Be­witched by the bow­els of the earth

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - SLEEPING GIANT -

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

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