Gullborgarhellir and Vegghellir in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Lava tube caves and hot springs of vikings
In Hnappadalur valley in the eastern part of the Snaefellsnes peninsula there was an eruption early in historic times which created the crater Gullborg and the lava field Gullborgarhraun which covers around 15 sq. kilometres.
Available: On request
Included: Hotel pick up & drop off in Reykjavik, guided caving tour, flash light, gloves and helmet.
Bring with you: Warm clothes, sturdy shoes.
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The magma flowed in several very large subterranean passages, which later on were transformed into lava tube caves.
The volcano known as Gullborg is a magnificent crater that’s well worth taking a look at. Ramparts of hardened lava and small passages atop the hardened lava show clearly how the molten magma once flowed. Gullborgarhellir lava tube is the longest of all the lava tubes in this lava field. The lava tube extends from a pitfall not far from the crater itself.
The length of the cave is estimated to be around 670 metres. Through the first 170 metres, we walk on a tongue of hardened lava, which probably flowed into the cave in the latter part of the eruption. The tongue is rather rugged under foot but once you are over this there is a flat cave floor all the way down to the end of the lava tube. The lava tube's ceiling has not collapsed to any extent. It is rather big and has some unusual lava formations. This is a fun lava tube to explore. When we have walked about 260 metres into the lava tube, it forks in two directions which then join again further on in the lava tube. Each tunnel is almost as wide as the main tube itself.
The innermost section of the lava tube is off-limits due to fragile lava formations and is cut off by a sturdy chain. In front of the chain you are able to view those fragile lava formations but you must not cross over the chain. Vegghellir lava tube is the second longest of the lava tubes in the Gullborg lava field. It’s around 320 metres long. It runs parallel to the Gullborg lava tube and they are not far apart.
When inside the lava tube, you will see 2 cylindrical chambers, each around 7 metres wide and 10-12 metres high. Each chamber has big shelves that run along the walls and they clearly show how the lava tide flowed during most of its existence. Not far from the bottom of the cave lies a chimney, 13 metres long that runs all the way to the surface. A certain magnitude of molten magma must have flown through that chimney in earlier times. The Vegghellir lava tube’s name is derived from a wall that is around 74 metres into the lava tube. The wall was laid with rubble and breakdown from the floor of the lava tube and it’s around 4.5 metres wide. The wall is also almost as tall as a man and extends almost to the roof of the lava tube.
No other man-made remains can be found in the lava tube and it’s thought that the wall was built by convicted outlaws that took cover in the cave around the year 1222. The outlaws were able to defend themselves from behind the wall if they were attacked, however, they were still captured when they wandered away from the lava tube while they were going for a bath in a nearby geothermal pool! The lava tube is mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas (The Sturlunga Saga) but was lost to modern man until the year 1957 when it was rediscovered. The lava tube, the viking wall from 1222 and the chimney in the bottom of the cave are all sights worth visiting.
The geothermal pool that the outlaw vikings were going to, to get a bath when they were captured is in the neighborhood of the lava tube and it nice to take a dip in it after an exhausting cave trip. Hnappadalur valley also boasts from having a mineral well that has the most volume of water in Iceland, the well is named Raudamelsolkelda. From that mineral well, we will extinguish our thirst and take a look at the old church site nearby before we head back to Reykjavik.
The tour to Hnappadalur is a day tour, but can be considered a part of a larger tour.