Overseas Spotlight Iceland: Diving in Liquid Air

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What’s the reason I spent over 40 hours travelling to a tiny spec of a country not far underneath the Arctic Circle? To dive nowhere… Literally in the space between the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America, otherwise known as Silfra. Where? Well, Iceland of course.

But it wasn’t my only dive I planned, if I’m going all the way to Iceland, then I want to dive as many of the sites as possible. I hooked up with Dive.IS and pre-booked 3 days diving with them whilst I was staying in Reykjavik.

Silfra Crack

Images courtesy of Dive.is

Kleifarvatn: The Geothermal Lake

Our first day of diving, the Dive.IS van pulled up in front of our hostel (right on time too I might add) and our guide, AJ, had no trouble spotting us in the waiting area (divers have a look about them… or maybe my bright pink fins gave us away). We were the only group booked for the Kleifarvatn dive, so we were stoked to have a ‘private’ guide and the whole van to ourselves.

The drive out to Kleifarvatn was stunning (driving anywhere in Iceland is sure to make your jaw drop) and AJ was very entertaining, not short of a good story or joke, and a wealth of knowledge about the area. Soon enough we were standing on the coarse, sandy shore of Kleifarvatn, scrambling into layers of warm clothes, under suits and finally a thick neoprene dry suit and cold water scuba equipment, all supplied by Dive.IS and in perfect condition.

What looks like a normal lake from the surface quickly changes as you descend below. It’s a geothermal lake, with the fault line creating a series of hot springs, that emit warm water and gasses. What this creates is a series of vents, where different sized air bubbles escape from the sandy floor. In some patches, hundreds upon hundreds of silver bubbles rush from the floor to the surface in a continuous stream, whilst in the Dragon’s Breath (2 incredibly deep holes) a large bubble, bigger than a basketball, will erupt from the inky depth of the hole, pushing for the surface, every 30 seconds or so. Your guide will show you where you can take off your gloves, (if you dare) where the chilly 10 Degree Celsius water will cause you some agony, before putting your hand inside a shallow hole, where the incredibly warm water from a fault, will quickly warm it back up again.

After the dive, there is time for lunch on the shore of Kleifarvatn, before the guide will take you to the nearby Seltún geothermal area, where you can walk up the mountain following the pools of sulphur smelling hot springs and be greeted by the most amazing view of Kleifarvatn and surrounding geothermal area.

Silfra Crack

Images courtesy of Dive.is

Garður: The Atlantic Sea Garden

Our second diving day started much like the first and we were lucky enough to have AJ join us again as our guide. This time we headed seaward, pulling up at an old cement pier, Garður. After layering up and gearing up, a buddy check followed by a giant stride entry in to the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Garður literally means garden in Icelandic and we had basically as long as we wanted, exploring the amazing algae garden growing around and along the edge of the pier. Myself and my dive buddies are all very experienced divers, so AJ laid out a 20m by 20m square using his reel and basically let us go wild. He was always not far away to point out any unique creatures we may have looked over or he may have found. The highlight of this dive was spotting the elusive Wolf Fish.  A weird combination of fish and eel with a face that can only be described as terrifyingly cute.  Wolf Fish aren’t the only critters to be found, scorpion fish, flatfish, monkfish, and more can be found hiding out in the cracks and algae fields of Garður.

Silfra Crack

Images courtesy of Dive.is

Bjarnagjá: The Salty/Fresh Water Fissure

Our second site of the day was Bjarnagjá, a small fissure, not dissimilar to that of Silfra, but with its only highly unique attractions. Looking at it from the surface, it does resemble a puddle, a big puddle, but does not let on to its secrets beneath. It’s narrow, maybe 5 m wide at most and long, 20-30m or so, and boy it’s deep. The sides of the fissure are covered in fine green algae, one disturbance of a fin that brushed to close and the 20m viz quickly becomes 2. My hint is if you are in a group of divers, get in and get down first!

The top half of the water column is fresh water, about half way down you’ll approach a green haze and as you enter the crystal clear water that you were in, suddenly distorts your eyes and your shaking your head wondering why everything is fuzzy and green. The next instance you’re out of the haze and back in to clear water, except this time it’s salt. You have very well encountered you first halocline, where the lighter fresh water mixes with the heavier salt water.

To the right is a deep cave, hence where Bjarnagjá (Icelandic translation of Bear Cave) gets its name. Your guide will most likely be inside the cave long before you’ve entered the water and the beam of his torch will light up the magnificent features of the walls. Exiting the cave the same way you entered, you’ll swim along the length of the fissure and enter a small chamber at the opposite end to the cave, where lies a stack of whale bones (most likely Minke) dumped there from the days of Iceland’s whaling period. Swim up a small chimney and exit through the opening back into the main fissure.

Silfra Crack

Images courtesy of Dive.is

The Pièce De Résistance: Silfra

If you are only there to dive one site in Iceland, then you are there to dive, Silfra, the crack between the tectonic plates. It is, after all, the only dive of its kind on the entire planet.

Silfra runs in to the Þingvallavatn Lake in the Þingvellir National Park, located about a 45-50min drive from Reykjavik. The crack transects the country, with the plates moving away from each other, sometimes a whole foot a year! The water takes somewhere between 30-100 years to filter down through Iceland’s 2nd largest glacier, Langjokull, into the fissure, and is one of the cleanest and purest water in the world. Don’t believe me? Then take your regulator out of your mouth on the dive and have a sip!

The car park where you will gear up and have the briefing is approximately 80m away from the starting point of the dive. You descend a stair case and ease yourself into the icy waters of Silfra. If you thought you were cold during the during the other dives (that have been about 10 Degree Celsius), nothing compares you for the shock of the 2-degree Celsius water temp! But not to worry, after a few minutes being submerged your face will go numb and only your pointer finger of each hand will be unhappily cold in its pocket of the thick gloves covering your hands.

For anywhere between 35-45 minutes you will follow the fissure of Silfra as it makes its way toward Þingvallavatn Lake. You will float between the narrow crack, at parts, not much wider than your shoulders, shallow enough that you almost surface and deep enough that the darkness almost lures you to explore its depths. All the while you will be floating through the clearest water possibly in the world. If it wasn’t for the bubbles rushing for the surface as you exhale, you could be forgiven for forgetting you were in water! They describe it as liquid air, and I promise you they are not wrong.

As the steep rock walls of the fissure start to cease, near the entrance to Þingvallavatn Lake, you will turn into a shallow lagoon, where the most amazing display of blues, greens and yellows from the vibrant grass like aquatic plants will greet your eyes. It is truly a magical example of mother nature.

You will complete a second dive that follows the same route as the first and your guide will this time have a camera with them. For a small charge, you will get all the famous ‘money’ shots that have plagued your social media feeds for the previous months you have spent planning your Diving Iceland Adventure.

I would recommend strongly to attain some experience in diving with a Dry Suit, before you head to Iceland, or any cold-water diving destinations for that matter. As a PADI Dry Suit Specialty Instructor myself, I feel if you have some experience in diving dry, you will be a lot better prepared and more likely to relax and enjoy your dives in Iceland. If you are unable, then not to fret, Dive.IS and the other Dive Centres in Iceland will be able to teach you the course whilst on your holiday. And for those that aren’t divers, there is no need to feel left out, you can also arrange snorkelling tours to Silfra, where you will still get to experience the magical, crystal clear waters in the famous fissure.

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About Author

Hi, I'm Robyn from Queensland Australia. I'm a PADI IDC Staff Instructor currently working and travelling around the world. I have worked full time in the industry since completing my IE in May 2013

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