Lava caves are located in volcanic active areas. The lava cave described in this article is one of the many that exist in Iceland. This cave is Gjábakkahellir and it is located in one of the most active volcanic areas, in Thingvellir National Park, exactly on the boundary between the continents. Length of the cave is 364 meters and it has two entrances, meaning, you enter through the entrance and leave through the exit. The cave is a prime example of the lava tube cave.
The formation process of a lava cave
Lava tubes are natural conductors through which lava flows beneath the surface during the outbreak. After draining and cooling of the lava, a structure is created that looks like a pipe or a tunnel.
When a volcano lava is emitted, it is naturally flowing through the path of least resistance to the flow. The outer layer of lava hardens while the inside continues to flow, creating a horizontal channel where the lava flows. These channels are the initial stages of the lava tube. The lava heat stays isolated from the cool air outside and is well preserved, so lava remains in liquid form and can continue to flow.
Depending on the slope, the surface above which the lava flows, and the viscosity of lava are formed different types of lava tubes. It can happen that several parallel tubes are created, or several tubes above or below the main tube. There may be even tubes inside the main tube; it is created when the "walls" of the tube turn inside to allow the new lava to flow above and below them.
Lava tubes are actually the most common lava caves. There are other types of lava caves, such as cracks, or rooms.
By the way, there are quite a few ice caves, which are actually lava caves, with ice generated inside. In the cave Gjábakkahellir there is also ice and icicles in winter.
The cave is very broad and allows standing with the full height. The cave floor appears to be under the piles of rocks. Rocks are the result of the collapse of the ceiling, but it only happens usually during the first few decades after the formation of the cave.
Stripes in different shades on cave walls mark the various heights reached by the lava. In various places on the ceiling, you will see the stalactites. These stalactites are formed by lava splashing at the ceiling; the lava then begins to flow down and hardens in the process by heat in the cave.
The discovery of the cave
The cave is in complete darkness, no matter how long we will stay there, our eyes will not get used to the darkness, so no flora and fauna exist there, besides bacteria. The sense of orientation is lost in the cave. Due to the darkness, changes in the directions and twists of the cage, it is very difficult to tell what distance you crossed and in which direction. The cave was discovered by chance when the King of Denmark visited Iceland in the 19th century.
At that time, there were hardly any roads in Iceland suitable for carriages, but only trails for horse riding and walking. In order to allow the king of Denmark to see the wonder of the Gullfoss waterfall – the "Golden Waterfall" and to get there with carriage, it was decided to build the road for carriages. During the construction of the road, the cave was discovered.
Iceland at that time was a very poor country, and in the building of the road about a quarter of Iceland's financial resources were invested. The King, by the way, appeared on his horse.
The cave exploration is a relatively young field in Iceland, gaining momentum only in the past 50 years. This is because the Icelanders were (and perhaps still are) full of superstitions and believe that in these caves live all kinds of elves, ghosts and zombies. Therefore, they refrained from entering all kinds of "holes" in the ground.
Another lava cave is located in Borgarnes and its length is 1.5 km, and it is called Surtshellir. There are probably a lot more interesting caves waiting to be discovered in Iceland, perhaps by one of you...
The visit to the cave takes as long as about an hour. You should have closed shoes. It is cool and damp in the cave, so you should also bring warm clothes, waterproof pants and gloves (to protect your hands when you touch the stones or walls). The cave is not illuminated with artificial lighting.
To visit the lava cave Vatnshellir in Snæfellsnes Peninsula please contact by phone 354-436- 6860.