Dive Into Iceland By Rosalind Milani Gallieni
An intrepid journey into the core of Iceland, to discover the inner sense of adventure….
As we land on a white runway at Reykjavik Airport, the weather front is starting to draw in. This is clearly going to be a true adventure – or at the very least, similar to something we usually watch from the comfort of our homes when we sit down to the Bond movie Die Another Day. The landscapes on the screen at the briefing in the airport recall the iconic ice-chase driving scenes on the Jokulsarion Glacier Lagoon, the largest lagoon in Europe, which was the setting of the Ice Palace where Pierce Brosnan challenges his Korean counterpart. Lara Croft also springs to mind in her scenes in Tomb Raider, where she rides dogsleds across white plains in Iceland….then, Batman Begins; again, this glacier was used for the iconic training scenes with Liam Neeson.
I look around the room for some of our own heroes – the group counts 3 women and 21 men, all from global media outlets, and to my delight, in the row behind I can spot our true British heroes. Ben Saunders sits beside Kenton Cool and Monty Halls, and they all smile cheerfully at the sight of cold dark waters, ice and snow. Ben Saunders (the pioneering polar explorer and record-breaking long-distance skier, who has covered more than 6000km on foot in the polar regions since 2001, and has just accomplished the longest human-powered polar journey in history retracing Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition) is comparing techniques with Kenton Cool, who has summited Everest no less than eleven times and has scaled peaks in Alaska, France and India. Today, he is still the world’s leading high-altitude climber reaching his personal best each time, and has led Sir Ranulph Fiennes up both the North Face of the Eiger and the summit of Everest. His next venture will be heading up Everest again, as vice-president and adviser of the G200E Expedition to mark the bicentenary of the Gurkhas’ outstanding service and loyalty to the British Crown.
Monty Halls, sitting beside them, is leading this weekend’s group, and as a marine conservationist, global expedition leader and film-maker (having explored sunken cities and mysterious underwater caverns), his experience once again is unique to most mortals. All in all, with these three incredible brand ambassadors for Land Rover, we can trust to go with the spirit of adventure. The new Discovery Sport – our fourth hero – will for sure also be put through its paces, using all its defensive hardware.
Once outside the airport, we are met by a line-up of Land Rover Discoveries ready and waiting, seats heated and headlights on to lure us to their comfort. Sleet and snow are carried across the landscape in howling crosswinds. The sat navs on the cars’ iphone6 are set to a distant location off the grid, to the Ion Hotel.
Moving fast down the deep snow-covered lanes in the dark (it’s as dark as midnight at 5pm), we head into the hills as the low-slung clouds are closing in and the snow-drift is building up as we drive. The only reassurance now is the long trail of glowing rear lights ahead, as we drive into the snow-storm. We come to a halt as the front of the convoy reaches an obstacle and the snow starts building along the side of the cars. Brave Land Rover crew appear from nowhere in the storm, to manage the crisis, and to reassure and redirect us back down. Everyone performs an array of manoeuvers in a very tight space between the edge of the road and ice beyond, and the 27km hot-water pipeline that lines the road and reeks of sulphur as it takes hot water into the capital, drawn directly from the spring ahead in the Golden Circle.
The cars are in their absolute element here and the wheels enjoy the control and traction on this extreme surface, which is totally above and beyond the norm. We allow the Terrain Response System to engage and the car comes into its own as you let it loose in its ideal snow-playground. If only all Land Rover owners could have such an experience near their home to feel the total security and complete control in extreme conditions. We reach Reykjavik again, and on the way back, pass many brave Defenders which have paved the way for our descent where possible, with their snow-plough accessories and snow tracks.
The programme for the evening and the day after is seamlessly adjusted, due to the redirection back to Reykjavik, and with no trouble at all, we begin the next day at Silfra dive site. This site is a fissure between two continents in Iceland’s National Park, which tops the charts as one of the top ten dive sites in the world for two good reasons. Firstly, for its location between a natural crack splitting North America from the Eurasian continents, and secondly, its underwater visibility promising the clearest and cleanest water on earth, at 2 to 4 degrees Celsius all year round.
Monty Halls here leads our expedition down this volcanic seam, and into its dark, icy waters, which have filtered through the porous underground lava for 30-100 years, until reaching this north end of the Thingvellir Lake, where we are. We are fully equipped in dry suits to be as comfortable as possible in these temperatures and if we need any refreshments, we are told to sip this exquisitely pure water – and it sure is the freshest-tasting water I have ever sipped while diving!
The dive puts us all on equal terms and Ben and Kenton join us, with Monty as our escort into the epochal waters, reassuring us that they can all work just as well at sea-level as at high altitudes. The visibility once we immerse is absolutely astounding and the colour blue unique to this space of natural raw beauty, where nothing lives other than your dreams.
Our schedule continues after the dive, and we follow a long route along hardcore, icy landscapes of black lava rock, to a very welcome stop at the Ion Hotel, which on clear nights enjoys the playful lights of the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights . This time around, we reach the luxury adventure hotel with more ease than the night before, and Ben and Kenton are set to take us on a snow hike after lunch up to the Ice Hut.
The hike, with snowshoes and again the Land Rovers within reach, is just a mere glimpse of what these pioneers go through on endless hikes of hundreds of days in barren, hostile, icy conditions, either dragging 200kg sledges in back-to-back white-outs on the Antartic ice, and in Kenton’s case at 5000 or 8000 metres above sea-level. Ambassadors to experiential adventures is an understatement, and the importance of their participation becomes ever more apparent and in synergy with this unique adventure weekend.
To round off the overall challenge of endurance and physical performance, we are indulged once again in the wonders of this geothermal region, and the Land Rover’s sat nav now leads us to the Blue Lagoon, a short drive from the 101 Hotel were we slept a full 10 hours in designer comfort, after all the exhilarations of the day before. This oasis of geothermal water comes form 2000 metres below the surface, where fresh water and sea water combine at extreme temperatures. As it travels to the surface, it reaches a perfect 38 degrees Celsius, picking up beneficial silica, algae and minerals which colour it a unique shade of blue; a reflection created by the sun we are told, as if you pour the water into a cup, the water is white, as white as the snow and ice which covers the black lava rocks bordering the lagoon.
LAND ROVER ADVENTURE TRAVEL BY ABERCROMBIE & KENT – ICELAND EXPERIENCE
If you are a group of eight or more, Abercrombie & Kent can arrange special departures for you, as the scheduled trips are now sold out. But it is worth every exhilarating minute. Email [email protected] for info and packages.
DAY 1: Drive along Iceland’s famous Ring Road to Thingvellir National Park, following the Sog River to your first hotel, the magnificent ION.
DAY 2: Take in Thingvellir and the Golden Circle, visiting the rift valley, the geysers and the famous Gulfoss waterfall. Spend the afternoon snow-mobiling on the Langjökull glacier.
DAY 3: Drive into the highlands of Kaldidalur, driving through majestic glaciers to the tumbling waterfalls of Barnafoss and Hraunfossar, to the powerful hot spring at Deildartunghver. Finish your evening in Reykavík, and stay at Hotel 101.
DAY 4: After a final chance to explore Reykjavík, you’ll be chauffeured to the airport for your flight home. Alternatively, you could extend your stay in the city or take a tour of the Blue Lagoon.