Iceland ProCruises: Cruising on a photogenic glacier, sharing it with a seal

Amphibian vehicles explore the glacier lagoon.
Amphibian vehicles explore the glacier lagoon.

ABOARD THE OCEAN DIAMOND – James Bond was here. So was Batman. And Laura Croft the Tomb Raider.

No wonder filmmakers have chosen this Icelandic spot for movie magic. The Jökulsárlon Glacier Lagoon is spectacular and considered one of the top natural wonders in a country that is known for natural treasures.

Hard to believe the glacier lagoon has been here a mere 70 years or so. The lagoon was formed as the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier began to melt and retreat. As chunks of ice broke off the glacier – known as calving – a lagoon was formed.

Glacier lagoon has an otherworldly beauty.
Glacier lagoon has an otherworldly beauty.

As the icebergs melt, they break free from the lagoon and are carried out by the tide through the mouth of the river. When currents pull them to the shore, the icebergs lay like scattered jewels on the black volcanic sand. It is quite an unusual sight.

For our six-hour shore excursion today, we left the Ocean Diamond at 8:30 in the morning, picked up our box lunches and boarded waiting buses. The process is always smooth and well organized, unlike some other cruise line excursions where buses are late, too many passengers are trying to leave at once, buses don’t have enough room and it is difficult to figure out which bus is for which excursion.

For our glacier lagoon adventure, we not only got to stand on the shore and marvel at these spectral ice works, we also took a cruise on the lagoon and got up close to the icebergs. For this we rode in amphibian vehicles – those neat contraptions that drive on the land on big wheels, then turn into a boat when they hit the water.

A tour guide shares 1,000-year-old pieces of ice.
A tour guide shares 1,000-year-old pieces of ice.

It was like floating through a ghostly art gallery created by Mother Nature. The icebergs are luminous, some are white, some with streaks of black, some transparent and some a glowing blue color. No two shapes and colors are alike.

Along with telling us about the icebergs, our guide took a large block of ice and broke it into smaller pieces. We were then invited to taste the 1,000-year-old ice. It is mind boggling to think about what the world must have looked like and how people lived 1,000 years ago when the ice that is now melting in my mouth was being created. Very humbling experience, too.

About halfway through our lagoon cruise, we had a treat. A seal was lounging on an iceberg right by our boat. He seemed quite nonchalant as we cruised by. After all, this habitat was his home. We were just visiting.

A seal waits for a meal on glacier lagoon.
A seal waits for a meal on glacier lagoon.

On our way back to the Ocean Diamond, we stopped at Skaftafell National Park and saw the bleak beautiful Svinafellsjökull glacier. This cruel lovely was featured in the 2014 movie “Interstellar” in which Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway play astronauts who plunge through a space wormhole searching for a new home for a dying Earth.

Although I have heard the warning many times since I arrived in Iceland, I didn’t mind hearing again that it is very important to be careful around Iceland’s natural wonders. Common sense prevails and wandering off from a guide or stepping on unfamiliar terrain – whether dirt or ice – is not recommended. People, animals and equipment have been swallowed up by glaciers, snow mountains and harmless looking crevices in the ice.

Iceland's Svinafellsjökull glacier is featured in the new "Interstellar" movie.
Iceland’s Svinafellsjökull glacier is featured in the new “Interstellar” movie.

Sometimes equipment and frozen animals have resurfaced years later. As our guide said, “There’s a saying here in Iceland – ‘Whatever the ice takes, it always gives back.’”

Entering  Svinafellojokull  is a powerful reminder of possible dangers. A simple plaque commemorates two young Germans who ventured onto Svinafellojokull on Jan. 8, 2007. They were never seen again.

Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Video of glacier lagoon and a seal

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