Exploring Iceland: North Highlands

With just three more nights before our scheduled flight back to Canada, we needed to depart northeast Iceland and begin making our way back to Reykjavík. Our driver/photo guide was unexpectedly called back to the capital, so he handed us off to another Nature Explorer driver who flew up from Reykjavík early in the morning to take over at the wheel of our super truck.

We got to know Ragnar a little bit as he drove generally west from Akureyri via Þjóðvegur (loosely pronounced Hringvegur and more commonly referred to by North American tourists as Iceland’s Ring Road). We stopped a couple of times to take photographs that included a rare blue sky and to search for geocaches. Ragnar was intrigued by the idea of hunting for hidden containers, but I’m not convinced he loved it enough to sign up!

NOTE: The gallery format offers me little control over how large any particular image appears on the page, so remember than you can click on any image to view a larger size.

Our first extended stop was at Glaumbær, a historic site featuring a farmhouse built of turf, stones and timber. A farmhouse is said to have stood on the hill at Glaumbær since about 900 AD. The farmhouse is comprised of 13 connected buildings (houses), each of which had a specific function. The main unit (the badstofa) was a communal eating/sleeping room, where people sat to do their handiwork. Food was stored and prepared in the pantry and kitchen. The front hall, passages, and south entrance (Brandahús) provided access throughout the farmhouse. One house provided accommodation for the elders and other members of the household. There are two guest rooms, two storerooms, and a smithy (blacksmith’s workshop). The buildings vary in age with the most recent having been built in 1876-79. The oldest (the kitchen, “long pantry,” and badstofa) are believed to have been preserved much as they were in the mid-18th century.

I enjoyed studying the construction of the farmhouse. The turf is stacked in a herringbone pattern, with long turf strips between the layers. According to signs on the site, the Glaumbær estate had little rock suitable for building purposes, but it has plenty of good turf, so rock was used only at the base of the walls to prevent damp from rising up into them. Imported timber and driftwood were used in the interior frame and paneling.

We ate at one of the wooden picnic tables at Glaumbær, enjoying sandwiches made with the fresh bread we purchased in Akureyri earlier in the day. Of course raspberry and peach skyr was also on the menu. We passed around a package of dark chocolate covered digestive biscuits for desert.

Shortly after lunch we turned south onto route F35. Also called Kjalvegur, it’s the second longest road through Iceland’s Highlands, crossing the Kjölur plateau between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers. The north end of the route is near Blöndulón, one of Iceland’s largest lakes. We stopped briefly to photograph the reservoir, created in 1984-1991 for the Blönduvirkjun power plant.

The Hveravellir hot springs are about 25 km along the Kjölur highland route. It’s a geothermal hotspot with smoking fumaroles and bubbling water holes. In addition to the somewhat mysterious landscape, I was particularly interested to see the sculpture of two stone hearts in an iron cage that we heard about while visiting Eyvinderkofi several days earlier.

We stopped a few more times before turning onto Route F347, a slightly rougher gravel road to Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort, our destination for the night. Mostly they were geocaching stops, including one at an attention-grabbing orange emergency shelter.

Our last stop before getting settled in at the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort was at Gígjarfoss, our first and only waterfall stop of the day!

We stayed in a part of a cabin at the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort: one BR, a loft area with two more beds, a small kitchenette and a WC with toilet and sink. Mr. GeoK and I joined Ragnar in the main dining hall where I enjoyed a bowl of spicy fish stew. Meanwhile, the boys used the propane cooktop in the kitchenette to cook some pasta noodles which they ate along with some of our picnic supplies. It was a very pretty location, with a good power supply from a nearby mini hydro station, but by far the most rustic accommodation of our vacation.

Departing early the next morning, we headed to Hveradalir. Mr. GeoK was not particularly excited by the idea of visiting yet another geothermal area, so he and C opted to be dropped off along the road to add to their collections of Highland landscape images.

Meanwhile K and I explored Hveradalir. It was quite different from Hveravellir (which we visited the previous day), mainly because the steam vents and hot springs are down in steep valleys between rhyolite mountains – kind of a mash-up of Landmannalaugur and Hverarönd (Mývatn region).

After stopping to collect Mr. GeoK and C, we were back on Route F35 by mid-morning, heading generally southwest towards Reykjavík. Our last stop on our final crossing of Iceland’s Highlands was near the shore of Hvítárvatn (also known as Hvítárlón), the huge lake that is the source of glacial river Hvítá. From that particular spot we could look across to Langjökull (Icelandic for “long glacier”), the second largest ice cap in Iceland and where we were headed to start our modified “Golden Circle Tour”.

8 thoughts on “Exploring Iceland: North Highlands

    1. We do our best to get off the beaten track a bit and really get a sense of the places we visit. Looking forward to eventual posts / pictures from your next visit to Iceland.

      1. Hmmm…just started outlining a blog post to wrap-up our Iceland trip. I’ll include our top picks there. Watch for it by the end of the week. Should finish up the post on our trip into a volcano for tomorrow!

    1. As much as we think we’re spoiled by the fantastic sights and scenery here at home near the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the landscape in Iceland is unlike anything we’ve seen before. I hope you have a chance to visit some day.

      1. The Canadian Rocky Mountains must be really beautiful, too. However, Iceland is always something special. It’s like no other place on earth.

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