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Námaskarð Geothermal Area

A Weekend in Northeast Iceland: Lake Mývatn, Thermal Baths and Námaskarð

I spent the weekend in the sun in Northeast Iceland, running around Lake Mývatn in the Mývatn Marathon, and driving around The Diamond Circle, stopping at a few familiar places and one spot I haven’t been to before. The Diamond Circle is in a way North Iceland’s answer to The Golden Circle in the south. The circular route on the map is shaped like a diamond and its natural wonders could be nicknamed diamonds as well.

I woke up well rested at 4:45 AM sharp because my body clock claimed a new day had started and the birds, sheep and sun outside agreed. The sunrays peeked past the curtains and I got up for the first cup of coffee followed by a short walk in the hayfield outside, full of sheep and lambs. At this time of year, it hardly gets dark as we are fast approaching the time of midnight sun in late June. In North Iceland, the bright hours are even a few minutes longer than down south.

Lake Mývatn

Mývatn literally means “The Lake of Midges”, referring to the tiny flies that are a nuisance to humans but a vital part of the ecosystem around the lake, being a protein rich source of nutrition for fish and birds nesting in the area. Mosquitos have fortunately not made it to Iceland so far, which allegedly has something to do with the climate here. But their annoying “cousins”, the midges, have been with us for ages, biting and bothering people and animals since settlement more or less I guess. Most of the midges around Mývatn are non-biting, but some of them bite.

Lake Mývatn view
Lake Mývatn from a viewpoint between Mývatn Nature Baths and Námaskarð

Tours Around Lake Mývatn

Mývatn is located on the Diamond Circle with natural diamonds such as Dettifoss and Goðafoss waterfalls, Ásbyrgi canyon, Hljóðaklettar columnar rock formations, Húsavík town, Dimmuborgir lava rocks area and Námafjall volcanic mountain. The Diamond Circle route is 250 km and became a concept after the new paved road to Dettifoss from Ásbyrgi was opened in 2020. Before that, Dettifoss and Hljóðaklettar were reachable from Ásbyrgi only via bad gravel roads. The new road was a revolution for residents and tourists in Northeast Iceland.

Mývatn is a paradise for many bird species and hence also for birdwatchers, with more species of nesting ducks than in any other area on earth. In the area, you can also find a Diamond Circle tour with Game of Thrones filming locations and a guided tour of Lofthellir ice cave.

Mývatn Nature Baths

Their official name in English is Mývatn Nature Baths (is. Jarðböðin við Mývatn) but people also call them “Mývatn Baths”, “Lake Mývatn Baths”, “Mývatn Thermal Baths”, “Mývatn Lagoon” and even “Blue Lagoon Mývatn”. They are all understandable and the last one surely derives from their resemblance to the Blue Lagoon in Reykjanes, the color of the water is exactly the same milky blue as you find in the Blue Lagoon. But they are smaller than their world famous counterpart down south and personally I find them more cozy and the view over Lake Mývatn is a great bonus when relaxing there.

Mývatn Nature Baths on a sunny day in May 2024
Mývatn Nature Baths on a sunny day in May 2024

Námaskarð Geothermal Area

The mountain Námafjall and its surroundings are a geothermal high temperature area. It is a fissure zone and the main thermal current is in the hot springs area called Námaskarð but also referred to as Hverir (e. Hot Springs) in recent years. It is full of fumaroles and mud hot springs but has no water hot springs. The mud springs are large and apparent while the fumaroles are in many cases boreholes that have been covered with piles of rocks. The soil is highly sour due to sulfur in the air.

A Fumarole at Námaskarð geothermal area
A fumarole at Námaskarð geothermal area

Víti Crater Lake and Krafla Power Plant

Víti is an explosion crater that formed back in 1724. There is a hiking route around it and the walk takes around an hour in optimal conditions. The crater is close to the highest peak of the Krafla area and the drive up there is up a steep hill just after passing Krafla Power Plant by the road on the left. Víti is 300 m in diameter and with a green water lake at its bottom.

Krafla Power Plant has a visitor centre where you can get some information about how energy is generated from geothermal heat, history of geothermal heat in Iceland and the opportunities it has given. The Krafla Visitor Centre presents the area’s geology, energy generation and the potential of geothermal energy use through posters and graphical illustrations. Access is free of charge. However, I found the Visitor Centre very small and limited and would therefore recommend skipping it from your itinerary, in order to have more time to see the various sights in the area and enjoy nature.

Vít crater lake gradually appearing from the snow cover of winter
Vít crater lake gradually appearing from the snow cover of winter

Hljóðaklettar in Vesturdalur Valley

Hljóðaklettar and Rauðhólar are a part of a 6 km long crater row that erupted 8-9 thousand years ago. They are located in the valley called Vesturdalur, 15 km south of Ásbyrgi canyon, and can be reached by the previously mentioned newly paved road from Ásbyrgi. Shortly after taking the turn from the main road towards Hljóðaklettar, I saw that the road down to Vesturdalur was closed but I could continue straight ahead instead up to the parking lot at Langavatnshöfði and walk a short distance from there to the viewpoint overlooking Vesturdalur, Hljóðaklettar and the majestic river Jökulsá á Fjöllum (206 km long and with Dettifoss waterfall in it further inland, direction south).

Hljóðaklettar and Jökulsá á Fjöllum, seen from Langavatnshöfði
Hljóðaklettar and Jökulsá á Fjöllum, seen from Langavatnshöfði

The name Hljóðaklettar literally means “The Cliffs of Sounds” and one theory about their name is that they reflect the sound of the river. Similar to Dimmuborgir lava formations by Mývatn, the cliffs at Hljóðaklettar take different shapes and sizes so people can let their imaginations run wild. Some of them have got nicknames, such as The Giant, The Church, The Man and The (Old) Woman (kerling in Icelandic, difficult to translate properly). The Church is a cave vault, nicknamed so by travelers back in the day.

Almost as far back as I remember, the summers in North Iceland and East Iceland have been better in terms of weather than in the south and west. In the east, it is more likely to have temperatures around or over 20 degrees Celsius on the best summer days than in the rest of the country, especially in and around the forestry area of Hallormsstaður. Icelanders chasing the sun will therefore sometimes choose Akureyri, Egilsstaðir or their surroundings, at least when they are not flocking to board the planes to Tenerife.

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