We managed to carve out 2 days to explore the Iceland’s south highlands and by that I mean the area generally centered around Landmannalaugar (i.e. north of Mýrdalsjökull and west of Vatnajökull). Most of that time was in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, which includes the Torfajökull volcanic system and all of its associated geothermal indications: fumaroles, hot springs and colourful rhyolite craters. We did the short hike up Blue Peak one afternoon and the slightly longer hike from Höskuldsskáli (Obsidian Skerry) down to Landmannalaugar another afternoon (blog post coming soon). Otherwise, we were on a photo safari that took full advantage of our driver/photo guide’s knowledge of the area. We stopped at so many amazing locations that between the four of us we averaged just over 500 photographs/day. It’s been challenging to select just a few images for each location!
NOTE: I did not do a good job of noting place names while we were in Iceland, so it’s possible some of the place names below are incorrect. I did my best using tracks recorded by our GPS receiver and many (many) internet searches, but would welcome comments offering corrections!
Our first stop, in Vatnajökull National Park, was to view Ófærufoss from the opposite side of the Eldgjá chasm (Fire Canyon), the largest volcanic canyon in the world.
Jökuldalakvísl in Fjallabak
I followed our photo guide’s lead and went wading in the glacial river Jökuldalakvísl at our second stop. It wasn’t that bad, mainly because the sun had warmed the black sand so I’d go from freezing water to warm sand as I moved around. Mr. GeoK walked up a nearby hill and came back with some great panorama photographs of the area.
Icelandic Horse Excursion
Sometimes opportunity knocks and you have to answer. As soon as our driver/photo guide spotted the large herd of approaching horses, he pulled over to park. Seconds later, five of us were piling out of the super truck, cameras in hand. The herd passed our position on the F208 in less than two minutes!
Kýlingavatn was our final stop before hiking Blue Peak. The adjacent cone-shaped mountains, partially covered with snow, made for a striking background.
The day we hiked from the Obsidian Skerry down to Landmannalaugar, we traveled about 85 km from our hotel to the trail head. A fair portion of that was along F225 (also referred to as Landmannaleið). Some roads in the area were still closed due to the spring thaw, but our driver/photo guide contacted the appropriate authorities to work out an approved alternate driving route that eventually got us to the trailhead. We made a couple of photo stops before our hike and two more afterwards.
Landmannaleið (Along F225)
In addition to the deeply incised mountainsides, lingering snow patches and the occasional small flock of sheep added extra visual interest to the landscape.
We had to leave the main 4×4 road to follow a smaller track to a parking spot and then hike about 20 minutes to get close to Rauðfoss. To me, the surrounding landscape, partially blanketed in snow, was almost more interesting than the waterfall itself.
Our driver / photo guide informed us that vehicles have been banned from driving up to the falls for about 30 years now, which explained the need for us to walk the last km or so. The astonishing thing was that the tracks were still extremely clear, evidencing the fragility of the highland landscape.
It was almost 5 pm by the time we completed the hike from the Obsidian Skerry down to Landmannalaugar, so our last stops that day were very brief.
Ljótipollur (Ugly Pond)
This is another popular day hiking destination from Landmannalaugar, but it’s also accessible by super truck.
So many waterfalls in one place and if you’re not looking for them, you’d probably miss this hidden gem. From some of the winter photos I’ve seen, this would be a great place to visit as the sun goes down in the winter.