SCUBA-DIVING HAS TAKEN ME to some pretty exciting places over the years, but there is one particular destination that has stayed stuck near the top of my wish-list.
When we think of diving in Iceland, we immediately think of the Silfra Fissure, where one can dive in the world’s clearest water and, for a moment, touch both the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates at once.
Of course, I too was drawn to Silfra, but I was also keen to discover what other treats Iceland had to offer divers.
Dive.is, “Iceland’s leading diving and snorkelling operator” (as its website claims), had invited me to spend three days sampling a mixture of sea, lake and inland-fissure dive-sites. Manager David Sigurþórsson and I stayed in email contact in the days leading up to my visit, and concerns about the approaching weekend’s weather resulted in several alterations to the proposed itinerary.
By the time I touched down on Icelandic soil (or rather lava) in driving wind and rain, we had settled on diving a selection of inland sites – the sea would have to wait.
Silfra would have to make the list because, after all, who visits Paris for the first time without checking out the Eiffel Tower? The Bjarnagjá and Davíðsgjá dive-sites would makes up the numbers, so let’s start with Bjarnagjá.

A HANDFUL OF ENTHUSIASTIC Americans joined us in the dive-centre’s minibus, along with a solitary German lass. On the way we exchanged stories of our favourite local dive-sites (they liked lakes and mine-shafts) and I marvelled at the spectacular lunar-like landscape as we motored on.
Ancient lava fields make up anything that isn’t a mountain or lake, and the roads reminded me of those that wind their way around New Zealand’s South Island. Plumes of geothermic steam and hot water spew out of the ground in many areas, and I was surprised to learn from David that the entire country is powered and heated by this renewable energy source.
Several mineshaft stories later, we arrived in the middle of nowhere. Two deserted Wild West-style buildings were all that stood out from an otherwise bleak but beautiful landscape.
We positioned the van behind one of the buildings, in the lee of the howling wind. This site is actually very close to the sea – perhaps only 500m. Now abandoned, this water-filled crack was once used as a storage area for live cod. The idea was that the slightly saline water so close to the ocean would allow the sea fish to be kept alive before being shipped onward.
The idea clearly had its flaws, because today only divers visit.
Anyone just “passing by” this narrow fissure would have no idea that below the surface it’s possible to reach a depth of 19m. Scottish-born Dive.is guide Fraser and I were to make the first dive, while the rest of the party assembled their gear.
As we descended into the 2m-wide crack my fingers, protected only by 5mm gloves, began to register the cold. A halocline obscured my vision from time to time, and concentration was needed in large doses to maintain perfect buoyancy.
The walls of the fissure were covered with the sort of algae that take only the faintest of fin-kicks to dislodge. By the time we reached the bottom, large clumps of the stuff had begun raining down on us (it wasn’t me, honest).
At one end of the fissure several whalebones lay on the bottom (no, they never kept live whales there), and at the other end a pair of sea anemones lived.
Despite being close, the fissure isn’t actually open to the sea, so how they got there is anyone’s guess. A 20m-long cave can be found at the anemone end, but this wasn’t the day to explore this area.

BEFORE MY FINGERS were rendered completely useless by the 3° water, I fired off a few shots from my camera. The light streaming down into the narrow crack along with the piles of algae made for quite a spooky experience, and after a few laps of this reasonably short fissure, we made our way to the surface.
The American crew took to the water, and I wandered around the area, content with having at last popped my Icelandic diving cherry.
We took a different route back to my base in Reykjavik, with more prehistoric-looking views filling the hour-long journey. I spent the evening sampling some of the pricey local craft beers with a bunch of trendy-looking locals.
Day two was to yield yet more crack-diving, but this time we would start the dive in Lake Thingvellir, where the fissure Davíðsgjá (or David’s Crack) is located on one side. Dive.is advertises this site as “Silfra’s darker, wilder sibling”, and I was promised that we’d have the place to ourselves.
There are two possible entry points, one beside a car-park near the lake edge and the other requiring a hike through the undergrowth. The latter was closer to the fissure’s mouth and avoided a cold 10-minute fin over a featureless lake-bed, so we went for it – expedition-style.
We were to dive as a group of nine divers, so I scrambled my gear on to get into the water ahead of the gang, purely for photographic reasons. By the time the last diver had made the leap into the water my hands were already numb, but I had enjoyed the site for 10 minutes on my own. I looked on enviously at the dive-guide’s toasty-looking dry-gloves.
The water clarity was exceptional, but my dive-computer was registering 3°, and I’m sure my regulator was itching to free- flow. Still, I was excited to be there.
The walls and floor were made up of boulders, but a light dusting of sediment covered everything. These fissure sites are a real test of one’s buoyancy because of the rise and fall of their topography.
Inviting-looking caves and caverns would appear from time to time too.

EIGHTEEN METRES is the maximum depth to which guides will take their guests, because the world-class visibility makes it super-easy to lose track of how deep you’re going. Sadly, this depth limit has been imposed on many of the sites only recently, after a couple of fatalities.
We made our way further into the crack which, several metres wider than our first dive, eventually ended abruptly with a wall of rock at one end.
Davíðsgjá boasts not one but two fissures parallel to each other, and by the time we had completed a lap of the second one, my hands were on the verge of dropping off (I promise not to mention my cold hands again).
I’m told it’s possible to be accompanied by trout while diving at Davíðsgjá, but they must have been otherwise engaged while we were visiting. I was beginning to get a taste for this crack-diving lark, and I’m sure my usually salty kit was thankful for a jolly good rinse, too.
During my stay in Iceland, thick low white cloud hung about and from time to time it rained, but the questionable weather only seemed to add an air of beauty to this wild and ancient landscape.
Our diving took place in the mornings only, but with reasonably long drives either side of it, much of the day was eaten up. Summer is the ideal time to visit because of the never-ending daylight hours, and we took advantage of these by going hiking well into the evenings. Conversely, in winter the sun can rise as late as 11am and set at 3pm.
On the morning of our third and final diving day we rolled into Silfra’s car-park, already heaving with minibuses and some 50 divers and snorkellers kitting up.
David explained the importance of timing when diving this crack if we wanted to avoid the crowds. He and I went first, along with the German diver, and he would lead the American party again on dive two.
From the well-maintained car park and along a roped-off pathway, we clambered down a set of metal steps into the first part of the Silfra fissure.
With the manicured pathway and entrance point plus the scores of tourist divers and snorkellers (far more snorkellers than divers) it felt a bit of a touristic conveyor-belt, but as a World Heritage Site, well-maintained and regimented, I guess it has to be.
In any event, I was excited to submerge. In single file, David let me lead us through Silfra Big Crack, the first of four sections. Visibility here is said to be more than 100m and the water was again at 3°.
The bottom of the fissure rose and fell by as much as 30m at a time, and we maintained a depth of around 15m unless we were forced shallower.
I was itching to explore deeper parts of the site and perhaps, if diving without the rest of the group to consider, this might have been possible.
We finned on through the immense Silfra Hall and into the awe-inspiring Cathedral, where in parts the fissure bed turned to thick white sediment rather than rock. The blue hue of the water was striking and we had the site to ourselves throughout. Thirty to 40 minutes is about as long as you want to be submerged here (sorry, those hands again) and by the time you reach Silfra’s vast lagoon at the end, you’re ready to exit.

THE LAGOON AREA is a wide flat section, perhaps only 5m deep, but it’s here that you really appreciate the world-class visibility. The bed is made up of that white sediment, and I was mindful of my finning technique to avoid spoiling the vis for the next group of divers (especially as it’s so dear to dive with a guided party).
From the exit point a roped-off path leads divers and snorkellers back to the main car park, where droves of people were getting ready for their experience.
Despite some of Iceland’s obvious areas of natural beauty such as Silfra and Geyser feeling so touristy, I fell in love with the country and, as we discovered, it is possible to dive areas of immense beauty away from the crowds.
We only scratched the surface with the diving on offer here and I plan to return to discover more next summer.
Part of me wants to urge every one of you adventurous divers to explore Iceland’s diving for yourselves; another part of me doesn’t, just so that I’ll have these awesome sites to myself!

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Will Appleyard flew from London Gatwick with Wow Air, www.wowair.co.uk
DIVING: Dive.is, www.dive.is. Drysuit experience is essential.
ACCOMMODATION: Will stayed with friends, but advises searching online for a hotel within walking distance of Reykjavik centre if you wish to explore the city. Hire a car to explore the rest of the island.
WHEN TO GO: Summer, when the days are almost 24 hours long, provides the most diving flexibility!
MONEY: Icelandic króna.
PRICES: Return flights start from around £140. A three-day/ five-dive tour package costs from £720 for transfers and diving (as Will says, nothing is cheap in Iceland).
VISITOR INFORMATION: www.iceland.is