Oraefajokull is an ice covered volcano at the southern extremity of Vatnajokull glacier.
It’s the largest active volcano in Iceland and on its-north western rim is Hvannadalshnjukur, the highest peak in the country. Oraefajokull is a stratovolcano. It is believed to the second largest of its type in Europe. Only Etna on the island of Sicily is larger.
The volcano has erupted twice in recorded history, in 1362 and in 1727. In 1362, the volcano erupted explosively, with huge amounts of tephra being ejected. Flood and tephra fall destroyed the district of Litla-Herad. More than 40 years passed before people settled the area again, which then became known as Oraefi. The name literally means an area without harbour, but it took on the meaning ‘wasteland’ in Icelandic.
Early documents provide evidence of travel over the Vatnajokull ice cap from north to south and vice versa, but there are no descriptions of ventures onto Oraefajokull until 1794 when Sveinn Palsson trekked up onto the mountains from Kviskerjar.
During his trip, he discovered the reason for the formation of glaciers, probably the first person to do so in the world. He also noted their movement as a viscous material that creeps forward due to the effects of gravity. He also noticed ash layers in the glacier where it broke from the edge of the summit on its way down, which helped him draw the correct conclusions.
The mountain and surrounding areas offer good skiing in winter, and are very popular with walkers and hikers throughout the year.
Check out our complete guide to the South Coast.