In Hverir steaming mud holes dot the landscape; the water’s temperature is at the boiling point and Gugga advised us to use a finger we can afford to lose if we absolutely had to test it!
Krafla itself is not very high, only 827 metres, but the view from the rim of the crater is magnificent. Near Skútustadir the area is dotted with pseudo-craters, which were formed by steam explosions when molten lava flowed over the wetlands.
The Earth Baths at Jardbödin are a small version of the Blue Lagoon; they are modern and provide a welcome rest after hiking and climbing.
Godafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods, at 12 metres height, is sometimes called a small Niagara. It is a beautiful sight without any visible development in the area. The legend says that in the year 1,000 a chieftain was charged with the task of deciding whether the country should become Christian or stay pagan. When he decided for Christianity and tossed the image of the pagan god into the river, the angry gods formed the falls. He later on tried to pacify them by building a church where the background of the altar is a picture window showing a most beautiful valley.
Just outside of Akureyri, the “capital of the North”, only 60 km from the Arctic Circle, is a curiosity: a Christmas shop almost identical to the ones in North America. Akureyri is a beautiful town with a large harbour, located on a hillside above the deep Eyjafjördur. Right next to our Hotel Edda is the Botanical Garden where we were surprised to see the large number of flowering plants this far north. We also liked the modern swimming pool, with three large hot tubs where the water goes from very warm to extremely hot.
On the island of Hrisey, located in the mouth of the fjord, there are still a few families living primarily from fishing and drying the cod on outside racks. In spite of its isolation, the village does have the obligatory all-year outdoor swimming pool.
On the way to Borgarnes we had lunch at Blönduös and then we stopped at Skagaströnd, where we admired a beautiful new and modern church; sitting there was an amazingly peaceful experience.
After visiting the Shark Museum we stopped to climb Grábrók crater, generally known as ”Grey Trousers”, due to the grey lava. It is not a long climb, made easy be an excellent stairway, but the view from the top is great.
A drive around the Snaefellness peninsula on the next day showed us again a different landscape, with broad flat meadows, lovely little villages and again several modern churches.
From Reykjavik we take the obligatory Golden Circle Tour, without which no visit to Iceland is complete. We first pass through Thingvelier, the site of the first Icelandic parliament in the year 930. This is also the area where the American and the European tectonic plates meet, and one can stand figuratively with each foot on a different continent. Laugarvatn Lake is interesting, one side of the lake is warm, the other side cold; some tourist facilities are planned for its shoreline.
Our next stop is Geysir, where 125° C water shoots out of the ground every few minutes, and where hot mud holes bubble.
The church in Skálholt has been a bishopric as early as1056 and the huge wooden cathedral later became rich on land revenues.
Finally we reach Gullfoss, the Golden Falls, the largest in Europe, located in a nature reserve. In the 1920s the area had been selected for a hydro-electric development, but the daughter of the owner of the land, Sigridur Tomasdottir, successfully fought both her father and the government to maintain the fall’s natural state and the plant was never built.
On our last day, on the way to the airport, we spent a couple of hours in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s most famous bathing spot. This is not a natural hot spring, but was dug to collect the warm effluent from a nearby thermal power station, which uses steam vents fed by sea water to generate electricity. Consequently the lagoon is slightly salty. To smooth and rejuvenate our skin we smear the white silica mud over our faces and luxuriate in the warm water, relaxing before the flight home.
The general feeling of the group was that Iceland definitely deserves a return visit and I hope these notes help others plan an itinerary that suits their interests.
For itinerary planning e-mail KGB Tours at [email protected], www.kgbtours.is
For flight information and packages in Iceland (from Toronto and Halifax, through 30 October and 17 October respectively) visit www.icelandair.ca
Heinz and Inge, when not off travelling and hiking,
live in Burlington, ON