Reykjavík Excursions: Quads and Caves Tour
By Karen Helena
Photography By Einar H Jóhannesson
Saturday April 9, 2011
There is an abundance of things to see and do in Iceland the choices are often overwhelming. Reykjavík Excursions offers tours for all kinds of adventure seekers both seasonally and year round. Not surprising, the two most popular tours are the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa and the Golden Circle tour comprising of Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss and the famous Geysir hot springs. But what about going somewhere challenging and fun for both veteran guests and locals alike? I had already seen and done the accessible tourist hot spots but was wary to try something that required more stamina.
A great suggestion was the Quads and Caves tour offered by an affiliated touring company called Eskimos. They have access to any tour customizing the itinerary at no extra charge and Reykjavík Excursions was helpful and friendly booking it. I neglected to mention my acute claustrophobia and agoraphobia – just kidding, well, sort of.
We started with a quick drive southeast outside a town called Hafnarfjörður to the Stóra-Bollahrauni lava field. The mossy rocks and bumpy roads were all draped in a clean white blanket of snow making it a complete mystery as to where exactly the cave should be. Fortunately for us, our tourguide, Jean (pronounced almost like Shawn) used his ‘French’ technique and counted the number of poles alongside the road in order to locate the entrance.
In the summertime the opening to the cave is small; In the winter it’s just about impossible to find unless you know exactly where to look. Helmets, head-lamps and gloves were all provided. It was recommend for us to wear comfortable weatherproof garments and sturdy footwear which I was later grateful for.
Leiðarendi, (“End of the Road”), is an 800 metre cave that was discovered only two decades ago but has existed for nearly 2000 years! Some say the cave was named after the one unfortunate sheep that never made it out alive. Although I’m pretty sure it’s really only because the cave has a dead end. Either way it provides tour guides with a good story.
Sparkle and Shimmer
Inside the cave, the temperature was brisk and damp. Admitting I had no idea what to expect, my initial apprehension to climb through small spaces in absolute darkness was an overreaction. Our lights shone bright inside the cave revealing dazzling colours of red, orange, gold and silver.
Mineralized water droplets called stalactites eerily suspended over tall skinny piles of the same mineral compounds called stalagmites. Jean was adamant not to touch them as theywere quite fragile and took centuries to form. Sadly a few had been stolen over the years and have since been replaced with a little stalagmite statues.
Every corner we turned revealed something unique and mesmerizing. The textures on the walls and on the ceiling were different all over. Some walls were smooth, some were bubbly and some were quite sharp and chiseled. In another part of the cave, giant breathtaking icicles hung all over the porous ceiling bouncing light everywhere. Jean called them ice candles and indeed they were. Exploring the cave was pure eye candy and coming out from it I had no idea how much time had passed. I was especially impressed with Jean’s clever ability to distract me with fun, informative conversation throughout the tour. I often forgot how scared I thought I was going to be.
The second leg of the excursion was quite the opposite to crawling through underground lava tubes. Our next adventure was to go quad vehicle riding up a mountain, 14 km outside Reykjavík near Hafravatn. The weather fortunately was very cooperative for March. It was chilly but there was no wind. Once again all the necessary outerwear was provided: snowsuit, fleece mask, mittens, and a helmet. My dreadlocks poked out from under the helmet like black icicles. Driving a quad vehicle (All Terrain Vehicle, aka ATV) was quick and easy to learn although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone who is not a confident driver.
MTV (Most Terrain Vehicle)
Around the lake and up the mountain we zipped, but alas not all the way to the top. I had no idea quad vehicles weren’t designed to drive through deep snow; They should be called Most Terrain Vehicles. Thankfully Jean was patient and professional and took extra precautions that no one got stuck. He led the way and told us to wait back if he felt it was unsafe for us to continue. Half way up the snow was just too deep so we had to turn around and come back. But the drive wasn’t wasted. We took some beautiful photos and had great fun speeding along the snow covered roads. It was definitely worth the experience and I might consider trying it again after the snow melts.
As a combined tour, Quads and Caves was a smart and affordable way to experience two completely different adventures in a relatively short period of time. I really expected to enjoy the quad vehicles more than the caves. The idea of driving an ATV in the wide open terrain was exhilarating, but in hindsight probably would have been more fun in less snow. I was pleasantly surprised that inside the cave I felt cozy, not claustrophobic and was able to take my time and relish in the mystery of this natural phenomenon.