava front (very close to the new buildings) is clearly visible.After the eruption the island grew by about 2,1 square kilometers. The lava also created a shield on the front of the harbour, which now blocks the waves, protecting the boats. A positive side-effect versus so big damages.
Top pictures. I'm walking on the lava field formed in 1973, under my foot and the lava, there are several houses buried into. On the bottom-left picture, the lava field covering part of the town can be easly distinguished. Then, I climbed the Helgafell crater which has an altitude of 226 meters and took a picture of the new town with the city's centre, the harbour and the cemetery.
The town seen from the top of the Helgafell crater.
Other views of the volcanic zone.
The bay and the harbour. The latest eruption has created a lava barrier for the ocean's waves, protecting the boats parked at the docks.
Vestmannaeyjar is surrounded by many other smaller islands, all of volcanic origin. Sometimes a new island may come up in just one night, after an underwater eruption.
The typical coast around Vestmannaeyjar.
I finally take a board tour. We reach a nice sea cave under the mounitain, where gulls are nesting on the mountain's wall all around.
A "rope man" is searching for Puffin's eggs (this is a widely used food here in Iceland).
During late afternoon, I walk back to the airport for the last flight to Reykjavik.