I got the chance to visit one of the colourful lava cave tubes in Iceland recently, when I entered Víðgelmir lava cave, which is considered to be the most magnificent lava cave in Iceland.
I joined a tour which started in Reykjavík with pick-up starting at 7:00 am. On our way to Víðgelmir lava cave we passed some beautiful sight and made several stops on the way.
We visited the pretty and tranquil Hvalfjörður bay, which is often passed by since the Hvalfjarðargöngin or the Whale Bay Tunnel was constructed under the ocean back in 1998.
Our first stop was at a small waterfall by the preserved area of Fossárrétt round up. It is a beautiful picnic stop.
Three times, when I was a teenager, I hiked the Svínaskarð pass and arrived in Hvalfjörður by Fossárrétt, so this waterfall is dear to me for that reason. This meant that the most difficult part of the hike was over and the rest was a breeze.
We drove by the only whaling stations in Iceland and our next stop was by the barracks from WWII, but during that war both the British and American navies had a naval base in Hvalfjörður.
Here by the barracks our guide told us an elf story, as there is an elf spot right above the barracks. A very interesting story. And as those of you who read my articles know, then I love elf stories and am always on the lookout for elf spots in Iceland - so listening to this story was a treat for me :)
Deildartunguhver bubbles and boils and spurts a whole lot. There is a small fence right in front of it to protect us from this extremely hot water. I love the multitude of colours by this powerful hot spring and despite the steam one can get lovely photos of the colours. One just has to wait a while and protect the lens and shoot at the right moment when the steam goes down a bit.
Our next stop was by one of my favourite waterfalls in Iceland, Hraunfossar or Lava Falls. They are almost 1 km wide and consist of countless springs of clear subterranean water, which wells up from underneath the edge of the lava field Hallmundarhraun and runs in falls and rapids into the glacial river Hvítá in Borgarfjörður. I love the aquamarine colour of the river and there are so many different photo opportunities of these beautiful falls as they are ever so wide.
There is another waterfall next to Hraunfossar, called Barnafoss or Children's Falls, as two boys drowned in the falls when they were crossing over on a stone arch. Their mother had the stone arch destroyed after the accident.
By now we were getting closer to Langjökull glacier and Víðgelmir lava cave as Hallmundarhraun lava field flowed in an eruption from one of the volcanoes by the glacier Langjökull in ca 930.
After lunch it was time to visit Víðgelmir cave. The tour split in two, part of the group visited Víðgelmir and part of the group visited the ice cave tunnel in Langjökull "Into the Glacier".
Víðgelmir lava cave
I was anxious on the bus, as last year I had visited Surtshellir cave without guidance, but that cave is 5 km away from Víðgelmir. I had a difficult time climbing down into Surtshellir as that cave is ever so rocky and dark. The woman climbing down into the cave right behind me fell forwards as she had stuck one leg in a hole - and she fell straight into another hole with her head - and she didn't have a helmet on! This scared the living daylights out of me so I was not about to visit another cave under similar circumstances.
Although I had heard of the beautiful colours and lava formations down in Surtshellir's neighbouring cave, Víðgelmir - I was really nervous on the bus thinking about crawling on my hands and feet down into the cave.
But that did not turn out to be the case - on the contrary - as a couple of days prior to our visit the owners of Víðgelmir had been busy building timber stairs by the entrance to the cave and a timber walkway in the middle of the lava tube - and they did a fantastic job - visiting Víðgelmir was a breeze and I could have saved myself the worries.
I would say that Víðgelmir were the easiest of the lava tubes in Iceland to visit due to the new walkways. It has the difficulty rate of 1/5.
After descending into the cave we walked through a narrow tunnel, which was the only narrow space we encountered on our guided tour through the cave, so people with claustrophobia should not have any problems visiting Víðgelmir. Even the name, Víðgelmir, means that it is wide - "víður" in Icelandic meaning wide.
The landowners have even put up a lighting system, which lights up the myriad of icicles and the beautiful lava colours on the walls of the cave. I felt like I were visiting a theme park and not a dark lava cave. It was breathtaking and I couldn't stop taking photos.
The icicles were sparkling and in some places they became iridescent when the colours of the lava appeared from under the ice. What a beautiful sight!
We had been provided with helmets with a headlight, which was perfect as then we had our hands free for taking photos and holding on to the railing.
For the first time ever I got a helmet which suited me and didn't make me look like a mushroom! I am very grateful for that helmet, you guys of The Cave :)
After walking for a while through the most beautiful icicles and very colourful lava we reached the end of the timber walkway and walked into a wide chamber.
Walking there was easy and as I looked down I saw a pretty sight, small cumulations of red lava which had dripped down onto the floor of the cave! One obviously has to walk with care and tread lightly as not to damage any of the beautiful lava formations in the cave. I sat down on a big red piece of lava, which had fallen down from the wall of the cave, and enjoyed the extraordinary colours.
Víðgelmir is the largest cave in Iceland and one of the largest in cubic measure of all of the lava caves in the world, ca 150,000 cubic metres (m3). Víðgelmir is 1.585 km long, 16.5 metres at its widest and 15.8 metre's high at its highest point inside the lava tube - it is truly huge!
This huge cave is located in Hallmundarhraun lava field which dates back to ca 930, making this cave almost 1100 years old! The distance from Víðgelmir to the main crater of the lava field is ca 33 km. Here in Hallmundarhraun you will find the largest and longest lava caves in Iceland, Víðgelmir being the largest and Surtshellir being the longest lava cave in Iceland.
Inside Víðgelmir we saw myriads of icicles, stalagmites, stalactites and speleothems and all kinds of very colourful lava formations. Just imagine what unknown natural treasures there are to be found in the depths of the earth!
It is such a pity that many of the beautiful lava formations have been ruined by earlier visitors, who wanted a piece of the lava to take home with them.
Earlier visitors have been seen leaving the cave carrying boxes full of stalagmites and stalactites!! And when British members of the "Shepton Mallet Caving Club" managed to enter the cave in 1972 they were "greeted" with rubbish from previous visitors, parts of it stuck to the ice :(
It makes me so sad, but in spite of this misconduct Víðgelmir is still ever so beautiful - a true lava wonderland thanks to the owners of the cave!
In order to protect and preserve these beautiful lava formations an iron gate was put up in 1991. The cave is locked so it cannot be visited without guidance from the landowners. Víðgelmir is located 2.5 km south-east of the farmstead Fljótstunga and belongs to the family on that farm. The owners offer guided tours into the cave under the name of The Cave. I am very grateful to the owners of The Cave to have made it so accessible - they truly present it in the best way possible, in my opinion.
You can either go there by yourself or you can join a guided tour from Reykjavík city like I did. I like to join these guided tours as they are so informative and I always learn something new about Iceland from the guides.
There are two tours to choose from inside the cave, the 1.5 hour family tour, which I took part in - and the 4 hour tour to the end of the cave for those who are in good shape.
In the photo above you can see the breathtakingly beautiful ceiling in one spot inside the lava tube. As we entered this spot the guide made us turn off our headlights and he turned off the lights in this part of the cave.
He then told us to look up into the darkness and then he turned on the lights - it was a spectacular sight seeing the beautiful colours in the ceiling - I stared at it in awe - I felt like I were inside a cathedral with a painted ceiling!
At another point we stopped, sat down on colourful lava and listened to the guide. He asked us to turn off our headlights - and then he turned off the lights in the cave - leaving us in pitch darkness! He then told us a rather scary story ;) I am not going to repeat his story as to not ruin it for those of you who have yet to visit the cave.
But I am going to tell you another story as I had already found out that Víðgelmir cave is haunted!! According to Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason a certain man had sent another man, by the name of Halldór Halldórsson, who was living up north, four zombies as a revenge. Halldór, in his predicament, sought the help of Sigurður Sigurðsson in Kollalækur in Borgarfjörður, who was both skilled in magical arts and a poet.
Sigurður exercised the ghosts into the cave Víðgeymir (another name for Víðgelmir)!!
In 1993 jewellery from the Viking Age and some bones were found in Víðgelmir cave. These treasures are now on display at the National Museum of Iceland, Þjóðminjasafn Íslands. But there are so many natural treasures left in this colourful cave, it is truly a feast for the eyes.
There are two large openings in the north end of the cave, 75 metres long and 15 metres wide. In earthquakes in 1974 the openings widened a bit when the lava collapsed from the cave ceiling.
The duration of our guided tour inside Víðgelmir lava cave was 1.5 hours, so by now it was time to head back.
When visiting the cave wear warm clothing as it gets cold down in the cave. Gloves and good hiking shoes are necessary. And bring a thin cap to wear underneath the helmet. When we climbed up the stairs to get out of the cave I couldn't believe how warm it had got outside - but it was just the difference in temperature down in the cave versus outside.
Víðgelmir is the most spectacular lava tube in Iceland - so visiting it is a unique experience. I can tell you that I didn't want to leave the cave and its myriad of colours - I wanted to explore more...â
Visiting this cave was to me a truly unforgettable experience and I would love to visit it again. You can either join a tour like I did, or rent a car in Reykjavík and drive to the Víðgelmir Cave aka The Cave by yourself, where you will get a guided tour of the cave. There are 2 tours to choose from, the 1,5-hour tour, which is called Víðgelmir Cave Explorer or the 4-hour tour, which is called Víðgelmir Cave Master and is more demanding.