Geyser is coolest sight in Iceland

ICELAND is an island of natural wonders, where you can get up close and personal to geysers, waterfalls and plunge into the hot springs of the Blue Lagoon.

By Tracey Sparling

ICELAND is an island of natural wonders, where you can get up close and personal to geysers, waterfalls and plunge into the hot springs of the Blue Lagoon. TRACEY SPARLING enjoyed an action- packed weekend.

THROUGH the swirling white mist, it looked like the earth was breathing.

A small pool of blue water known as the Strokkur geyser, was swelling then sinking with rhythmic regularity.

Strokkur - which means piston - can be depended upon to erupt every four or five minutes to a height of 60-100ft, so I didn't want to miss the moment.

Sure enough, when it happened it was spectacular. The water pulsed upwards one last time, to splash over the crater's edge, then surged up into a blue bubble, lit from within. Then with a force which took everyone by surprise, boiling water shot into the sky.

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A girl who had been happily posing for pictures a minute earlier, ran to escape being engulfed in a cloud of hot spray. Health and safety would never have allowed us within 100 yards of such a danger, had it been in England.

Later we slid down an ice-coated track on the edge of the thundering Gulfoss (golden) waterfall, to stand on wet rocks, as tonnes of melted ice from the glaciers flowed past. The tour guide admitted later that a tourist had once failed to return to the coach at the arranged time. Her body was never found, and the guide added: “We depend on your common sense to stay safe.”

As you travel round Iceland it is refreshing - if a bit scary - to be able to experience the natural energy at such close quarters.

The beauty of Iceland is its natural wonders, but the landscape - as well as the temperature - is harsh. Vast expanses of spiky black rocks mark the lava fields where volcanoes once erupted. You wonder how any crops can grow, on the one per cent of the land which is cultivated. There's certainly no surplus food for the Icelanders to export.

The only wildlife are artic foxes, fish and migrating birds, although reindeer were shipped in for meat and some escaped to run wild.

You can take a monster truck to go snowmobiling on a snow-capped glacier, ride an Icelandic horse, or take a whale-watching boat trip.

Reykjavik, the capital, is one of the world's most expensive cities where a pint of beer will set you back £7 and even self-catering supermarket-style is at least double the UK price. Luckily we found Rekyjavik Pizza Company, and a restaurant called Geysir, for meals costing £8-£15 a head, but visitors can splash out on local specialities like lobster and salmon at other restaurants.

Luckily the menus are in English. Don't try to attempt the Icelandic language - the words are very long and are believed to have changed very little from the original tongue spoken by the Norse settlers, but English is widely spoken as schoolchildren learn it from the age of nine.

We stayed at Hotel Loftleidir at the small domestic airport - the international airport is 40 minutes' drive away - and used the free shuttle bus into town. It only runs four times a day so it's worth getting a tourist card so you can also use the public bus to travel into town. Then it's a small city easily explored by foot.

The 'art'-themed room was not large but adequate, decorated with work by a famous Icelandic photographer. The hotel also has an indoor pool.

You can take a tour to the Blue Lagoon, which helpfully delivers you to the airport afterwards for your return flight home. I was disappointed to learn the beautifully atmospheric lagoon is actually a man-made reservoir - a by-product of piping hot water from geothermal springs to heat islanders' homes. That fact took away the mystique somewhat.

We braved a chilly exposed run to the lagoon, but then the shallow water temperature was about 45C - you swim through patches as hot as a steaming shower. The steam rose around us into the cold air and never before have I seen pool lifeguards in woolly hats, anoraks and gloves with only their eyes visible!

The water is coloured bright blue by algae, and I spread pale grey mud on my face which was supposed to cleanse and exfoliate. An hour spent swimming just flew by.

The lagoon was artificial, but the real beauty of this trip is out in the wilds, so I'd recommend staying for three nights to fit in a few excursions. You might also be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, a flickering curtain of light caused by solar particles being caught in the Earth's magnetic field.

There are enough fascinating experiences to fill a week's itinerary if you have the cash, but I feared any longer in this outdoor playground would prove too pricey.

It was very cold, grey and wet when we went in March. I'd suggest going in May or June when the sun never sets, for a unique holiday.

All the world's hot springs are named after the great Geysir, located next door to Strokkur.

Geysir stopped erupting in the early 20th century, some say due to the rocks tourists threw in it attempting to set the geyser off. Others say Geysir just got tired and needed a rest.

The science bit: Geysers erupt when boiling water trapped by cooler water above it, explodes, forcing its way to the surface.

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See video of Geysir erupting, at www.eveningstar.co.uk/content/eveningstar/features.

Where:

Capital city of Iceland, close to the Arctic circle.

How to get there:

2.5-hour flight from Heathrow, then get the flybus for 40 minutes from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik.

Where to stay:

Icelandair has eight hotels across the country with Nordica in Reykjavik city centre and Loftleidir five minutes drive outside, operating a free shuttle bus to city centre.

What to do:

Reykjavik Excursions offer trips including pick-up from Icelandair hotels:

Blue Lagoon (www.bluelagoon.com) excursion costs £27, and The Golden Circle (taking in Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir and Thingvellir National Park) costs £51. Northern Lights hunt costs £25.

Cost:

Icelandair offers three-night city breaks from £315 per person in April, including return flights from Heathrow, B&B at four star Hotel Loftleidir and taxes.

Special deals are available at www.icelandair.co.uk

Contact:

Icelandair Holidays www.icelandair.co.uk 0870 7874044

Reykjavik Excursions www.re.is

www.icelandtoday.is

www.visitreykjavik.is

www.visiticeland.com

Hospitality: The author was a guest of Iceland Air and guest paid discounted rate.

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