The geothermal area behind Stóra-Víti crater.
There is a trail by Stóra Víti crater leading to a beautiful geothermal area east and north of the crater.
The trail starts on the rim of the crater and being there in strong winds is not recommended. We don´t by any means want to fall into the lake in the crater. The hike is ca 40 minutes depending on how slow or fast people walk. It is beautiful, the geothermal colours are at their best here.
The trail through the geothermal landscape leads to a small, beautifully coloured lake . You can then walk up to the crater again, to a part of the rim of the crater which looks like Martians landed on earth. You can see it in my second photo, it looks like ET is there in the middle of the photo :)
Then you leave the crater again and walk by such an amazingly multi-coloured geothermal area, that it just takes my breath away every time I visit. Take care here and don´t leave the trail, I saw a couple leave the trail having problems getting up again. I have added a warning tip on that with photos.
There is also a small pond here in this geothermal area with foam, which looks really strange. I was pondering on this, can this be ice, but I enlarged the photo and this is strange foam on the lake. I haven´t seen this anywhere else.
This is an awesome hike, don´t miss it!
Stóragjá rift - a hot pool that is no longer used
Grjótagjá is one of the best known caves with geothermal water in Iceland. But there is another one, Stóragjá or Big rift, not so far away from Grjótagjá.
Stóragjá is a chasm with geothermal water, blue in colour like the water in Grjótagjá. It is a totally different experience going there as one walks on steps into a beautiful chasm and has to look for the two openings into the Stóragjá rift.
When the water in Grjótagjá become too hot after the Kröflueldar eruption, people started bathing in Stóragjá. But it can no longer be used for bathing as it becomes too dirty as the geothermal water in it doesn´t change too quickly. E-coli was found in the water and I don´t think anybody goes there any more to bathe. When I have visited we have been the only ones there. We don´t bathe in it, just visit it for the fun of it. On the other hand Grjótagjá rift, even if one cannot bathe in it as the water is too hot, is always crowded with people having a look at the cave.
It is difficult to get into Stóragjá rift. On one side there is a ladder leading down to the rift and on another side one has to squeeze through narrow stone walls to have a look down.
Mt. Krafla caldera - Stóra-Víti (Big hell).
Krafla is a caldera of 10 km in diameter with a 90 km long fissure zone. The highest peak of Krafla is 818 m. It contains one of two Víti craters in Iceland (the other one is in Askja, where you can actually have a bath in the water). This one is called Stóra-Víti and was formed in 1724. "Víti" is the Icelandic word for Hell as people often believed Hell to be under volcanoes and one can imagine why when watching a volcanic eruption.
Krafla erupted 9 times from 1975-1984, giving us Icelanders a lot to think about. The last eruption lasted for 2 weeks with a lava flow of 24 sq.km and lava fountains up to 70 meters high lit up the sky the first days of the eruption. When visiting the Krafla area keep this in mind as it is really calm now, but when will it erupt again??!
To get to Krafla you have to pass the Krafla power-plant and drive up a steep hill, you might actually get stuck behind a truck of which there are many in this area and as the road is really steep, but paved, they have a difficult time driving up the hill. If you see a truck on the hill better wait by the power plant for it to pass. As you get to the top of the hill, Leirhnjúkur is on the left hand side, a view-point on the right hand side and just a little further is Krafla.
The parking lot is right next to the caldera and you can walk on the rim around the caldera. Sometimes when I have been visiting has been extremely windy, but still people were walking way up on the rim, the flaw making it really easy flying off into the caldera. But behind Víti there is a hot-spring area to which you can walk to along the rim of the caldera. I will write about that hots-spring area in the next tip.
Vogafjós restaurant and guesthouse
Vogafjós restaurant and guesthouse is a bit out of the ordinary. Vogafjós actually means Creek Cowshed it is located inside a cowshed. You can look at the cows from the restaurant, there are windows from the restaurant looking into the cowshed.
The farmers at the farm at Vogafjós smoke their own trout from Lake Mývatn and lamb in a small turf-shed on their land. There was an interview with the lady at the farm recently on telly and I admired how much pride and work she put into the smoking of the trout and lamb. And of course they make their own rye bread, which is cooked in hot springs in Mývatn. And the Mývatn mozzarella and salad cheese from their own milk from the cows in the cowshed. They also make jam and teas from locally picked herbs.
I have only visited the café and the cowshed, but the farmers also run a guesthouse.
One can just pop in to visit the cowshed and have a look at the cows and their calves. They are very friendly and inquisitive and when I turned my back on one cow I got startled as she started licking my woollen sweater and their tongues are really big! You can also watch the milking of the cows twice a day and taste fresh milk straight from the cow. The cows are milked at 7:30 in the morning and at 18:00 in the afternoon.
If you are visiting in May you can ask the farmer if you see a newborn lamb :)
Mt. Námafjall - boiling mud pools.
Námafjall is on ring-road one just by the road in the Krafla and Mývatn area in N-Iceland. It is a high-temperature geothermal area with fumaroles and boiling mud pools. At a depth of 1.000 meters the temperature is above 200 degrees C. A
s is characteristic for other hot spring areas there is a hot spring smell at Námafjall which is caused by the steam and the fumarole gas, such as hydrogen sulfide. The hot springs also produce considerable sulphur deposits which was mined in Iceland in previous centuries to produce gun powder. The sulphur fumes can overwhelm you at times there, especially when the wind is strong. Try to stay up wind as this can be toxic and can give you a bad headache and nausea.
This area in Námaskarð has often been called "eldhús djöfulsins" or "Hell's (The Devil's) kitchen" because of the sulphur smell and the boiling mud pools all around you. You will understand this comparison when visiting this place.
Námafjall is located by ring-road one just behind Mývatn. Right on the other side of Námafjall is the Blue lagoon of the north. This is an extremely volcanic area with Mt. Krafla just a few kilometres away where the last volcanic eruption took place in 1984.
I have added more photos of this extraordinary place in a travelogue.
Grænavatn turf house in Mývatnssveit.
There is a turf-house by Grænavatn in Mývatnssveit. Grænavatn is believed to be a settlement farm, so there might have been a turf house in the same location since the Vikings settled Iceland.
As this turf farm isn´t a museum and is mainly used as storage, we didn´t get to visit the inside and only saw it from the outside.
This is a large turf house, 30 m long and 8 m wide and there are also outbuildings remaining. The turf house at Grænavatn is an example of how turf houses were built in later time, before the building style in Iceland was changed. The front-house is one of the largest of its kind built at that time in Iceland.
The main house at Grænavatn was built in 1913. It is a two storey timber house with a turf roof and the walls turning north and south are made from lava rocks (slates). It is divided in two, as it was built for two families and two carpenters built each part of the house. Behind the turf house there are ruins of an even bigger turf house. Here the inhabitants used to live during the winter months and the front-house of this newer turf house replaced the front-house of the older turf house. There are two separated cellars beneath the turf-house.
Turf houses in Iceland differ according to the material common to that area. And seeing that Mývatn is a lava area, then lava was used for the building of the outer walls.
Grænavatn has been part of the National Museum's Historic Buildings Collection since 2000 and it is on the UNESCO list.
The view-dial in Dimmuborgir
There is a beautiful view-dial at Dimmuborgir. It is still so bright and shiny, like it has just been erected. The harsh weather in Iceland sadly sometimes ruins the chrome on the view-dial, but not here at Dimmuborgir. But then something else happens, people have started to ruin this view-dial by scratching their names or initials on the beautiful chrome plate :( These view-dials are extremely expensive, so this is such a shame. Why people do this is beyond me and I wish they would be fined for doing this.
This view-dial was raised in 1990. It is molten cylindric with a chrome plate with a time of three hours. It stands on top of an octagon wooden podium with a star - very beautiful!
The designer of the view-dial is Jakob Hálfdanarson, my father-in-law, and it was raised by Náttúruverndarráð (Wildlife Conservation), Skútustaðahreppur rural district and Landgræðslan (Soil Conservation Service of Iceland).
View-dials are so useful and show the names of all the mountains in the area.
A monument on a tragic accident on Lake Mývatn
By the north-west side of Lake Mývatn there is a monument of a tragic accident, which happened at Lake Mývatn on the 26th of October 1999.
Three men in a boat were putting a fibre optic cable in the lake when bad weather hit them and they drowned. Their names were: Björgvin Björgvinsson (employee at Síminn telephone company), Jón Kjartansson (employee at Síminn telephone company) and Sigurgeir Stefánsson (employee at Kísiliðjan diatomite factory).
Sigurgeir was born and raised by Mývatn. He was an avid bird collector and he owned a collection of stuffed birds. He kept his collection in a shed at Ytri-Neslönd and people visited the shed to have a look at his collection. It was jokingly said that this must be the smallest natural museum in the world. His dream was to build a bigger building to house his collection. But he drowned in Lake Mývatn only 37 years old before he could open up a bigger bird museum.
But his friends, family and benefactors helped in making his dream come to fruition and in 2008 a beautiful museum, "Fuglasafn Sigurgeirs, was opened up by Lake Mývatn.
Dimmuborgir - The Dark Fortress at Mývatn.
Dimmuborgir "The Dark Fortress" at Mývatn are a true wonder of nature and nowhere else to be seen in the world i.e on dry land. They are huge lava rock formations which make you feel like you stepped into another world - a world of fairy-tales with caves and lava arches.
Dimmuborgir are 1 km in diameter with several walking paths - keep to the paths and follow the colour of the path you have chosen. While in the middle of Dimmuborgir you could get lost if not following a certain path as some of the lava formations look exactly the same and one can be almost certain that "you've been there before".
I have been so lucky that every time I visit Dimmuborgir it has been sunny and hot (on Icelandic standard).
There are several bird species in Dimmuborgir which should not be disturbed, f.ex. the falcon, so it is very important to keep to the paths and not walk on roped-in areas, which are roped in for the protection of the vegetation. There is one path which leads you to Grjótagjá rift, which is half-filled with hot water and some km away from Dimmuborgir (see my tip on Grjótagjá).
The formation of these extraordinary lava cliffs and pillars is caused by lava ponds, i.e. the hot lava streamed over these ponds trapping the water underneath the lava. Steam issued through vent in the lava pools and formed these pillars, which then remained standing even after the crust around them had gone away. The rocks are brittle and fragile because of how they came to be made, so there is no climbing in them.
The best known formation is The Church (see my next tip on that).
There is a café and shop at Dimmuborgir, which is greatly appreciated, with good toilet facilities (which is always very appreciated when travelling in Iceland).
On the 12th of May 2013 Dimmuborgir were closed temporarily for visitors for the first time. Spring arrived late in North-Iceland and the area is too delicate for visitors at the moment. It was opened again on the 21st of May.
Grjótagjá - Rock ravine at Mývatn, N-Iceland.
Grjótagjá rift is one of the best known caves in Iceland. It is located almost right on the North-Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Grjótagjá has got two entrances and steps leading down to it. It is half-full with hot water and people used to bathe in it, women on one side and men on the other side. During the eruption of Mt. Katla in 1975-1984, which is very close to Grjótagjá, the temperature of the water rose so it couldn´t be used for bathing again until 2004. The water is still too hot to bathe in it, I think it might be ca 50 degrees C hot!
The water is heavenly blue in colour, so it is quite mystical being there - if you were there alone or with friends. I carefully put my feet into the water, but couldn´t stand such high temperatures, so I just kept my feet right above the water level. It isn´t easy to capture the heavenly blue colour without flash, so I took photos with two cameras at Grjótagjá, one with flash and the other without flash - and added them in a travelogue here on my Mývatn page.
Be careful while walking down the few steps as they are steep and one does not want to fall into the hot water. And there will be a lot of people walking in and out of both entrances to Grjótagjá.
You can walk to Dimmurborgir "Dark Fortress" (see my tip on that) from Grjótagjá, the hike is a couple of km.
The lava formations at Kálfastrandavogar
The most beautiful lava pillars in Mývatn can be seen at Kálfastrandavogar. These are the lava pillars always depicted on the postcards from Mývatn. They are kind of the landmark of Mývatn although they can not be seen from many places.
There is a gravel road leading to Kálfastrandavogar. There is a small parking lot and from there you can walk to see the lava pillars. I saw some cars driving straight up to them on the farmer´s road, but the easy short walk to the pillars was more to my liking. As on this walk there were so many goats, just resting in the sun, one of them was stretched over the path and didn´t move. These goats were really friendly and we petted them like cats. There aren´t that many goats in Iceland so I rarely run into them. I had no idea that they were so friendly - or maybe these ones were especially nice?
These lava formations formed when Lúdent erupted ca 2.300 years ago. The lava flowed down to Mývatn and these beautiful lava formations were created.
The lava formations are like out of this world, this is for sure one of the mystical spots at Mývatn.
Úlfhildur the elf-queen at Mývatn.
I want to tell you a folklore about an elf-lady at Lake Mývatn way up in North-Iceland. Her name is "Úlfhildur álfkona" or Úlfhildur the elf-lady.
"Once upon a time there was a farmer on a farm, he lived north by Lake Mývatn. That lake is so big that the road around it is no less than 37,5 km (or what we call in Icelandic "þingmannaleið").
It happened once at the beginning of the grass cutting, when everybody was attending to the hey out in the field, that a woman came walking from the lake and headed for the farm. She walked up to the farmer and asked him for permission to stay at the farm for the night. The farmer gave her the permission to stay. He then asked: "What is your name?" and she replied: "Úlfhildur". The farmer then asked: "Where are you from?", but Úlfhildur evaded that question.
That night hey was collected and Úlfhildur asked for a rake. Úlfhildur raked as much hey as two healthy women would have managed to do. The next morning Úlfhildur wanted to rake with the other female workers on the farm, but the farmer told her that there was no need for another worker at the farm and tried to give her a hint that he wanted her to leave. Úlfhildur started crying and the farmer then gave her permission to stay for another day.
The next day the farmer told her that now she would have to leave, but she again started crying and the farmer felt sorry for her and allowed her to stay for a week. When that week had passed the farmer told her that he couldn´t have her staying with him any longer, but the story repeated itself and Úlfhildur started crying. The farmer seems to have been a softy as he then promised her that she could stay for the rest of the summer. Úlfhildur was very relieved.
Everybody at the farm liked Úlfhildur and none of them had known a harder working, tidier woman with better morals than Úlfhildur. As autumn drew closer it was decided that Úlfhildur should stay until the end of the year and then she was asked to stay for another year.
At Christmas time the next year the mistress of the farm gave her some leather from which she should make shoes for Christmas for herself and the two male workers, whom she served. She made the shoes for the workers, but didn´t make any for herself. On Christmas day everybody went to church apart from Úlfhildur, who stayed alone at the farm.
Nothing of importance happened until next Christmas. The mistress of the farm gave Úlfhildur leather for shoe making like last Christmas. And she made shoes for the male workers, but not for herself.
On Christmas day everybody went to church, but Úlfhildur stayed home alone. But on Christmas night one of the male workers noticed that Úlfhildur went away somewhere, and he thought to himself that he would follow her if they were still together at the farm the following Christmas.
Now Christmas passed and winter and Úlfhildur was loved and adored by everybody for her hard work and many good qualities. Now the 3rd Christmas approached. Again the mistress of the farm gave Úlfhildur leather to make Christmas shoes and as before she made the shoes for the male workers, but not for herself. The mistress of the farm told Úlfhildur that she would have to go to church on Christmas day as the minister had scolded her for never going to church. Úlfhildur evaded this comment.
When everybody had gone to bed on Christmas night the worker was still awake as he had planned the year earlier. Úlfhildur then quietly got out of bed and snuck out of the farm - and the worker followed her. She walked towards Lake Mývatn and when she arrived at the lake she took out a pair of gloves and rubbed them together; and a bridge appeared over the lake; she crossed the bridge and the worker followed her.
When she had crossed the lake she again rubbed the gloves together and the bridge disappeared. Úlfhildur continued walking and the worker saw her walking into the ground and where she went it became very dark. But the worker could still see her and followed her.
They now continued walking until it little by little started getting brighter. Finally they arrived at even and beautiful fields; the fields were so beautiful and in such bloom that the worker had never before seen such a beautiful place. On both sides of the road the fields were covered with beautiful flowers and the meadows were bright pink in colour when the sun shone upon the dandelions and the fruit. Herds of sheep were playing in the fields, avidly devouring the flowers.
The nature here was dressed in it´s most beautiful attire. In the middle of the grassy field there was a beautiful palace and the worker thought that this must be a royal palace, as it was so ornate. Úlfhildur walked towards the palace and entered it. But the worker hid outside in a corner.
Next to the palace there was a church, and a beautiful building. After a short while Úlfhildur exited the palace dressed like a queen with a gold ring on every finger.
She carried a child in her arms, but on her other side walked a man with a crown on his head dressed like a king. The worker thought to himself that this must be a king and a queen. They walked to the church followed by a large group of well dressed and happy people.
The worker walked to the church door without being seen, and Úlfhildur did not notice him. Mass started and there was beautiful harp music and singing. The child, who was in Úlfhildur´s arms, became unruly and started crying during mass; Úlfhildur gave one of her gold rings from her finger to the child, but the child threw the ring on the church floor and the worker was able to get the ring.
After mass everybody left the church and Úlfhildur entered the palace with the well dressed gentleman, and the worker noticed that everybody was sad. After a while Úlfhildur left the palace dressed in her normal outfit, and walked briskly away from the palace.
She took the same road back from whence she had come and the worker followed her. They arrived at the lake after having followed the beautiful road as before. By the lake she rubbed the gloves together and the bridge appeared and they crossed the lake on the bridge. She then rubbed the gloves together again and the bridge disappeared.
The worker now hurried home to arrive there before Úlfhildur did and went to bed immediately, but she arrived a little bit later and went to bed, just before dawn.
Morning arrived and people got up. Then the mistress of the farm told Úlfhildur that she would have to go to church today. The worker then intervened and said that she would not have to go to church as she had already been to church the night before.
"You would be the most fortunate of men if you could prove this," Úlfhildur replied.
The worker then told the whole story about what happened that night and showed the gold ring as a proof. Úlfhildur became very happy and revealed her identity.
She told them that she was an elf-queen, i.e. a queen of the Hidden People (huldufólk). She told them that she had quarrelled with an old lady, who had put a spell on her that she would always have to be with human beings unless a human man would manage to follow her to the land of the Hidden People on Christmas night, i.e. the first, second or the third Christmas night after the spell had been put on her.
The only thing this old lady had allowed Úlfhildur to do was to meet her husband for three Christmas nights. But Úlfhildur said that she herself had put a spell on the old lady in return that the old lady would die if Úlfhildur would ever be released from the spell.
Úlfhildur told the worker: "I guarantee that you will be a man of great fortune from now on, and tomorrow you shall walk to the lake; you will find two sacks with money; keep the smaller one, but give the larger one to the people you work for."
Úlfhildur then prepared for her journey back home and said farewell to everybody with kind words. She hurried towards the lake and disappeared and nobody has seen her since, but all the people on the farm missed her dearly.
The day after the worker walked to the lake and found the two purses with gold and both of them were huge. In the smaller sack was gold money, but silver money in the larger one. It is said that the worker became a man of good fortune for the rest of his life - and here the story ends".
Roughly translated into English from the Folklore of Jón Árnason (Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar).
There are many stories of the Hidden People of Iceland and I love searching for places in Iceland which have got an elf-story related to them.
Lake Mývatn - an internationally important wetland
Lake Mývatn is Iceland's 4th largest lake and was created in a basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago and the surrounding landscape in the Mývatn area is extraordinary. There are so many wonderful lava formations in this area, including the lava pillars by and in Lake Mývatn.
The lake is 36,5 km2, the depth is 3-3,3 meters and there are ca 40-50 small islets and skerries in Mývatn. It is protected as a nature reserve. There is a very diverse birdlife here, with lake and marsh birds in abundance, including at least 15 species of ducks, and nowhere else on earth are there as many duck-species than in Mývatn.
There is a lot of midge/blackfly at Mývatn, and the name of the lake literally means The Lake of the midge/blackfly. Due to the midge the fishing there is very good and Mývatn is filled with trouts and lake-char weighing up to 20 pounds! The farmers by Mývatn net thousands of trouts in the summer time and fishing through ice is popular during the winter time.
The very rare Moss balls can be found in Mývatn. The only other lake where Moss balls are common is in Lake Akan in Hokkaido Japan.
Lava rock on the north side of Lake Mývatn
While driving on ring-road 1 north of Mývatn I noticed a strange looking lava pillar by a hill protruding into the lake. We stopped and walked to the lava pillar and took some photos.
It is strange looking in that it has a diamond like hat, which I haven´t seen on other lava pillars before. It is a good photo stop. The Mývatn area is just full of photo stops. Every 5 minutes one has to stop here and explore the area.
Vindbelgur is a mountain north of Lake Mývatn. The name Vindbelgur means a windbag and it has been jokingly said that people in this area are a bit full of themselves.
Mt. Vindbelgur is a conical mountain 529 meters above sea level. I have read, not tried, that it takes half an hour to walk to the mountain and another half an hour to hike up on it. Will have to try that one day as I have heard that the view from there is spectacular.
The mountain is located between Lake Mývatn and Lake Sandvatn.