Iceland has an incredible wealth of beauty tucked behind every mountain, fjord, and lava field. It is impossible to see everything in one day, and unreasonable to try. Making the most of our Icelandic Adventure Honeymoon, Tyema and I continue to rack up the miles, venturing further and further from our cabin on the Skorradsalvatn every chance we get. This way and that, back and forth across the country, once, twice and over again. Scouting out our next move we decided to take the long drive north to explore more remote areas and experience the Icelandic capital of the north, Akureyri.
Within an hours drive we began to climb up and into the highlands. Light rain turned to sleet then snow. We watched the temperature steadily drop and the windows start to fog. Traffic became less frequent, speed cameras few and far between. Seemingly endless expanses of farmland, fat balls of wool dotting the landscape. And then unexpectedly we begin to climb again in between the narrow gauge valleys of breathtaking mountains. Thicker snow blanketing rolling and jagged peaks. Series of crystal blue waterfalls gushing in abundance.
We dropped down into Akureyri. The capital of the north would appear no more than a town from any American or European perspective, but in Iceland, it is the second most populated urban area in the country. The small town feel drew Tyema and I in immediately. The towering mountains surrounding Akureyri reminded us of home. We booked a cheap hotel in the middle of the downtown area which was cute, quaint, and quiet. Our hotel served as our hub between the beautiful nature in and around Akureyri. Eyjafjörður is the longest fjord in Iceland and its narrow edges line the banks of the Northern Capital. The entire landscape evokes an overwhelming feeling of awe. All the rivers in the area, waterfalls and streams lead into the fjord, mixing the cleanest freshwater with pale saltwater of the Icelandic Sea. Although we did not have the opportunity on this trip, the Eyjafjörður is an incredible destination to see migratory whales and an abundance of Puffins during the breeding seasons.
Across the fjord we came upon an old settlement dating back to the late ninth century. Laufás turf houses have been recreated many times over the ensuing centuries; the oldest remaining structure is from the mid nineteenth century. Their construction is very unique and a typical representation of early Icelandic homes in this part of the country. This particular community once boasted 20-30 residents. From the front of the turf houses there is a breathtaking view of the fjord, Sea and the western mountain range. This certainly would have been a dramatic and amazing place to settle.
Just past Akureyri following the Ring Road east we came upon Goðafoss, the waterfall of the Gods. A trail led to the precarious edge. We stood on a rock watching the gradual Skjálfandafljót River slowly slip over the edge and amass into this thunderous event. The mist chilling the flesh, sore and achy knuckles saturated. No where else have we stood this close to the top of a waterfall, peering down into its foaming mouth.
We followed the trail back down the river and crossed the bridge to see Goðafoss from another perspective. A side trail stepped down to the river and we followed it as close to the waterfall as possible. Slippery rocks covered in moss tormented our footing as we edged closer. The light gray-blue river frigid and burbling with voracious intent. Eye level with the 100’ wide, 40’ tall falls was absolutely breathtaking. As majestic Gullfoss is, nothing yet seems to compare to the beauty of this waterfall. The serene backdrop with rugged highland views set a tone of powerful seclusion. Without a doubt, Goðafoss is a must see along the Diamond Circle in Northern Iceland.
We continued our drive East along the Ring Road for another half hour until we saw the landscape transform into something otherworldly. The familiar aroma of Sulphur emanated throughout the vents of the car. At Námaskarð the hills and valleys stained in deep orange, green and yellow pigments from all perspectives. The entire area doused in steam. Thick and choking. No mortal meant to survive the wrath of the Earth. So beautiful, so pure. Iceland constantly shows us that change is inevitable in the world. That there is no rest in the center of our Earth.
The geothermal vents spread out and surface all throughout this area. On the west side of Námaskarð there is a dirt road that leads back to a hot spring inside of a cave. The water is highly unstable. Constantly changing temperatures, fluctuating at any time between 100-130 degrees Fahrenheit or more. We crawled inside the dark, damp cave and sat on a rock peering into the clear blue water. Light crept in through the corners of the cave from collapsing and morphing rock. The spring so enticing I wanted to strip bare and jump in. I thought better of it and we decided to dip in the Nature Baths close by.
Mývatn Nature Baths stunning and surreal. Pale blue waters emanating roiling steam. Sixty-five miles south of the Arctic Circle the chill in the air rips through our sternums as we set out from the locker rooms, making haste. Therapeutic relaxation of tender muscles and joints in the geothermal pool. Unlike the saltwater of Blue Lagoon, Mývatn soft and crisp fresh water that leaves the body feeling clean and revitalized. We soaked the early afternoon away, watching clouds twist and turn overhead, darting off into unknown territory. Peering out at snow covered volcanic craters while leaning against a lava rock chair. Slow sipping an ice cold Icelandic ale while bathing in a natural geothermal pool with my wife, nothing beats that.
Lake Mývatn rests a few miles from the Nature Baths heading West along the Ring Road. Although the lake appears massive it is really rather shallow; the maximum depth of Lake Mývatn is fifteen feet. This eutrophic lake was formed by a volcanic eruption over two thousand years ago. The massive Hverfjall volcanic crater looms in the backdrop, covered thick in snow. The entire surface of the lake crusted over in a sheet of ice.
Slowly we made our way back to Borgarnes. Along the way we spotted a few more Icelandic gems and briefly checked them out. Three more massive craters entered the backdrop; I climbed up the endless stairs to peer down in the the caldera and view the others from a high vantage point.
We took a loop around the West to see one final road on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula that we previously missed, road 55. We were in search of another free hot spring but unfortunately the road was unforgiving as it was filled with water and deep mudded tracks. We thought best to keep moving and follow 55 back out to Borgarnes. Along the way we saw these guys blocking the road!