Friday 5 April 2024

Höfn and the Diamond Beach, by the mighty Vatnajökull glacier

There is a volcanic sand beach on the south coast of Iceland, where translucent blocks of ice drift ashore, looking like jewels, shining in the sun against the black ground. The Diamond Beach is located close to a glacial lagoon also famous for the number of glittering icebergs that the glacier drops into the waters. All these marvels happen in one of the most deserted regions of Iceland, which only became accessible to travellers when the ring road that surrounds the island, 'Hringvegur' or Route 1, was built; the closest town with services and minimal comfort is the port of Höfn, the most important on the south coast.

Let's start at the Diamond Beach.

Scattered along the black shoreline, translucent blue fragments of iceberg.

Black sand is made of basalt grains, resulting from volcanic lava rapidly cooled as it contacts the waters of the North Atlantic. The work of the sea eroding the basalt pulverizes the stone and forms this sand.

The colour of the ice pieces varies between shades of blue and gray. The blue is more evident when ice contains less air bubbles, but it also depends on the incident light.

Glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón (Jökull=glacier) is the discharge lagoon of the Vatnajökull glacier; its calm waters are dotted with small blue icebergs, and the glacier front spreads in a gentle slope into the waters of the lagoon. The pieces of ice then slide along a water channel that connects the lagoon to the ocean, and go adrift as 'diamonds' on the beach.

The lagoon waters are calm but deep, reaching almost 300 meters, and are affected by tides, rising and falling as ocean waters enter or leave the channel. The tidal range in the lake reaches 2 to 3 meters.

Vatnajökull Glacier forms the largest ice cap in Iceland, and the largest in Europe except for the Russian island of Severny. It is 380 m thick on average but can reach almost 1000 m. Its slow recession has been increasing the depth of the lagoon's waters

Vatnajökull ice cap area is ca. 7700 km2

Höfn í Hornafirði fishing town

Coordinates: 64°15' N, 15°13' W
Population: 2 500 inhab.

Höfn is the only town on the south coast of Iceland. It was built on a flat peninsula, cut out by fjords, granting conditions for a sheltered harbour.

Fishing is the main activity, followed by tourism, which is helped by the fame of Höfn langoustine, the main dish on local restaurant menus. But the fleet catches a wide variety of fish from the North Sea - sole, anchovies, sardines, red mullet...

Höfn was founded in 1897, when a local merchant brought a trading outpost from inland to the coast, and installed it by the port.


This outpost is now the oldest house in town, the Gamlabúð (“Old Shop”); it was recently converted into a documentation center for the Vatnajökull Park and its glaciers, a combination of Regional Museum and Tourist Office.

Built by the same merchant Otto in 1897, this other residential mansion is now a famous restaurant next to the port: the Otto Masur & Drykkur.

Behind those two buildinds, one more deserves to be mentioned: the Art Gallery, Listasafn.

Næturútvarp á Öræfajökli (Night Radio in Öræfajökli) by Svavar Gudnasson

Due to its location and the surroundings, Höfn has been the setting for some movies, such as Lara Croft (I) or 007 Die Another Day. The filming, with large crews, has been another source of wealth for the little town.

The turf church Hofskirkja,  at Hof

In a small village south of the glacier stands the Hofskirkja church from 1884, dedicated to St. Clement, which was the last with turfed roof and juxtaposed stone walls. It is one of six in Iceland classified as heritage sites.

Oh those fabulous sceneries, and this is still Europe !