By Sarah Gordon
Pole position: Despite -15C temperatures causing her camera to go a bit fuzzy, Sarah makes it to the lookout point opposite the new volcano
After news broke of a fiery volcano erupting in Iceland, it became literally the country's hottest tourist destination within a matter of hours. TravelMail's Sarah Gordon takes to the skies for a stunning bird's eye view of one of nature's most spectacular shows, proving that the country really is the land of fire and ice...
Did you know there is such as thing as a volcano hotline? When Mother Nature has an almighty tantrum, phones start to ring across the world and enthusiasts head off to witness the glowing results of her rage.
It took just 48 hours for the first adventure travellers to hit the ground in Iceland after a crevice opened up on a glacier south of Reykjavik and started spurting out molten lava.
Since the surprise eruption on 21 March, around 25,000 Icelanders and foreign visitors have made the once-in-a-lifetime trip by jeep, skidoo, motorbike and helicopter to see the eruption from as close as 200 metres away.
Flying high: Iceland is experiencing a tourism boom due to its latest eruption
It takes just over an hour by skidoo, speeding across the bumpy, barren landscape in search of the place where the land splits and Iceland’s innards bubble up to the surface in the first volcanic activity on the glacier for 200 years.
Donning a thermal boiler suit to cope with temperatures that can dip as low as -25C on the glacier, I joined the curious travellers hurriedly booking trips to the volcano. Predicted to last just several weeks, people are booking fast, although a fresh eruption just yesterday seems to indicate the volcano will not become dormant too soon.
Blazing display: An estimated 25,000 tourists flocked to see the new eruption in its first week
As the sun sets and I round the final bend of the snowy trail, I catch my first glimpse of the red-hot rocks in the distance sending smoke signals in the air and a shudder down my spine.
There is something apocalyptic about the sinking sun doing its best to emulate the colour of the lava and turning everything in sight a rosy hue.
Particularly as it was the sight of a glowing sky above the glacier that first caused alarm for local farmer Hafsteinn Joinsson who fled his property after the first rumblings were reported.
More than 600 locals were alerted by text messages and phone calls at half past midnight on the 21 March and deserted their properties not knowing how forceful the volcanic eruption was going to be
Apoclyptic: The glowing sunset made the first glimpse of the volcano all the more dramatic
But when Hafsteinn looked out of his back window and saw the red sky he feared the worst and sped his wife and young baby to the nearest safe meeting point.
Luckily for them, the new volcano (currently named Fimmvörðuhàls) is positioned at the side of the glacier. Had the eruption come from the dormant Eyjafjalla volcano, sat squarely under hundreds of tonnes of ice, miles of farmland and homes could have ended up under flood water.
Mother Nature certainly takes no prisoners when she has one of her outbursts, so it is with a sense of trepidation and a frisson of excitement that I continue guiding the skidoo towards one of the most intense and potentially devastating phenomenons in the world.
As we near the fissure, the snow turns a dirty grey and then jet black from the falling ash and the rumbling of molten rock can be heard as soon as we kill the skidoo engines.
Up close and personal: From 200 metres away it was possible to hear the lava rumbling
Entranced by the gaping crevice that has opened up in front of me I am barely aware of the biting wind and -15C temperature as I try to capture the image on camera and reconcile what I know about the horror of volcanoes with the utterly dazzling sight in front of me.
It looks just like all the images of bubbling lava I have seen in countless Hollywood films and nature documentaries and it is easy to see why Icelanders used to believe volcanic craters were great hell mouths – you almost feel as if you could peer over the edge and into the very belly of the Earth.
Perhaps due to the familiarity of volcanic images from television or perhaps because of its sheer beauty, spectators are drawn ever closer to the flaming pit.
What a view: Sarah poses in the helicopter with the eruption in the background
Two Jeeps in the dip below our lookout point and the yawning crevice edge ever closer and footprints in the blackened snow show walkers have also tried their luck to get as near as possible.
But I am lucky enough not to have to take my life in my hands to see the volcano in all its glory.
A helicopter company based at my hotel is experiencing a boom in business by organising trips out to the volcano. The 45-minute flight takes me over the eruption where we hover before following the searing molten rock as it cuts its way across the land in great glowing rivers.
On land the view is awe-inspiring enough, but from the air it is possible to see what is happening beyond the glacier’s open wound. Scientists are fascinated by the molten rock which has formed huge 100-metre lava falls down into a gorge below, something that has never been seen before in Iceland.
And it is safe to say my seven fellow passengers are spellbound too as we sit in utter silence observing the destructive but beguiling spectacle taking place below us.
It is not until we land back at the Hotel Rangá where we are greeted by our charming and animated owner Friđrik Pálsson that our words tumble out over each other and we chatter like excited children.
And what better place to dissect our adventure than in the hotel restaurant with the glow of the eruption in the distance?
The hotel is positively buzzing with an almost festival ambience as guests and staff exchange volcano stories.
Whether in this region by accident or design, visitors are now furiously booking up helicopters, Jeep excursions and skidoo rides to see the sheer natural power Iceland is so famous for.
And Friđrik predicts that this boom will last at least several more weeks as local and international companies offer volcano packages enabling tourists to come and witness one of the world’s most wondrous sights.
Destructive path: From the air it is possible to see the lava cutting its way down the glacier
Only in Iceland can something that has the power to be so destructive become such a positive opportunity in the space of just a week.
The country so recently associated with financial failure has come to life again and everyone from Ragnar, the owner of the local Superjeep company, to helicopter pilot Birgir and even the waiters and reception staff wants to share their knowledge of the country’s natural phenomenons.
Travel FactsSarah travelled on the Iceland volcano holiday with Discover the World (01737 218 800, www.discover-the-world.co.uk)to see the eruption. The world’s leading Iceland specialists, they offer three nights in Reykjavik on a Volcano Eruption Special, including a 1 ½ - 2 hour sightseeing flight over the volcano from as little as £471pp. Or choose the Volcano Watch trip and spend three nights at the Hotel Rangá from £312pp and take optional extra helicopter, snowmobile or superjeep trips to the eruption. Prices exclude flights to and from Iceland which cost from around £204pp with Icelandair including taxes.