Iceland volcano eruption provides hot tickets for tourists
By Mike Pedley
Iceland’s volcanic eruption is turning out to be a hot ticket for tourism. Perhaps the best thing that has happened to Iceland’s moribund economy in the last couple of years is the recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, 125km east of Reykjavik. In the wee small hours of Sunday 21 March, the sleeping mountain blew its top in the first eruption since 1823. When Iceland’s volcanoes erupt, they often melt vast volumes of ice from the glaciers all around with the potential for causing disastrous flooding, so 600 people were immediately evacuated from the surrounding area. Luckily, Eyjafjallajokull was not directly beneath an ice cap so most people were allowed back to their homes after a day or so.
As soon as the initial panic was over, tourists latched onto the excitement of being able to see a volcano in all its glory, and UK tour operator Discover the World set up a ‘volcano hotline’, and contacted hundreds of people who had previously signed up for the chance to get up close and personal to the volcano by snowmobile, 4X4 jeeps or, for the really loaded, by helicopter.
Tourists are allowed to approach within about 500m of the spewing lava, which is still putting on an unforgettable show of nature’s fireworks, accompanied by deep rumbles like artillery fire. It’s not just foreign tourists who have flocked to the sight: the eruption is a hot ticket for thousands of daytripping Icelanders from Reykjavik. The crater is on a well-known summer trekking route, running from the hot springs at Thorsmork to the famous Skogafoss waterfall, so the locals are keen to see an area they know well being remodelled by the eruption.
The locals are cashing in on the sudden influx of visitors, but there’s still a nagging worry in the background. History teaches that every time Eyjafjallajokull has erupted in the past, within a year the neighbouring Katla has followed suit, and this is a considerably more powerful and dangerous volcano. Katla’s crater is 10km-wide, a lurking monster directly beneath the Myrdalsjokull ice cap which would cause disastrous flooding if it does indeed erupt.
In the meantime, the sight of Eyjafjallajokull erupting is, by all accounts, truly spectacular: glowing lava flows for miles from the crater, to fall over a cliff in a jaw-dropping cascade – according to local experts, this is the first time such a phenomenon has been witnessed in Iceland. Daily trips are being run by helicopter operator Nordurflug, setting off from the nearby Hotel Ranga, as well as other helicopters and fixed-wing sightseeing planes coming out from Reykjavik. Getting close to the eruption, however, is not a risk-free buzz – there’s little chance of getting shot down by flying lava, but pilots have to check wind direction continually to avoid ash getting into the engines. You’ll pay around €300 per person for an hour-long flight, which includes 15 minutes actually out on the glacier to see the eruption.
Discover the World is offering three nights at the Hotel Ranga from £312, add onto that £190 for a four-hour snowmobile ride, or £282 for a helicopter trip to see the eruption. That doesn’t include flights to Reykjavik, which start around £200 per person, including taxes, with Icelandair. You’re looking at around a grand a head by the time you have fed and watered yourself – not cheap, but how often do you get chance to stare an erupting volcano in the face?
Iceland Express is doing a limited offer on reduced price flights. The company says it has seen an increase of 20% in visitors hotfooting it to Iceland for the eruption. The offer is valid for travel on selected dates upto 31st May 2010 with seats subject to availability and, of course, the ability to fly at all! For more information call: 0118 321 8384.