When Taylor asked me to select an activity in Iceland that I would like to do, I did not hesitate in choosing a lava tunnel tour. The Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel is located in the southern region of Iceland and fell perfectly along our route.
The lava tunnel itself was formed about five thousand years ago but was formally discovered in 1971. Our tour began right on time at 8:30 AM. The cave’s cover was a welcome escape from the brutal surface weather that morning.
The first segment of the cave is defined by two large surface openings. A result of ceiling collapse, the two portals allow natural light into a place that had undoubtedly been bathed in darkness for most of its existence.
The next segment features smooth walls with melted red streaks of oxidized iron. We were lucky to also be able to see ice spires rising from the cave floor in June. These spires are created by water dripping from the cave ceiling and freezing in the crevices of the floor.
As the darkness enveloped the tunnel, life began to show in the final segment of our tour. A shining white bacteria lives in the recesses of the lava tunnel away from harmful sunlight. Our very knowledgeable guide mentioned that scientists had begun studying the bacteria to gain insight into what type of life might have—or might—live among the rocks of Mars. Another interesting tidbit she added is that the bacteria is hydrorepulsive meaning it repels water.
Soon we’d reached the end of our metal catwalk and the beginning of the ‘Extreme Lava Tunnel Tour' which takes three hours and features much more of the tunnel. Our tour only went 350 meters into the 1,360-meter-long tunnel, which is Iceland’s fourth largest.
The cave extends less than 50 meters into the Earth, but even such a shallow escape from the Earth’s topography can seem an alien landscape. If Taylor were to ask me again what attraction I would like to sign up for, I would still book the tour at Raufarhólshellir.