Geothermal Pleasures in Myvatn- Part 2

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After spending a couple hours tramping through the lava fields of Leirhnjukur, we made our way to Hverir, which is literally just down the road from Krafla. It’s pretty hard to miss from the¬† Ring Road, as you can see the steam rising from the mud pits (and it’s very well marked with a sign and a full parking lot).

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Hverir is a beautiful, otherworldly¬† landscape of steam vents, bubbling mud pots and colorful mineral deposits. Hverir definitely reminds me of some of the wild, colorful areas in Rotorua, New Zealand. Like so many other natural attractions in Iceland, it is easy and free to visit. Sure, there are warning signs to avoid certain places, and the more dangerous areas are roped off, so you don’t accidentally wander into a boiling mud pit, and fall through the thin crust of the earth. But in general, it is up to every visitor to exercise caution and behave responsibly.

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The easiest way to see Hverir comprehensively is to just circumvent the area. There are a couple of vents with hot steam pouring out of it, and there are a lot of mud pits. Sure the mud looks like a nice pleasant mud bath, but it is important to remember that the mud is actually boiling.

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From Hverir, if you are so inclined, you can walk up the Namafjall ridge. The trail is clearly visible. If we hadn’t just gotten in our daily fitness goal of steps, I might have been tempted, but I begged off since there was still plenty of activity planned.

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Visiting Hverir usually takes about 30 minutes (assuming you don’t hike up Namafjall) for a nice, leisurely visit.

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Our first night in Myvatn ended with a beautiful sunset. These were probably the most beautiful sunsets we experienced while in Iceland. There were very few clouds in the sky, and what clouds there were, just added to the colorful drama as the sun set behind the lake and produced amazingly reflections.

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While we had other activities in the Myvatn area our second day, we came back shortly before sunset and figured this was a perfect opportunity to visit Hverfell. It is a large crater that sort of overlooks the villages around Myvatn (though it is somewhat easy to miss if you don’t know what you are looking for initially, since it sort of blends in with the surrounding mountains.

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We had some time to kill before visiting the Myvatn Nature Baths and it was just down the road. For a nature attraction that is so close to the road (and presumably a large tourist draw), it was surprising just how rutted the road was. But I drove slowly and we eventually made it to the parking lot at the base of the crater.

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From the road, you can see the path that ascends from the parking lot to the top of the crater (and circumvents the crater), and we read that the path was only 600 meters, which sounds pretty short. And yeah, the path is short, BUT, you will feel nearly every step up the path. It is a very steep path of somewhat loose gravel. I was huffing and puffing and took plenty of breaks, but we got up to the top.

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From the top of the crater, we had a very nice view of Myvatn and the surrounding area that was warmly lit by the setting sun. If you have the time and the energy, you can walk around the entire lip of the crater, which is about 3.2 kilometers. By this point, I didn’t have the energy and contented myself with enjoying the view of inside the crater and the landscape.

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After a long day of walking, relaxing in the warm, steamy pools of the Myvatn Nature Baths were just the perfect end to a great day. The Myvatn Nature Baths are North Iceland’s answer to Reykjavik’s Blue Lagoon, but it is a bit different experience. It is a smaller facility, owing to the fact that most of Iceland’s tourists seem to stay in and around the Reykjavik area, and far fewer venture afield. There are a couple of large, hot geothermal pools that overlook the lake.

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We figured we would stay until sunset and then go back to our hostel and fall fast asleep. However, thankfully we were dawdling a bit, and we got a small glimpse of the Northern Lights, which was surprising for a couple reasons. First off, it was only 2100 in the evening, and the conventional wisdom was that Northern Lights don’t make their appearance until after midnight. And secondly, the night was pretty clouded up, and fairly clear nights are needed to see the Lights. However, the bright, green auroras we did see were even visible through the clouds. We didn’t even notice them at first, but we knew something was up when we heard the cheers of joy from the other persons in the baths. The display didn’t last for long, but we did get to see just teasing hints of what was probably visible under the clouds. If only the night had been clearer, because it would have been an amazing experience to watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky while we stayed nice and warm in the outdoor geothermal baths.

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This was my second trip to Myvatn, and it was a very enjoyable experience. Most of the geothermal sites are easily accessible in the winter (though again, some of the roads may not be plowed if it snows), so Myvatn can be visited year round. Though from what I have read, there are swarms of tourists here in the summer, so you might want to wait until winter, spring or fall. But with Myvatn just off the Ring Road that circumvents Iceland, it is as an easy drive. If you like beautiful nature and strange geothermal sites, this is a perfect place to visit.

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Geothermal Pleasures in Myvatn- Day 1

 

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Around the midpoint of our Icelandic vacation, we hit Northern Iceland. That meant one day in Akureyri (the second largest town in Iceland- at about 18,000 inhabitants), but we elected to stay two days in the area of Myvatn. On my previous vacation, I had spent a couple days there, and it is a good base to explore some of the surrounding area. So for the first time in about a week, we were at a location where we stayed two nights, and not just the previous one.

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I have compared Iceland to New Zealand in the past, and Northern Iceland reinforces that view. This area would almost be like the Rotorua of New Zealand, because of the abundance of volcanic and geothermal activity.

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This area is centered around the lake of Myvatn, and surrounding the lake are some small villages with some restaurants and hotels. Apparently it gets crazy crowded in the summer time, which I can believe, but it was not overwhelmed with tourists when we visited (though we didn’t have the place to ourselves like we did in the Westfjords). The drive to Myvatn is about an easy 60-90 minutes with some nice stops along the way.

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Like most of Iceland, there is an abundance of beautiful nature in the area, and most of it is free, with only about one paid attraction (the Myvatn Nature Baths- think of it as the Blue Lagoon Junior). So really it is just a matter of deciding what you want to see and planning accordingly.

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Our first stop was at the lava field of Leirhnjukur. It is located in the Krafla area, which is a geothermal hot spot just off the Ring Road. To get to the lava field, you drive by the Krafla Power Station, which is just one of the many power stations in Iceland constructed to take advantage of the abundance of geothermal energy as a cheap, renewable energy source.

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On my first trip, I had tried to get to the lava fields, but the road was blocked past the power station, because it was full of snow. That proved to be a continual problem during my winter trip, because even though roads may be paved and not technically closed, they weren’t plowed for snow or deliberately kept open. So if it happened not to be snowing during your visit, you could probably see what you wanted to see with little difficulty. However, if it was snowing, you were out of luck. Granted that was in 2011, when Iceland wasn’t considered such a hotbed of winter travel activity, so maybe it has changed since then.

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After taking in the nice view overlooking the Krafla area, we figured we would get our daily walk in by an easy hike around Leirhnjukur. This field consists of a crater and lava field that house two major eruptions, one in 1727 and one in 1975, so the lava is still fresh and new and black.

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There is a parking lot and a flat, easy trail that will take you out to the field. As you walk through the field, you see the rolling piles of lava, most of which are from the older eruption, so there is moss and other vegetation growing on some of the lava. Off in the distance, we could see a colorful hill (perfects Leirhnjukur?- I never saw an exact label anywhere), and it looked like there were people at the top of this hill. I figured there is no way we would climb that hill, because it looked steep from our perspective, and I still had the exhausting memory of climbing Saxholl Crater fresh in my mind.

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The trail will take you to the base of the hill and around the back. The trail is easy and well maintained initially, where it is either flat and graded, or often times, a boardwalk. The first major site is the large, bubbling mud pit at the base of the hill, and then you are presented with a choice of trails. Neither trail is marked with a destination, but one seems to go off in the distance through the lava field to another crater, while another trail seems to wend its way around the back side of the hill.

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We elected to take the trail around the back side of the hill, and shortly afterwards, the boardwalk disappears, and we were making our way through the lava field. At this point, it ceased to be a flat trail, but it still was pretty easy to negotiate, and the trail was reasonably marked with yellow stakes, so you knew which way to go through the field. Even though we had been in lava fields before, it is still interesting to walk through another one. And it is always interesting to see Earth at its active, because in addition to the bubbling mud pits, there were also a plethora of small vents, expelling warm steam near the path.

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We kept going, curious to see where it would all lead, and soon enough we found ourselves very near the top of the hill we thought was so steep earlier. At this point, it was only a short push to the top, so we figured why not? Because the trail ascended so gradually, we really didn’t even feel the ascent, and once at the top, we were greeted with an expansive view of the lava field and the mountain ranges off in the distance. It was quite a beautiful site to behold, even if the weather was cloudy (though thankfully not rainy).

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At this point, we could have taken another trail that goes down the hill and makes a loop around the hill to meet up with the main trail. However, we chose to backtrack back to the mud pit and try the other trail. We walked out to the crater to get a better look at it, but didn’t stay too long, because it seemed like more of the same type of lava field. At this point, we had been at Leirhnjukur for a couple hours, and we still had plenty more sites to see before night fell.

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Reaching Leirhnjukur is super easy, as it accessed through a paved road (marked “Krafla”) off the Ring Road 1, and you just follow the road past the power station, up the hill and the parking lot is off to the left. If you have never walked through lava fields, it is an eye opening experience to see how the Earth can be made. But even if you have seen lava fields in other places, the Icelandic lava fields are still worth your time, if only for the beautiful nature views (without any sort of restrictions, beyond well marked paths and signs urging you to stay on the path), and the rash of wild colors.

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