Iceland: Above the 65th parallel

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Think of diving in Iceland and one place springs to mind, Silfra.  It is by far the most dived site in the country and has become a bucket list dive for many divers, including many who thought they would never be convinced to dive in cold water.  It is special and famous for good reason, but there is so much more to diving in Iceland!

Mike and I had the very good fortune to live in iceland for over a year and in that time got to dive many sites a little more off the beaten track.  Here, we want to share with you some of our favourite sites in the less explored north of iceland, reached by the very scenic ring road drive along Highway 1.

What if we were to tell you that Silfra is not the only fissure in Iceland between the tectonic plates and filled with clear, blue glacial spring water?  There are several in the Reykjavik area, Davidsgja, also in Thingvellir National Park, is a deeper, darker version of Silfra, and Bjarnagjá, on the Reykjanes peninsula,is a crack that connects with the ocean and so you can encounter a neat halocline, at variable depth depending on the tide and see the anemone that lives on the bottom of the crack, they have also just sunk a small wreck in there for added interest.

However there is an equally clear fissure often completely overlooked, chances are you would have the whole fissure to yourself.  Meet Silfra’s “little sister”, Nesjá.  The Silfra of the North.

Nesjá

About an hour east of Akureyri, Nesjá is a very shallow, water filled fissure a few hundred meters from the side of a small farm road.  Be prepared for a bit of an adventure finding this place, a good map and a car are needed to get here!  Once parked up you can kit up and walk to the start of the crack and the rocks which can be easily climbed down to access the water.  This is a shallow site, less than 5m, and so can easily be snorkelled if you plan on doing any exploring in the highlands later in the day of have a flight to catch.  The water is crystal clear, a stunning blue and on a sunny day the light sparkles through the water to create rainbows on the pale silt bottom.  The crack runs out towards a lake, which connects to the ocean.  It is a very easy dive to navigate, simply follow the crack until you can veer right into the lake, which resembles a tropical lagoon.  Save some energy for the swim back as it is against the current, it is not very strong, but still saps some energy as does the 3ºC water temperature.

Now Nesjá isn’t as impressive as Silfra, but it is well worth a splash if you are in the area.  It is also conveniently near the very picturesque town of Húsavík, famous for it’s fabulous whale watching and geothermal springs.  A very pleasant day can be had, whale watching in the morning, diving or snorkelling Nesjá in the afternoon and bathing in hot springs in the evening, or any combination thereof.

Also in the North, thrusting up the depths in Akureyri Fjord is Strytan.  This has to be my favourite ocean dive in Iceland, Strytan is a geothermal underwater chimney!

Strytan

Similar to the well-known “black smokers” found in very deep oceans, but Strytan is at recreationally diveable depth, the top is at 15m and the bottom is at approximately 70m.  The dive is only on the top half unless you are tec diving.  There’s just one dive center that can take you there (www.strytan.is), run by Erlendur Bogason, the discoverer and official protector of Strytan.  He is an expert in the area so you are in excellent hands.

Hot water pours out of vents on this giant spire from numerous vents, around 100l of 72°C freshwater coming from the chimney every second!  Strytan was formed over 10000 years ago and apparently the chimney is still building.   Aside from the main feature of the chimney, you’ll get to see wolf fish, lots of crustaceans and anemones, and schools of cod are regularly seen There is a second smaller hydrothermal feature nearby known as “Little Strytan”, a small underwater hill made up of smaller chimneys in around 25m.  This is often home to more life than Strytan and gives lots of photo opportunities with the very friendly local wolf fish.

If you’re lucky, humpback whales are commonly seen in Akureyri Fjord and usually spotted from shore or while on the dive boat.  The dive center had a hot tub by the shore where you can relax and whale watch with an after-dive beer.  Perfect!

I really cannot do justice to this site, the experience of diving a hydrothermal feature is incredible and the unique flora a fauna that has settled in this specialized environment is truly something to behold.  If there is any dive site in Iceland aside from Silfra that you absolutely have to do, it’s Strytan.  Be aware, this is a dive for advanced and drysuit certified divers only.  Since 2001, Strýtan has been a protected natural reserve, so good buoyancy is essential to preserve this natural phenomenon.

When not occupied with diving and watching marine mammals, the north also boasts some spectacular sights on land.  Akureyri, the capital of the North is situated at the south of a stunning fjord, and boasts good nightlife and Hlidarfjall, the best ski resort in the country.  It is a good base and is only around 5 hours from Reykjavik, or a very short flight.

If you like to keep the water theme, the waterfall Godafoss (literally ‘Waterfall of the Gods’) is pretty stunning and is between Akureyri and Myvatn.  The Myvatn area is a very special place, both for the huge numbers of geothermal features, hot springs and Lake Myvatn, home to rich birdlife and amazing views on the Northern lights in winter.  Next to Myvatn is Dimmuborgir, an area of strange and dramatic rock formations, known as the ‘Gateway to hell’, well worth a quick hike around.  You will also see Hverfjall, a near perfect volcanic ash cone and for Game Of Thrones fans, you can visit Grjotagja cave, made famous by Jon Snow and the wildling Ygritte in S3E4.

As with pretty much all of Iceland, there are landscapes in the north to make your jaw drop and lots of excellent hiking, horse riding, extreme sports, friendly locals and good food and drink.  It just depends how long you have to explore.  Whatever you choose to see and however long your trip is, I’m certain you will want longer and be planning a return trip as soon as the funds allow!

Want to read and see more from CJ and Mike’s Iceland adventures? You can by heading over to read their article in Dive Travel Adventures by clicking here.


For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

CJ and Mike

CJ and Mike

CJ and Mike are dive instructors who have travelled all over the world pursuing their passion for the underwater world. CJ is a PADI MI and DSAT Trimix instructor with a degree in Conservation biology and ecology, who has been diving for 15 years. She loves looking for critters and pointing them out for Mike to photograph. Mike is a PADI MSDT who got back into diving in 2010. He enjoys practicing underwater photography and exploring new and exciting dive locales, occasionally with more than one tank. Follow more of their diving adventures at www.bimbleintheblue.com.

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