I Book the World’s Youngest Volcano

The Town of Heimaey, Iceland, Flanked by Two Volcanoes

The Town of Heimaey, Iceland, Flanked by Two Volcanoes

I had been there on a day trip from Reykjavik twelve years ago. Because I was afraid of seasickness on the three-hour ferry from Þorlákshöfn, which was famous for rough seas, I flew from the small Reykjavik airport. Several years ago, the Eimskip Line opened a new ferry port at Landeyjahöfn, which is only a thirty-minute ferry ride from the Westmann Islands. This time, I’ll take the ferry, fortified with Dramamine.

Heimaey (literally “The Home Island”) is a beautiful town flanked by two volcanoes, Eldfell (on the left) and the extinct Helgafell (right). Until January 23, 1973, Eldfell didn’t exist. What was a suburban development suddenly turned overnight into a volcano, forcing the evacuation of the entire island. While lava destroyed some 400 homes, the ingenious Icelanders found a way of forcing the lava to form a berm by endlessly pumping cold seawater on its leading edge. The story is told by John McPhee in his book, The Control of Nature.

I had a difficult time booking a room in Heimaey on my original desired dates. Then, just for the heck of it, I decided to hang around a few extra days along the Suðurland, or South Coast, of Iceland (at Hvolsvöllur and Höfn) and try for a few days later. Bingo! I got into the best accommodation on the island. My guess is that there was a local event, like a soccer game or a festival, that drew a crowd on the original dates.

Why do I want to go to the Westmann Islands again? First of all, it is drop-dead beautiful, a major fishing port, and the place where I am most likely to be able to photograph puffins:

Puffins

Puffins

I am told the island’s southernmost peninsula has the world’s largest concentration of the picturesque seabirds at a place called Störhofði.

Puffins and I go way back. I tried to find them in Scotland in September 1998, but they hadn’t arrived there yet. Then I went to Heimaey late in August 2001, but they had all just left.

Martine would love to see them, but I’ll just have to take a load of pictures so that she could enjoy them vicariously.