Roughly speaking, Iceland is about 1% of Canada’s size, so when we started thinking about a family vacation in Iceland we figured two weeks would be long enough to give us a pretty good sense of Iceland’s culture, landscape and economy. And it was. But for some areas, like the Mývatn region, we simply didn’t allocate enough time to form more than a general impression – just enough to know that we’ll go back!
We spent most of our first day in the area getting some exercise, thanks to less-than-stellar hiking experience at Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. When our driver / photo guide picked us up about 3:30 in the afternoon, we headed off to see Hljóðaklettar (Echo Rocks) and then the town of Húsavík, with a couple of photo stops along the way.
Hljóðaklettar (Echo Rocks) are basalt column formations and caves, the remains of ancient volcanoes which have been heavily eroded by the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. For more than an hour we walked the trails, studying the crazy arrangements of basalt roses and formations like Tröllið (The Troll) and the cave of Kirkjan (the Church). As occasional showers intensified to steady rain, we hustled back to the parking lot, having explored just 3.5 km of the extensive trail network in the area.
Mánárbakki Folk Museum
It was too late in the day to arrange entrance to the Mánárbakki Folk Museum, situated about 25 km from Húsavík. We stopped just long enough to admire the turf-roofed buildings before resuming our drive.
As we drove along the coast towards Húsavík, the early evening light on the North Atlantic was absolutely beautiful. Our driver / photo guide took advantage of his super truck’s 4×4 capabilities to get us relatively close to a natural rock arch down on the shoreline. We spent a good half hour making photographs before our hunger pangs demanded we carry on to the restaurants in town.
Húsavík is the northernmost town we visited in Iceland (just north of 66 degrees) and it’s apparently a whale watching destination. We arrived after the last daily excursion departed so had to settle for photographs of some of the whale watching boats. After an excellent supper near the harbour, we headed back to our hotel at Reykjahlíð, a tiny village on the northeastern shore of the Mývatn.
We began our second day in the Mývatn region by stopping at Hverarönd, also referred to as Hverir and sometimes referred to as the name of the nearby mountain, Námafjall. Regardless of the name, it’s an other-worldly geothermal area complete with boiling mud pools and high pressure steam vents.
We spent the rest of the morning hiking from Reykjahlíð to Dimmuborgir via the trail up and around the 1 km wide rim of Hverfjall, a tephra cone that formed about 2500 years ago. The views of Mývatn were excellent and a separate blog post about our hike is coming soon.
Mývatn is shallow and the lake and its surrounding wetlands attract a wide variety of waterbirds, especially ducks. The name of the lake means “lake of midges” due to the huge numbers of midges (non-biting little flies) found there in the summer. We once again dug out our bug net hats for a walk around the Höfði penninsula where we photographed some lava pillars and reflections as well as a few ducks and pseudocraters.
By that time it was mid-afternoon of our second day in the area, and time to move on. Our next destination? Akureyri, the second largest urban area in Iceland. We made one longer stop along the way, back at Goðafoss for another look at the “waterfall of the Gods”, this time from the other side of the river.
We missed several points of geological and cultural interest in the Mývatn region, including the Asbyrgi canyon, Raudholar, the Krafla geothermal plant and more. Since we’ve been back in Canada, I’ve learned of the 260 km long Diamond Ring Road, which we’ll keep in mind when planning our next visit to Iceland. If you live in or have visited this part of the world, please leave a comment with your recommended points of interest or hiking trails in the region.