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Hot springs
Hot springs
Sorrel in Reykjavik
Viking museum


Thursday, February 20, 2003
Sorrel ventures to the far-flung location of Iceland. It's a hot destination with a cool reception!

Countries near the Arctic Circle are a bit of a mystery to most of us, particularly the further south we live. However, Iceland is becoming a popular destination as more and more travellers become curious about its natural beauty.

Iceland is a country of glaciers, hot springs, geysers, active volcanoes, icecaps, tundra, snow-capped peaks, vast lava deserts, waterfalls and active volcanic craters … all of which, of course, are tantalising attractions for tourists.

Much of the coastline is made up of cliffs housing thousands of sea-bird colonies while waterfowl teem in the lakes and marshes. However, it is surprising to learn that Iceland is actually 52 percent desert. It has no native trees, but forestation is high on the agenda of local authorities. The balance of the land is made up of ice caps and lava fields.

Iceland has been inhabited for more than 1100 years when farmers and warriors fled there from Scandinavia to settle a new country. The country's history is a patchwork of battle, love, revenge and counter-revenge, and Icelandic sagas are held in high esteem by literature enthusiasts.

In 874, the town Reykjavík was the first place to be settled in the new country, making it the planet's most northerly capital city. The heart of the city lies between Tjö:rn and the harbour and is a mix of historical buildings and souvenir and tourist shops which sell lots of hand-knitted sweaters.

Perlan is a complex which includes a good restaurant on the fifth floor, plus an ice-creamery, observation deck, winter garden and an artificial geyser. It is as popular with locals as with visitors.

The Blue Lagoon is the country's most visited site. The milky, ice blue water, rising white steam and black lava ground is the perfect example of Iceland's geothermal pools. A popular local activity is swimming there in the middle of a winter blizzard or winter swimming under Aurora Borealis.

The city's most outstanding structure is the Hallgrí:mskirkja. It is a cathedral which resembles a mountain of basaltic lava and was named after the popular author of more than 50 passion hymns. Most Icelanders are Lutheran and they flock there for religious services and to listen to the magnificent organ which has 5275 handmade pipes. They are fiercely proud of their Viking heritage and hold lots of festivals during January and February when local delicacies such as sheep eyeballs are devoured.

But the star attraction of the city has to be Gullfoss, the spot where the river Hvitá drops 32m in two falls. The canyon below is 70m deep and 2.5km long.

Hellisgerði Lava Park, meanwhile, is a landscaped leisure spot, first planted in 1924. Due to the amount of lava there, local folklore has it that the park has Iceland's highest concentration of elf activity. Eria, the Elf Lady, gives guided elf walks through the town and garden to show visitors "hot elf spots". Icelanders take their little people seriously and Eria swears she sees elves everywhere she goes.

Fjorukrain, the Viking Village, is at the waterfront in Hafnarfjordur, a suburb known for its allegedly high elf population. The restaurant there claims to be Iceland's only Viking restaurant, and food is served by Valkyrie waitresses in a rowdy atmosphere.

For local cuisine but in a little less exotic atmosphere, Naust is an excellent seafood restaurant. It is in an old salt cellar close to the harbour and tourists and locals flock there for the seafood buffet.

Hotel Odinsve is a central place to stay. Its lobby has an eclectic mix of artwork and its rooms are cosy and clean.

The city comes to lift at night and everyone loves to dress up. No parkas or local hand-knitted jumpers to be seen. Alcohol is very expensive so most people have a drink or two before leaving home. Live bands are popular but get used to the Icelandic way of queuing … which basically means it's every man and woman for themselves!


The capital of Iceland, near the Arctic Circle


Qantas flies daily to London with return economy airfares starting at $2366 ex Melbourne, $2375 ex Perth, $2378 ex Darwin, $2383 ex Sydney & Adelaide and $2400 ex Brisbane per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of recording but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.
Icelandair has connections to Reykjavic.
Hotel Odinsve rooms start at around $360 a double a night.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

PerlanÖskjuhlíð Hill, Reykjavík
Ph: 354 562 0200 Fax: 354 562 0207

101 Reykjavík

Naustid Restaurant
Vesturgata 6-8
101 Reykjavík
Ph: 354 552 3030 Fax: 354 561 7758

Hellisgerði Lava Park, Hafnarfjordur, Iceland

Blue Lagoon
Grindavik, Iceland
Ph: 354 420 8800

Geysir Center, Geysir, Iceland

Viking Village
Strandgata 55, IS-220 Hafnarfjorður
Ph: 354 565 1213 Fax: 354 565 1891

Gaukur á Stöng
Ph: 354 551 1556 Fax: 354 562 2440

Qantas — Ph: 13 13 13

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