Vestmannaeyjar literally means “west-man-islands”. They are a cluster of islands off the south shore of Iceland with high cliffs rising from the sea.
Heimaey – the largest island – has a small village and a harbor. Fishing has always been the major income generator for the islanders but there is also a great tradition for fetching eggs from the cliffs as well as hunting puffins and other sea-birds.
Surtsey – the newest island – was made in a volcanic eruption that started in 1963. It is the newest island in the world.
Vestmannaeyjar are probably most famous for the eruption that started in January 1973 when a 1600 meter fissure opened on the east side of the island. The closest houses where only 300 meters from the eruption and all inhabitants evacuated the island under the emergency.
The fishing fleet was in harbor because of bad weather and was used to transport everybody to the mainland. The eruption had deep and lasting effect on the island and the islanders and the new lava and the new volcano will be a constant reminder for centuries to come.
An estimated 250 million cubic meters of ash and lava came up in the eruption that lasted for five months and ten days. Before the eruption the size of Heimaey was about 11.3 square kilometers but is now 13.5 square kilometers. 360 houses were ruined by lava flow and many more severely damaged.
Lava from the eruption crushed houses and volcanic ash sat on rooftops in thick layers. What looks like a peaceful and grassy slope was the end of the lava flow and the new volcano looms over in the background.
An old chimney down by the harbor. No longer in use.
A full size replica made from ideas about how the first farm house in
Vestmannaeyjar from the Viking times looked like.
Looking south from Herjolfsdalur.
Suðurey – South Island – is typical of many of the smaller islands.
Surrounded by cliffs on all sides and a hut used by bird hunters and egg catchers.
Looking north from Stórhöfði it is obvious how close to the mainland the islands are. Open to the big Atlantic ocean with its relentless waves and heavy winds. Here is the weather station often reporting the highest winds and worst weather in Iceland.
Elliðaey – Island of Ellidi – another of the smaller islands with
Eyjafjallajokull hovering over in the back.
Looking over the town with the cemetery in foreground.
Gaujulundur is a nice place to visit. A single woman started growing plants and arranging this lovely garden in 1988 – right in the middle of the new lava field!
Another place to visit is an abandoned rock mine with some interesting art work by Kristinn Palsson and his coworkers.
Bjarnarey – Bear Island – with the new lava in the foreground. 23 years after the eruption moss is already thick on the lava.
Ystiklettur marks the entrance to the harbor. On the left is the spot where Keiko the whale was stationed for a while.
A beautiful house built in 1908 with the new lava in the backyard.
During the early days of the eruption the idea came up if it would be
possible to slow the flow of lava. Could pumping seawater to cool the lava have any effect? Houses and the harbor were at risk. Early attempts looked promising and ever more powerful pumps were brought in use. An estimated total of 6.2 million tons of seawater were used saving lots of houses along with the harbor opening.
Ships, boats and yachts of all sizes fill the harbor.
Walking up the steps of the cliff Heimaklettur we get a nice view over the town and harbor.