Day 5 was expected to be our busiest day. We were driving a good distance west to Akureyri, the “capital of the north”, with several stops around Lake Myvaatn. We managed to pry ourselves out of bed shortly after 6am. Nothing was open so we ate granola bars and cashews as we drove west through ever-changing but always extra-terrestrial landscapes.
Our first stop was at Detifoss, the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe and the one featured in the movie, “Prometheus.” The sound of the roaring water got louder and louder as we hiked a short distance across the Martian landscape. As we climbed over a rocky hill, we came to this…
(Detifoss Waterfall, Iceland)
A couple kilometres upstream of Detifoss was the slightly smaller but still striking Selfoss waterfall.
(Selfoss Waterfall, Iceland)
We drove to a grocery store in Reykjahlid to stock up and have lunch before traversing the Lake Myvaatn area. This time we were a bit smarter with our purchases, buying slightly more practical food that would stretch our money a little farther. Loaf of bread (instead of artisan buns and croissants), vegetables, juice, and only enough meat, yogurt and cheese to last the day as we had no means of keeping it cold. So this time we spent about $50CDN on enough food for breakfasts and lunches for about 3 days…we were learning.
Next stop, the Viti Crater in an area known as Krafla. We intended to hike around the Viti crater as there are hot springs on the other side, but settled for the view from near the road as the wind was freezing and so strong it nearly blew us over. Viti means “hell” and the crater is the centre of a volcanic eruption that started in 1734 and lasted for 5 years. There is now a turquoise lake within the crater.
(Viti Crater in Krafla, Iceland)
We then drove to Hverarondor Hverir at the foothills of the volcanic mountain, Namafjall. This area is full of a variety of hot springs in the form of steaming fumaroles, boiling mud pools, and solfataras.
(Hverarondor Hverir, Iceland)
(Steaming Fumarole – A fumarole is an opening in a planet’s crust, often near volcanoes. They emit steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulphide. The steam forms when superheated water vaporizes as its pressure drops when it emerges from the ground.)
(Solfataras – these are fumaroles that emit sulphurous gases. The sulphur can be seen all over the ground.)
(Boiling Mud Pits – these are acidic hot springs or fumaroles, but with limited water. The acid and microorganisms decompose the surrounding rock into clay and mud, which then boils and bubbles.)
It was like walking on another planet…one that reeks of rotten eggs, or the sulphur recovery units I worked in for several years. Oh the familiar smell of sulphur, how I haven’t missed you.
We drove through the Namaskard mountain pass toward Lake Myvaatn and stumbled upon this neon blue geothermal lake. Signs posted warn that it is far too hot for swimming.
(Geothermal Lake west of the Namaskard mountain pass.)
Travelling south around Lake Myvaatn, we stopped to explore Grjotagja, a small lava cave within a large fissure. There is a thermal spring inside, which was a popular bathing site up until the mid-1970s when nearby volcanic eruptions caused the water temperature to rise above 50°C. It has since cooled but bathing is strictly prohibited as it is private land. For Game of Thrones fans, this is where Jon Snow lost his virginity to the wildling.
At this point we were just west of Hverfjall (otherwise known as Hverfell), a tephra cone or tuff ring volcano that erupted in 2500BCE. We hiked up the path from the south and around the ring of the crater, which is about 1km wide. The views were amazing in all directions.
(Hverfjall, or Hverfell, tephra cone volcano)
(Lake Myvaatn from the top of Hverfjall)
Further south around the lake, we came to the lava field of Dimmuborgir. We almost didn’t stop because we had already seen so many lava fields along the drive. But fortunately, we did, because we were greeted by massive lava formations that looked like the ruins of an ancient city. In fact, Dimmuborgirtranslates to “dark castles”.
(Dimmuborgir lava rock castles)
At the nearby restaurant we bought a loaf of rugbraud or Geyser bread, which is a heavy bread baked in clay buckets for 24 hours in the natural heat underground. It tastes a bit like fruit cake without the bits of fruit and is not bad with butter. We had a sandwich and some rugbraud in our car before moving on.
(Rugbraud or Geyser bread)
Having seen the highlights of the Lake Myvaatn area, we proceeded west to Akureyri. Of course, there was one more stop along the way, Godafoss waterfall, just east of Akureyri. Another incredible view. Godafoss means “waterfall of the gods,” and has an interesting story. In about 1000CE under the rule of Norway, Icelandic lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi was forced to convert and declare Christianity the official religion of Iceland. Upon his return home, he threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. Since then it has been known as Godafoss.
We arrived in Akureyri, known as the capital of the north since it is the largest city outside of Reykjavik and the commercial hub of northern Iceland. It is situated at the tip of a gorgeous fjord. We checked in at our accommodation for the night. A comfortable room in the basement of a local home. Our host was Ragnar, a welcoming Icelander with a passion for art. His paintings, among other works, decorated the quaint house. He suggested we try Neo, a relatively reasonably priced restaurant specializing in local fish. We had cod and wolf fish (spotted cat fish) and they were superb. It was a little cold and we were winding down so we just drove around town before settling in for the night.
(Accomodation in Akureyri)