Reykjanesviti, Great Auk & Eldey

Reykjanesviti
In the year 1878, the very first lighthouse was built in Iceland. However, due to earthquakes and damaged caused by the sea it was feared that this lighthouse would fall into the sea. It was decided that the lighthouse should be demolished by explosion and a new one erected. The new lighthouse was built on Bæjarfell hill in 1907/1908 and stands 26 metres tall. It is also located near the geothermal area of Gunnuhver.

Reykjanesviti

On the nearby Valahnúkur you can see various types of lava including pillow lava, tuff and breccia which was formed in a single eruption.

The island of Eldey can be just seen on the horizon – forgive the bad image it’s a still from a video taken

Eldey island
From the cliffs you are able to see the island of Eldey. It is approximately 10 miles off the coast of the peninsular and rises 77m out of the sea. Its cliffs are home to numerous birds, including being home to one of the largest northern gannet colonies in the world. It was also the last location of the Great Auk – see below.

Great Auk Memorial
The great auk was a large bird standing approximately 75-85 centimetres and weighed approximately 5kg.  Its wings in comparison were very small, measuring only 15cm long, rendering the bird flightless. Instead, the great auk was a powerful swimmer and used their great ability in hunting. In appearance it had a black back and a white belly. During summer its plumage showed a white patch over each eye. During winter the patches were replaced with a white band stretching between the eyes.

Although it was extremely agile in the water, it was clumsy on land and was an easy catch for humans. The great auk was highly exploited by humans, mainly for their down which was used for pillows and as meat. When numbers started to dwindle, the great auk received its first official protection 1553. In 1794 Great Britain banned the killing of this species for its feathers. However, with its increasing rarity, specimens of the great auk and its eggs became highly prized and collectable by the rich.

Great auk pairs mated for life and their preferred grounds was a small island called Geirfuglaskér located just off the peninsula. It was a volcanic rock which was totally inaccessible for humans. A volcanic eruption in 1830 caused it to disappear in to the sea and the remaining great auks sought refuge on Eldey (which is accessible to humans from one side). In 1835 it was believed that 50 birds were present. In 1844 the last nesting pair of Auks were found on Eldey incubating an egg. The adults strangled and killed and their egg was smashed by Icelandic fishermen who had gone to Eldey to secure a Great Auk for a specimen collector.

The memorial of the Great Auk was placed near these cliffs, with the bird facing towards Edley. It was made by artist Todd McGrain and is a part of The Lost Bird Project.

Giving the memorial a hug, wishing these birds were alive to see today