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Hveravellir and Kerlingarfjöll - A view from our expert author
Kerlingarfjöll is similar in appearance to Landmannalaugar: it has the same striking contrast of ice and steam © Filip Fuxa, Shutterstock
‘The field of hot springs’ is a lonesome and windswept frontier right in the middle of Kjölur. At first glance the lava flats seem bare and unexciting, but off in the distance shines the great round bluish shield of Hofsjökull. Tiny wisps of steam seep out of the cracked earth to reveal that this is one of Iceland’s most terrific hotspots. A wooden walkway takes you through the geothermal area: the main attractions are Bláhver (a serene, milky-blue hot pool that almost glows) and Öskurhólshver (the ‘shrieking spring’), a silica-encrusted fumarole with a constant jet of whistling steam pouring from its spout. Beyond the springs lies the hideaway of Eyvindur of the mountains, an outlaw who came and lived at Hveravellir with his wife back in the 18th century. The tumbledown circle of rocks is believed to be his old home and a local spring is named after him (Eyvindahver). Eyvindarrét is thought to be his old sheep pen – a natural volcanic feature where the steam exploding from beneath the lava seemed to have frozen the rock in mid burst. Surely, no sheep could escape from inside that crater. You can still see the old shepherd’s hut with thick rock walls and turf roof.
For all the talk of ‘fire and ice’, no other place in Iceland lets you experience both in such an active way.
Despite the remoteness, the campsite and station at Hveravellir are becoming busy places in the summer and well into the autumn. For anyone riding or driving across Kjölur, this is the perfect overnight stop. There’s a big hut that sleeps a lot of people with a gritty camp kitchen and a small shop (tel: 452 4200; email: email@example.com; www.hveravellir.is). The hot outdoor bathing pool was built in 1938 and looks natural now that it’s covered in silica precipitate. Two pipes direct separate springs into the pool, one ice-old and the other scalding hot. With no control over the flow, a sudden gush of one or the other has everyone leaping out with yelps and screams.Most visitors hike around the hot springs and then set up their tents, whilst others only hike to Strýtur (847m), which is unfortunately a little underwhelming given the other nearby trails. To really enjoy this exquisite hinterland though, head towards Langjökull. You need a 4x4 to get there as the road dips through a few rivers (unless you’re hiking or riding, in which case you’ll get a little wet). On the other side lies the hidden valley of Thjófadalir beneath the shadow of the glacier. This is a truly enchanted landscape to walk through.
The ‘woman’s mountains’ is a group of pointed peaks, marbled with the white of tiny glaciers and shields of ice that drop into valleys of highly active hot springs. It’s odd that such a beautiful place is named after a troll, whose remnants stand as a rocky pillar at the base of the range. Similar to the colours and shapes of Landmannalaugar, what sets this place apart are its massive scale and fewer crowds. For all the talk of ‘fire and ice’, no other place in Iceland lets you experience both in such an active way. Kerlingarfjöll is used as a private ski lodge because of the permanent snow patches and the steep slopes, but it’s the mountains, ice, and steam that make this such a remarkable hiking destination.
The road to Kerlingarfjöll (Route F347) crosses a few streams, so you must have a 4x4 to get there. The base camp is at Ásgarður where you’ll find lots of sleeping-bag accommodation with facilities, as well as a wonderful natural outdoor hot pot next to a rushing glacial stream (there is also a small but sporadically open petrol station at Kerlingarfjöll). The season is short and the demand great, so book ahead (mobile: 894 2132; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.kerlingarfjoll.is). Hikers have plenty of interesting paths to choose from, all of which lead to great views across the whole interior. The most difficult climb is to the top of Mt Snækollur (1,477m) for which you will need crampons. It is also possible to hike or ride to the Thjórsa Valley on the other side of Hofsjökull, the unofficial trail between Kjölur and Sprengisandur.