Adventure Islands Iceland Museums

Living with lava – family life under a volcano

Eyafjallajokull Visitor Centre
Written by Kirstie Pelling
Eyafjallajokull Visitor Centre

Eyafjallajokull Visitor Centre

Family life in the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull

How do you feel about volcanoes? Would you give your right arm to see one blow, or run as fast as you could in the other direction? Iceland’s Eyjafjalljokull Erupts Visitor Centre at Thorvaldseyri may change your mind about moulten magma. It offers tourists a personal, emotive film show, following one family and their struggle to live with the lava during and after the dramatic explosion of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010…

Ash to go?

Like many before me, I buy a jar of Eyjafjallajökull ash in the gift shop. Why do I do that when I know full well it’ll end up in the hoover within weeks of arriving back home? Because I’m buying a piece of celebrity, that’s why. A celebrity that has an exotic name, throws spectacular tantrums and has proved it can affect the lives of millions. Eyjafjallajökull is the Lady Ga Ga of the volcano world and who wouldn’t buy Ga Ga dust in a jar if it was on sale in a gift shop?

Ash to Go, Lava at Eyafjallajokull Visitor Centre

Ash to go anyone?

Living in the shadow of an explosion

If you ask any Icelander their opinion on why more visitors come to Iceland these days, chances are they’ll mention the economy and Eyjafjallajökull.  Because while the crash and the explosion were both devastating to Icelanders; they put the country on live TV night after night. People around the world started taking notice of the island they had previously assumed was a far flung, expensive iceberg, Almost overnight, Iceland became an appealing destination for a short break.

But of course, for the locals, Eyjafjallajökull waking up with a bang was a double edged sword. The inhabitants of Thorvaldseyri Farm were more affected than most as their home lies directly under one of the volcano’s southern glaciers. And when the ash came down, it came down on their livelihood.

“I can’t describe what it was like- everything so eerily silent.”

Looking up to Eyafjallajokull and farm at Þorvaldseyri

Looking up to Eyafjallajokull and the Thorvaldseyri farm

Almost wiped out and washed away

Their crops and water supplies were ruined, and a chunk of the main road washed away with the local flooding. Meanwhile images of their home, a  huge dust cloud rising above it, were beamed around the world, and they could only stand and watch as the effects of the volcano spread way beyond their patch.

“It was amazing to hear that our glacier left millions of people in airports in misery all over the world.”

Volunteers heard of their plight and came to help them shift thick layers of ash and tourists took part of it away as souvenirs. They began to move huge boulders from their rivers and streams and clean up their water supplies. And amid all the dust and devastation, they had the shoots of a new idea. Throughout the eruption they recorded the whole experience on film. At that time it was only for home viewing, “We wanted to have it as a history as we thought we might have to move away,” explains Thuridur Vala Olafsdottir.

Looking up to Eyafjallajokull and farm at Þorvaldseyri

What a difference a couple of year makes… at Thorvaldseyri

A family story that intrigues the visitors

The film is narrated by her mother and it’s an emotional and honest portrayal of what life was like, before, during and after the explosion. And when they found people were interested in their story, the family built the Eyjafjallajokull Erupts centre. They opened the attraction exactly a year after the disaster, and people came; 50,000 visitors so far. And as you sit in the barn like building, just beneath the glacier, surrounded by fields and presided over by a still and silently brooding volcano, you get a sense of what it’s like to be a small player in nature’s epic game.

“It is a bit unnerving living under an active volcano…I just hope our glacier has got it out of its system for the time being.”

Eyafjallajokull Visitor Centre

Eyafjallajokull Erupts – Visitor Centre at Thorvaldseyri 

As we spill out, Thuridur and her sister Inga mingle with the tourists, taking money for Eyjafjallajökull T shirts, soap and jars of ashes, and chatting to them about the family’s experience. This family don’t just live with the lava; they now make a good living out of dust. And I admire their enterprise as I willingly part with the equivalent of five euros for my own piece of a celebrity volcano.


This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent summer 2012 exploring Northern Europe, Iceland and The Faroes by car and on mini biking expeditions, researching and reporting on attractions and activities on offer to adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to DFDS Seaways and Smyril Line for  support in getting us to Europe and onto Iceland and The Faroes. And to Berghaus and Thule who helped equip us for the journey.

You can see a map of our journey on The Family Adventure Project Punkt! and view some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of what we got up to.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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