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LAVA Centre

  
 4Stars10px  - darkometer rating: 2 -
  
LAVA Centre 6   lava flow simulationOne of the relatively newer additions to Iceland’s (dark) tourism portfolio: an immersive and interactive exhibition about the country’s volcanic history, which has often been destructive, plus a cinema showing a film with historic and recent footage of such events.

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

 
More background info: for the country’s volcanic history in general see the Iceland chapter; cf. also Heimaey (and Eldheimar), Viti & Askja and Reykjanes Peninsula volcanoes.
  
The Centre was devised by a team of geologists, architects, who came up with a sustainably running structure, and a designer team who were also involved in the creation of the exhibition at Eldheimar.
  
I haven’t been able to determine exactly when this place opened but going by reviews available online it must have been sometime between 2017 and 2019.
  
  
What there is to see: The large and airy lobby does not only contain the ticket desk but also a few introductory exhibits even before you enter the exhibition proper. These consist of a screen table in the centre of the room showing the shape of Iceland and its volcanism, plus screens on the outer wall of the cinema hall focusing on specific volcanic systems in Iceland.
  
You should also check the screening times for the film shown every 20-35 minutes in the cinema hall. As one screening had just begun when I arrived I decided to go later, after having seen the exhibition. But if it’s just about to start, I’d say watch it first.
  
The actual permanent exhibition begins with a long corridor dimly lit in red (allusions to lava, anybody?) on one wall that has wavy wooden structures on it and in the spaces between them a series of eruptions through Iceland’s history are briefly listed, going all the way up to 2021 (when the latest eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula began).
  
There’s a kind of half-globe on the floor in an adjacent room on to which the geological history of the Earth around what was to become Iceland is roughly projected, from early fiery times of the planet through the Ice Age and to the modern day, as the globe is spun.
  
An earthquake installation has three rectangular pads on the floor on which you can stand to feel simulated tremors. They were really nothing more than very slight tremors, nothing at all alarming. There’s also some basic information on a screen.
  
You then go through the next corridor – with sounds piped in that allegedly are recordings of underground magma movements, though pitch-adapted for the human ear (so I guess made a bit higher than infrasound).
  
This leads into a large hall around a huge sculpture of the mantle plume that sits underneath Iceland. Such mantle plumes, aka “hotspots” have created not only Iceland but also e.g. Hawaii and the Cape Verde islands. Apart from the impressively big red sculpture there are a couple of screens providing a bit of info about what mantle plumes are and how they can interact with the Earth’s crust and surface (i.e. create volcanic eruptions).
  
But it is only when you get to the next room that the geological and volcanological information gets a bit more in-depth. Again, it’s a rather dark room illuminated by clever simulations of lava flows through moving projections – it really looked quite convincing (only minus the heat the real thing would emit, of course). In between are several interactive screens on which you can explore various aspects of volcanoes, from magma chambers to fissure eruptions, and from stratovolcanoes to jökulhlaups (see also under Iceland). Note that the various screens do not show the same content but are all different, so make sure not to miss any, which could easily happen especially when it’s busy and you have to await your turn at screens and use whichever becomes available next. So try to memorize which you’ve already done and which not yet. This room is also the only one to contain any original artefacts, namely pieces of volcanic rock, lava and lava bombs.
  
The final room has walls with projections of the volcanic landscape of the region – pretty much an emulation of the views you can get from the roof terrace (see below). The wall projections can be manipulated in an “immersive” fashion: you are supposed to point at small round spots dotted around the projections so that motion detectors can trigger the screening of extra information, from a few lines of text, detailing e.g. the height of a mountain in question, or animations of ash eruptions or ashfall and suchlike.
  
I have to admit that it took me a moment or two to work out what you were supposed to do here. I eventually figured it out, but I observed a group of middle-aged American tourists who didn’t seem to get the system at all and hence looked confused and did not engage in any interactive efforts. Yet to be honest I can’t really blame them. I did test some of the bits triggered by pointing at the dots but rather quickly got bored of the “game”. It felt too much just for the sake of it – simply there because the technology exists – actually provides very little in terms of entertainment or educational takeaways. I also didn’t like the style of some of the text that appeared to let the various volcanoes “speak” for themselves … in the first person! (along the lines of “I am a large and rather old volcano. But I can still throw ash into the air ...”). I found that a rather childish approach.
  
After having seen the exhibition I checked out the cinema and only had to wait a few minutes before the next screening would commence, so I took a seat. The ca. 15-minute film consisted of a few general images of Iceland and then showed footage of a number of eruptions over the years, including e.g. the “birth” of Surtsey in an undersea eruption, the catastrophic eruptions of 1973 on Heimaey, the 1995 Grimsvötn eruption and the massive jökulhlaup it triggered, and also recent footage of the 2021 eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula. There is no narration, just a few lines of text occasionally popping up naming the events of what you’re looking at and when it was. But no further explanations are given.
  
Finally, I also climbed the stairs to the roof terrace. From up there you get a good panoramic view of the surroundings. Oblong panels along the edges point out the names of the various places and mountains you can see from here, including, in particular, Hekla and nearby Eyjafjallajökull (remember, the one whose ash plumes caused such massive disruptions to European air traffic back in 2010).
  
Back indoors I also had a very quick look at the enormous souvenir and clothes shop opposite the cinema. Only a few items are related to the topic of lava and volcanism, mostly what’s on offer are the usual Icelandic jumpers, T-shirts, hats and fluffy toy puffins you also get in every such shop in Reykjavik or at big tourist sites on the Golden Ring like Gullfoss. The shop doesn’t actually belong to the LAVA Centre proper but is run by a separate company (although it has the same opening times).
  
The same goes for the also rather large cafeteria/restaurant in the eastern wing of the building. I did not check that one out, though, (no need for me, I had just had a big breakfast), so I can’t say anything about it.
  
All in all, I found the exhibition a little bit too “design-heavy” and somewhat forcedly “immersive”. The Centre has won awards for all that, but I wasn’t so impressed with those aspects. In particular that final bit with the pointing and motion detectors opening little morsels of info or animations, I found too game-like and ultimately rather shallow. A modern hi-tech installation, yes, but it felt pretty much just for the sake of it. That said, though, the central part of the exhibition is very good – with the mantle plume and especially the volcanology screens in the adjacent room and the cleverly simulated lava flows. All these elements are well made and quite informative to boot. That was definitely the highlight. The film screened in the cinema didn’t have as much informational value and a lot of the footage included I had actually seen before – except for the newest coverage of the Reykjanes Peninsula eruptions, which were fabulous to watch.
  
(As I was heading for my helicopter flight over the then active Litli-Hrutur volcano later that day, this footage got me excited. However, there was also a flat screen in the lobby with live-cam footage from Litli-Hrutur. And on that I could see that by then the lava ejections had ceased … as had been predicted by the guide at the Lava Show in Vik the day before … Unfortunate timing!)
  
  
Location: in the south of Iceland, in the hamlet of Hvolsvöllur, at Austurvegur 14, some 60 miles (95 km) south-east of Reykjavik.
  
Google Maps locator: [63.7532, -20.2365]
  
  
Access and costs: easy to get to (by car at least); fairly expensive (as you’d expect in Iceland).
  
Details: Ideally you need a car to get to this place, which is very easy to find: it sits right by the No.1 Ring Road at the western end of Hvolsvöllur. There are plenty of (free) parking spaces right outside.
  
Theoretically you could also get there by bus (lines 51 and 52); the Hvolsvöllur bus stop is a few hundred yards to the south of the LAVA Centre. The connection times are not overly convenient, but it might just about be possible to make the journey from Reykjavik and back in a day. Otherwise you’d need accommodation in Hvolsvöllur (there are a few options, but these should be booked in advance to be on the safe side).
  
Opening times: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily
  
Admission: 4390 ISK (children half price). You can also buy a ticket for the cinema only, for 1700 ISK.
  
You can book tickets online in advance (choosing a date and timeslot), but it’s not required.
  
  
Time required: I spent just under an hour in the LAVA Centre, including the film in the cinema. If you want to go through every single bit available on the interactive screens you may well need longer. Others, in contrast, go through the exhibition faster, and more superficially, as I witnessed when I was there.
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see under Iceland.
  
If you’re interested in volcanos and are travelling along the south of Iceland you may want to include the Lava Show in Vik or Reykjavik as well. With more time you may also want to get the ferry to Heimaey and visit the Eldheimar exhibition there, which features a whole excavated house that had been buried in ash and tephra from the 1973 Eldfell eruption.
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: nothing much in the immediate vicinity, but Hvolsvöllur is one of the gateways to the Þórsmörk nature reserve further east, which is one of Iceland’s most popular hiking areas.
  
See also under Iceland in general.
  
  
   
  • LAVA Centre 1 - foyerLAVA Centre 1 - foyer
  • LAVA Centre 2 - geological historyLAVA Centre 2 - geological history
  • LAVA Centre 3 - fieryLAVA Centre 3 - fiery
  • LAVA Centre 4 - corridor with volcanic historyLAVA Centre 4 - corridor with volcanic history
  • LAVA Centre 5 - mantle plume simulationLAVA Centre 5 - mantle plume simulation
  • LAVA Centre 6 - lava flow simulationLAVA Centre 6 - lava flow simulation
  • LAVA Centre 7 - real pieces of solidified lavaLAVA Centre 7 - real pieces of solidified lava
  • LAVA Centre 8 - interactive installationLAVA Centre 8 - interactive installation
  • LAVA Centre 9 - view of Eyjafjallajökull from the roofLAVA Centre 9 - view of Eyjafjallajökull from the roof
  
  

 

  
  
  
  

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