Iceland’s beauty has almost become a cliché. We brag about glaciers, hot springs, volcanoes and an inhospitable but unforgettable interior. Every visitor wants to witness “the awesome power of nature”, even if they are only here for 24 hours. If the weather is kind, a whistle-stop tour of the Golden Circle may allow people to catch a few glimpses of the country's natural beauty, but last Friday I discovered a better way: in a 6-seat Cessna 207.
For the cost of a nice dinner out, it’s possible to spend a couple of hours in the skies gazing over nature only accessible otherwise by foot. I joined the 1-3/4 hour “Fire and Ice” tour, operated by Eagle Air, a company which runs various air tours of Iceland.
In Eagle Air’s small office at the Reykjavik airport, Alli, our affable blond pilot, explained the route of the Fire and Ice tour using a pull-down map of the country. We would start with a trip over Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss, crossing into the highland interior past Mount Hekla and to Landmannalaugar valley, down to the woods of the Thorsmörk Nature Reserve (a 55-kilometer route that takes hikers at least three arduous but glorious days), and finally along the smooth south coast back to Reykjavik.
The tiny propeller plane (I’ve been in bigger cars) had room for four passengers plus me and the captain. My companions were a young Dutch couple with extensive photographic equipment and an older American couple with expensive sunglasses.
We donned our headsets, which blocked out much of the constant whir of the motor and allowed us to eavesdrop on the comforting radio conversations of the air traffic controller and other aircraft. After a short taxi, we were airborne, soaring above the colorful rooftops of Vesturbaer. I recovered quickly enough from my acrophobia to snap a photo of my little yellow house, immersed in a sea of apartment blocks.
As the city grew distant, the countryside opened up in front of us, summerhouses looking like insignificant specks, dwarfed by the huge green landscape. We circled patiently above Geysir and its more active neighbor, Strokkur, until the latter obligingly spouted sulphurous hot water. We rose above the clouds to get a glimpse of the legendary Mount Hekla, and dipped lower to see the various shades of pink in the hills around Landmannalaugar and the delicate fingers of the Mýrdalsjokull glacier slowly creeping towards Thorsmörk.
There were a few gentle swills of turbulence, and I can understand how those so inclined might become a little woozy, but other than spending several days hiking through the interior, this is the most memorable way I have seen the country.