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.
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!
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.
Gear Review: Mares EOS LRZ Torch Range
What does LRZ stand for I hear you ask? The answer is: LED lights, Rechargeable, Zoomable. Mares have created a versatile set of seven underwater lights in the new range to suit all needs and budgets.
I tested the most powerful of them – the EOS 32LRZ at Capernwray on a cold but bright spring day. I was diving with Alex Mustard, and so all the underwater images are by him, showing me trying out the torch in both the shallows and in some of the wrecks at this site.
All the torches in the new line have an LED visual battery charge indicator that allows you to keep the battery level under control.
Want to use it out of the water? No problem! The new EOS LRZ torches feature an innovative temperature control system that allows you to use them both underwater and on land. I can see myself using this on gloomy dog walks later in the year!
As you can see from the video I filmed just after getting back from a dive, the torch is easy to use, even with thick gloves in cold water. The zoomable light beam means that you can highlight a particular spot, or have a wide beam, which is great for both modeling for a photographer, and exploring different underwater environments.
The EOS 32LRZ has a powerful beam with 3200 lumens of power and 135 minutes of burn time. Perfect for some of the darker dives you can experience in the UK, but also for exploring overhead or enclosed environments. I easily got 2 long dives out of a single charge, and then was able to recharge it in my car using a USB cable on the way home, ready for the next day of diving.
The look and feel of these torches are great. In your hand you can feel the quality of the torches. They are solid and well built. They also look great. Each torch in the range comes with a padded case to keep them safe during transport.
For more, visit the Mares website by clicking here.
All underwater images by Alex Mustard
Reef-World launches Green Fins Japan!
The Reef-World Foundation, the Onna Village Diving Association, the local government, and Oceana are delighted to announce that Japan is now the 14th country globally to implement the Green Fins initiative – a UN Environment Programme initiative. Onna Village in Okinawa is the first Japanese tourist destination to adopt Green Fins environmental standards to reduce the threats associated with diving and snorkelling on the marine environment.
Green Fins is piloted in Onna Village, Okinawa prefecture, an area renowned for its marine sports and has been working to protect its reefs for many years. Green Fins is implemented as part of the national Sustainable Development Goals project, which aims to manage and illustrate to the local industry how sustainable tourism can play a role in reef conservation. The economic benefits of the reefs benefit not only the fisheries industry but also the tourism industry as it has rocketed in recent decades.
If the project is successful – proving the value of sustainable tourism – the model has the potential to be escalated to a national level. A wide rollout would allow Reef-World to focus on uptake and expansion into other marine tourism and biodiversity hotspots across Japan. Green Fins implementation in Japan would provide practical solutions to many of the common problems faced in the area. It would also help to promote high standards for diving in the country. Improving the quality of the diving industry through Green Fins would demonstrate the added value of Onna Village’s tourism product. This, in turn, will encourage tourists to spend more time and money diving in the region.
Following a week of training by Reef-World (23 to 28 May 2022), Japan now has a national Green Fins team comprised of four fully certified Green Fins Assessors and two Green Fins Coordinators from Oceana and the local government. They will be responsible for recruiting, assessing, training and certifying dive and snorkel operators to become Green Fins members in the country. This involves providing training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins’ environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. Green Fins membership will help marine tourism operators improve their sustainability and prove they are working hard to follow environmental best practices as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists.
James Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We are really excited to finally introduce Green Fins in Japan. We have been planning this for almost three years, but the travel restrictions related to the pandemic hindered progress. The diving industry in Okinawa and the marine life upon which it has been built is so unique, it must be preserved for generations to come. The Okinawa diving community is very passionate about protecting their marine environment, and Green Fins has given them an opportunity to collectively work to reduce their environmental impact and pursue exemplary environmental standards.”
Diving and snorkelling related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or plastic debris and the effects of climate change. Based on robust individual assessments, the Green Fins initiative helps identify and mitigate these risks by providing environmental consultation and support to dive and snorkel operators. Through Green Fins implementation in Japan, Reef-World aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in the region by reaching 10 marine tourism operators, training 50 dive guides and raising awareness of sustainability best practices among 10,000 tourists in the first year.
Yuta Kawamoto, CEO of Oceana, said: “Green Fins will help to unify all the conservation efforts in Okinawa by applying the guidelines in many areas and raising tourists awareness. We hope this will increase the sustainable value in the diving industry and in turn increase the diving standards in the country.”
Green Fins is a UN Environment Programme initiative, internationally coordinated by The Reef-World Foundation, which aims to protect and conserve coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. Green Fins provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for the diving and snorkelling industry and has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.
To date, four dive operators in Onna Village have joined the global network of 600+ trained and assessed Green Fins members. These are: Benthos Divers, Okinawa Diving Center, Arch Angel and Pink Marlin Club. There has also been significant interest from other operators, even those that are not located in Onna Village, for Green Fins training and assessment.
Suika Tsumita from Oceana said: “Green Fins serve as an important tool for local diving communities to move towards a more sustainable use of their dive sites; so that they can maintain their scenic beauty and biological richness to provide livelihoods for many generations to come.”
For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org or www.greenfins.net/countries/
Dive and snorkel operators in Japan interested in signing up to be Green Fins members can contact the Green Fins Japan team at email@example.com.
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