Bewitched by the bowels of the earth
Shaney Hudson descends far underground into a dormant volcano in Iceland and is thrilled to discover nature’s private art studio
I AM standing inside a volcano, 122m underground.
It is the size of a cathedral, and the subterranean walls are scorched with colour: vibrant purple and magenta red, burnt orange and honey yellow, the colour intensifying around the small gash that 4000 years ago pushed magma out, and today lets visitors in.
Here in Iceland, volcanoes were once thought to be a portal to hell, associated with death and destruction. To the modern-day traveller, they are all about disruption. But Thrihnukagigur surprises me.
While my group had talked in jest about being lowered into the belly of the beast, instead I feel as if I am trespassing inside nature’s secret, private art studio.
A 30-minute drive from Reykjavik, Thrihnukagigur was discovered in the 1970s and is the only place in the world where visitors can be lowered into the magma chamber of a volcano.
Inside the Volcano tours began in 2012, operating from a base camp that is helicoptered in each May for Iceland’s limited summer season.
To reach the base camp, it’s a challenging 50-minute hike across lava fields to reach the tallest of three cinder cones that mark the volcano’s entrance.
Although Thrihnukagigur is classified as dormant, in many respects it is a sleeping giant.
Like Iceland’s hundred or so other volcanoes, it is on the mid-Atlantic ridge, which divides continental Eurasia from continental America and is a hotbed of unpredictable volcanic activity.
On the way, our guide stops to point out the ridge, a comic book-like slash running across the lava fields to the horizon. Here, the landscape is literally tearing itself apart.
But it’s also full of surprises. At the base camp we encounter Funi, a small, semi-wild Arctic fox pup abandoned by its