On Day 8. it was time to say a sad goodbye to our little Cottage #7 on the Mið-Hvoll farm and move on to our next adventure. We had to set out pretty early to drive to Landeyjahöfn to catch the first ferry to Heimaey. Heimaey (“Home Island,” pronounced “hay-may”) is the largest and only populated island in Vestmannaeyjar (the Westmann Islands), a small group of volcanic islands just off the south coast of Iceland.
We made a few photography stops along the Ring Road on the way to the ferry terminal. (Click on any of the photos to see a larger copy and/or visit the whole gallery for Day 8 HERE).
The 4-mile ride on the ferry Herjólfur was uneventful and we soon pulled into the harbor at Heimaey (“Home Island”). The harbor, the only one along the entire south coast of Iceland, was nearly destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1973. The entire population of the island, about 5,000 people, was was quietly and calmly evacuated to the mainland shortly after the eruption began in the wee hours of January 23, except a group of volunteers who stayed behind to attempt to mitigate the destruction caused by the eruption. Someone came up with the crazy idea of spraying cold seawater on the lava flow in an effort to prevent the lava from closing off the mouth of the harbor. About 400 buildings were destroyed during the 5-month eruption, but the harbor was saved. (If you’re interested in reading a more detailed account of this event, pick up a copy of John McPhee’s very fascinating book The Control of Nature. and read the chapter entitled “Cooling the Lava”).
Every year, the people of Heimaey celebrate the anniversary of the official “end of the eruption” with a festival called Goslokahátíð. Oddly enough, we just happened to have arrived on Heimaey on July 3, the traditional start of Goslokahátíð, which later became apparent by all of the black and orange balloons and such decorating the whole town.
Shortly after disembarking from the ferry, we boarded another boat, this time with the purpose of taking the “Circle Tour” around the island with Viking Tours. It was a fascinating trip replete with tons of information about the history, natural history, and geology/vulcanology of Vestmannaeyjar in general and Heimaey in particular. The beginning of the tour was all about the 1973 eruption and the “new lava.”
The captain of our boat was a local and it was interesting getting a first-hand account of life on Heimaey before, during, and after the eruption. A few times during the tour, he maneuvered the boat inside sea caves to check out the nesting birds and such, and in the last one, he pulled out a saxophone and demonstrated the excellent acoustics of the cave.
From the southern tip of Heimaey, one could see the newest island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, Surtsey, which is also the southermost point of Iceland. Surtsey was born during an eruption that started in 1963 and lasted for 3 1/2 years.
After the extremely worthwhile and enjoyable boat tour, we went in search of a place to eat lunch and ended up at a slightly weird cafe that served pizza and hamburgers (and puffin, which, needless to say, we did NOT order), then we checked into the Gistihúsið Hamar, after which we set out on a drive around the island. I had considered not bringing the car over on the ferry to save a little money, but I was glad I did. The island was quite a bit larger than it looks on a map. Here are a few of the things we saw on our drive:
Toward the bottom of the photo above is Ræningjatangi (“Pirate Cove”). In July, 1627, a group of Algerian pirates landed at this spot and proceeded to take 242 of the residents captive – nearly half of the population of the island at that time. The captives were taken back to Algeria as slaves and the incident became known as the Turkish Invasion (because Algeria was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time).
In an effort to find puffins, which are allegedly QUITE abundant on Heimaey, I climbed over a fence and followed a path to the edge of the cliffs toward what I understood to be a puffin observatory, but unfortunately found only sheep , including this one that was blocking the path. I went around.
On our way back toward town, we stopped at a pasture along the road and visited with an adorable baby Icelandic horse and a few curious sheep. Did I mention that sheep outnumber people three to one in Iceland? I’m pretty sure I’ve photographed most of them.
From there, we drove over to the “new lava” area and poked around there a bit.
We finally got back to the hotel close to dinner time and then went out to look for another place to eat.
The first restaurant we tried was closed for dinner in preparation for the Goslokahátíð festivities. The second place, located in the adorable shopping district shown above, had several empty tables so we went in and sat down but were quickly informed that all of the tables were reserved. OK, fine. We finally ended up at Subway. And it was delicious.
Our overnight stay at the Gistihúsið Hamar was by far the least comfortable night in Iceland for us. There were no blackout curtains or shades in the very large window, there were very few electrical outlets for our plethora of gadgets and, worst of all, the Goslokahátíð celebration apparently required extremely loud and pounding music to be played right outside our window until 4:30am. The alarm to get us up and to the ferry on time came WAY too early the next morning.