Exploring Iceland: Central Highlands

Highlights from our two days of photo touring in Iceland’s south highlands included Jökuldalakvísl, Rauðfoss and Sigalda Canyon. After two days exploring the south highlands it was time to venture a little further north and this post shares photo touring highlights from our two days in the central highlands.

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 third day in the south/central highlands we woke up to rain and the least-favourable weather forecast since we’d arrived in Iceland a week earlier. So we opted out of our planned hike in favour of a series of photo stops that we could abandon part way through the day if the rain really started coming down.

Vatnakvisl River

Our first stop was along the Vatnakvisl River where it’s crossed by F228. Our oldest son opted to go for a morning run up to the top of a nearby peak, camera in hand, while the rest of us pondered how best to frame the unfamiliar landscape. We were at this location for about 45 minutes.

Stóra Fossvatn

At our next stop we finally had to break out the hats with the built-in bug netting, which we’d packed “just in case”. The swarms of midges were so pervasive that they overwhelmed our teen son’s determination to not wear a bug hat! Our photographs from this stop required a bit more editing than most other stops in Iceland in order to remove blurry midge spots!

The “fishing lakes” are surrounded and intersected by beautiful, curving lines, made even more striking by the late season snow. As a bonus, there were a couple of fly fishermen tempting the arctic char.

Tungnaá River

About 10 km / 30 minutes later we stopped along the Tungnaá River, which flows from the western edge of Vatnajökull to the reservoir Sultartangalón, where it joins the Þjórsá. The Tungnaá has been used extensively for hydroelectricity, with power stations at Vatnsfell, Sigalda, Hrauneyjafoss, and Sultartangi. This location was one of my favourite stops during our Iceland holiday and it’s largely at my insistence that we stayed here for a full two hours. Perhaps the appeal was the diffuse light resulting from the overcast sky, or the intertwining ribbons of the river channels, or maybe the way nature has shaped parts of the landscape to become quite abstract when viewed a certain way. Whatever the reason, I hope we have the chance to explore this location again on our next trip to Iceland.

And here are a few of the more abstract results from our Tungnaá River stop…

It started raining shortly before we left the sentinel above the Tungnaá River valley. As the rain intensified we made a few brief stops, doing our best to channel the asthetic of landscape and travel photographer Bruce Percy (Haukur told us about him). But by 2:30 in the afternoon the rain was coming down so steadily that we called it a day and headed back to our hotel to relax and enjoy a few hours of down time. Thank goodness we started the day by opting for plan B!


After a few days exploring in and around Landmannalaugar, it was time to for a long driving day, mostly along Sprengisandsleið (F26) towards Mývatn in northeast Iceland. Route F26 is a highland gravel road in Iceland, running through the Sprengisandur area between the glaciers Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull. It is the longest of the Icelandic highland roads (about 200 km) and we enjoyed several photo stops along the way.


Our first stop was at Þórisvatn, Iceland’s largest lake, situated at the south end of Sprengisandur highland road. Typically bright turquoise in colour (similar to many of the glacial lakes in the Canadian Rockies), the colour was quite muted due to continuing snow melt and heavy cloud cover.



Apparently there are two waterfalls called Fagrifoss in Iceland. We stopped at the lesser-known one to find a geocache and enjoy the sight and sound of water dropping over a small cliff into a narrow canyon.


A few times during the day we stopped briefly right beside F26 so that Mr. GeoK could compose a panorama. This one shows Hofsjökull (the third largest glacier in Iceland and the largest active volcano in the country) in the distance.


Here are a few more taken from various stops along F26, including the Icelandic Touring Association huts at Nýidalur/Jökuldalur where we stopped for lunch.


A few times over the course of our trip, our driver / photo guide told us about Fjalla-Eyvindur (1714–1783), Iceland’s most famous outlaw. Eyvindur was outlawed in 1746. After living in the West Fjords for a while, he and his wife Halla are reported to have fled into the remote highlands of Iceland after 1760. They were caught twice but managed to escape both times. They lived in the wilderness for twenty years, including several years at Eyvinderkofi, where they constructed a 4-5 room stone cabin. Archaeological work at the site found a spring was channeled through the cabin and covered with flat stones – early running water!

We finished up our photo tour along Sprengisandsleið by stopping at three waterfalls along the mighty Skjalfandafljot glacier river in North Iceland. The first stop was at Hrafnabjargafoss, a beautiful and complex waterfall located well off the main tourist routes. I could have stayed for several hours composing a wide range of photographs but everyone else was anxious to move on after about 45 minutes, so we did.

The 20 meter drop that’s Aldeyjarfoss is situated near the northern end of the Sprengisandur Highland Road. One of the most interesting features of the waterfall is the contrast between the black basalt columns and the white waterfall. The arrangements of the basalt columns are also compelling.

Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods), located at the northern end of the Sprengisandur Highland Road, is considered one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland and I agree that with a drop of 12 meters and a width of 30 meters, it’s impressive. But we arrived at the end of a long day, after driving almost 400 km, and encountered fairly large crowds of tourists. Since we knew we’d be returning to Goðafoss in a few days, we left with just a photo or two as proof we stopped.


The day ended on a cheerful note, with a double rainbow forming just as we sat down for supper.


3 thoughts on “Exploring Iceland: Central Highlands

  1. Pingback: My Kind of Landscape | Out and About with the GeoKs

  2. Pingback: Exploring Iceland: North Highlands | Out and About with the GeoKs

Leave a Reply