Guide to Iceland went to check out Midgard Adventure in Hvolsvöllur, South Iceland, to see what this adventure tour operator can offer its guests. Read on to find out all about Guide to Iceland's trip to Þórsmörk with Midgard Adventure.
Despite my best intentions, I’m often prone to negative thinking, easily able to scapegoat, justify and question the world around me without, I might add, real passion or elegance, but rather, a morbid waiting-room ambience that settles itself in the brain and begins, almost subconsciously, to speak for me. I am a man who needs a rattle every so often, or I go limp...
In other words, carrying the weight-of-the-world on one's shoulders should be an easily relatable experience, or at least I hope. Who, after all, save the odd sociopath, hasn’t experienced life’s challenges, it's brutal, beautiful and educating ups and downs, its underlying and untouchable tedium?
Having just undergone what could be described as a naturally stunning, yet personally tiring Icelandic winter—one that saw me thoughtless enough to, somehow, endure the whole thing without a pair of gloves—my thinking had, once again, become in dire need of maintenance. Bloody Iceland. Bloody cold. Bloody gloves. Bloody this... bloody that.... bloo— Quiet, old man, you'll wake the neighbours.
Obviously, the cobwebs needed to be blown away, the spider killed if absolutely necessary. How this would be possible had been a relatively consistent problem, that is until a Wednesday morning in the office when an invitation came through from Midgard Adventure, an adventure tour operator that also runs Midgard Base Camp, a guesthouse and Hvolsvöllur’s only bar, as of 2014.
GTI’s content team were to spend the weekend discovering just what this young, modern and promising establishment could offer us hardened tour veterans (...in regards to adventure tours, rather than, say, a tour of Helmand Province which, I imagine, is something more of an adventure for those inclined to visit). All we had to go on was their company website, and a perplexing tour option Mystery Super Jeep Tour | South Coast or the Highlands...
Well, I can’t tell you much of the journey there, save that it was just over an hour. Having spent the Friday night boozing quietly, but efficiently, I immediately fell asleep upon entry of the vehicle and thus missed the magical, majestic, incredible, beautiful, stunning and dramatic journey that is Reykjavík to Hvolsvöllur.
Credit: Midgard Adventure Facebook.
When I was awoken, dribble hanging precariously from my chin, I was quietly ashamed but well-rested, ready to take on whatever surprises Midgard Adventure might have timidly in wait.
I say timidly for two reasons. First, we were not made aware of exactly what we would be doing, and second, Midgard Adventure headquarters is nestled away in the southern town of Hvolsvöllur, itself planted in the heartlands of Katla Geopark.
Tourism in Iceland has become a fiercely competitive market, and yet this recently-renovated complex has little need to overtly puff out its chest; its tasteful design, intimate ambience and personal flavour speak for themselves. Midgard sets itself aside an operator that prioritizes guests over profit, offering a range of rooms, a classy bar and restaurant, hot tub and sauna and, most importantly, adventure excursions that deliver exactly what the website promises “a feeling of discovery”.
Nine of us in total, an eclectic blend of bloggers, filmmakers, photographers and, for good measure, one carpenter. We were roundly introduced to our guides for the day, Siggi Bjarni and Stefnir, who both proceeded to brief us on the day ahead as we enjoyed a coffee in the base camp’s refined, open-plan lobby.
The plan was simple; we were to enter the Fjallabak, just north of Þórsmörk, the valley of Thor in the Central Highlands, to try our hand at a spot of snowmobiling, an activity that many of us in the group were new to.
Þórsmörk is surrounded by three glaciers, Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindfjallajökull, all of which we had a fantastic view of. Our surroundings were very well suited to this most extreme of sports, with wide open stretches of virgin snow, magnificent natural attractions and scenery that defies belief, even by Icelandic standards.
We bustled ourselves into two heavy-duty Ford Excursions, towing three snowmobiles in total as we took off towards the highlands. This time, I managed to keep conscious and could see first-hand, truly, how spectacular Iceland’s South Coast really is. The drive there, we were blessed with views over the south’s spartan coastlines, its rolling agricultural meadows and ancient sea cliffs, now positioned inland as Iceland continues its steady rise from the ocean.
Having had spent a few too many weeks in Reykjavík by now, I could already feel a sense of tranquillity overwhelming that corner of the mind where anxiety had set up its own base camp. For those who stay local to the capital during their time in Iceland, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to discover Iceland’s wild and fantastical countryside for yourself.
There is simply no other option if you want to get to grips with life here, making it little surprise that the South Coast is one of the island’s most popular sightseeing routes. It speaks for itself.
Before long, we were trundling our way across gravel roads and rivers crossings into the valley, the mighty icecap Eyjafjallajökull appearing before us an enormous, impenetrable wall of ash-shaded ice and blood-red rock. Stefnir, in admirable control of our own vehicle, pointed out to us the curvature of its wide and domineering caldera, appearing as two devil horns atop a gleaming, frozen crown.
Perhaps it's a fitting description, given the chaos and disruption that this volcano's 2010 eruption caused. As I wrestled with the reality that Eyjafjallajökull is one of Iceland’s smallest glaciers—a point that seemed implausible given its staggering magnitude—Stefnir solemnly informed us the area’s next eruption was bound to put on a “good show”... one of the smallest?! Really?!
The bumpy journey into Þórsmörk took approximately an hour, the drive often halted by the need to inflate/deflate tyres or check for the traversable terrain ahead. Still, it was impossible to consider these necessities in any way negatively given the sheer abundance and hypnotic quality of the surrounding scenery.
When the vehicles finally did pull over, we found ourselves at the very end of a dried river valley with an incredible perspective over Mt Einhyrningur (750m), its name, “The Unicorn”, derived from the distinctive horn shape protruding from its slopes.
Within fifteen minutes of stopping, the snowmobiles had been unloaded and the group was briefed on exactly how to operate them; easy enough, brakes on the left, throttle switch to the right. Adorned with helmets and snow-goggles, we would take turns riding two a snowmobile, venturing out to discover some of the valley’s most staggering points of interest.
One such location we visited was Markarfljótsgljúfur, a 200-metre deep river canyon considered something of an Icelandic treasure, given its remote location and difficult access. Those who choose to hike the famous Laugavegur trail whilst in Iceland—from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk—will pay a visit to Markarfljótsgljúfur enroute.
Pulling up to the canyon ledge, we dismounted our snowmobiles and approached tentatively. Peering over the edge of the rocks here, I was surprised to see hundreds of birds soaring from nest to nest below me, the river Markarfljót a distant blue ribbon beneath even them. This was just one of the moments where, again, I was struck by just how elevated we were, and just how different the landscape here was to the coastlines of Reykjavík. If there's one thing you can say Iceland, it's eclectic.
More importantly, how was my first time on a snowmobile you ask? Well, thank you for the enquiry, and I’m elated to inform you that it exceeded my expectations beyond any doubt. In the past, I have often written of the balance between adrenaline and awe that snowmobiling brings about in its rider, and I, for one, felt my own words with a surprising gravitas.
The roaring acceleration, the power of the engine, the snow flecks that erupt from the skidoo as you tear half-crazy into a landscape of beaming white snow, distant peaks and staggering slopes... it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, or likely will again. Perhaps, at a stretch, the closest feeling I could relate would be to my time on a jet ski, but even then the differences so far outmatch their similar design that, now, at the end of my sentence, I realise the comparison is fruitless.
Alas, it is an activity that must be experienced... words cannot do it justice.
Snowmobiling is a world unto itself, and it was immediately clear to me after just a few hours riding as to why people are so quick to make this sport a lifelong passion.
That evening, we were treated to dinner by Midgard Base Camp’s resident Texan chef—the only non-Icelander on staff—who sat poised to prepare some truly wonderful culinary delights. Among the mains options available on the dinner menu were the catch of the day, pan-fried chicken breast sandwiches, seared lamb steaks and a classic vegetarian sandwich with tofu, hummus and roasted peppers.
Credit: Midgard Adventure Facebook.
Feeling quite smug and satisfied with the activities of the day, I opted for an Adventure Burger, a locally sourced 120-gram beef patty served with roast potatoes and a delicious, as of yet unspecified sauce. What I say next, I say from the heart; it was one of the best burgers I’ve eaten in Iceland. Thank Texas!
To top of the experience, Stefnir played a few songs on his accordion, as well as lead a Happy Birthday chorus to the Police Chief of South Iceland, a man who also happens to work part-time as a guide at Midgard Adventure.
Unfortunately, we were a little late to benefit from the bar’s daily happy hour (5-7pm), so settled ourselves on the already reasonable prices—I might add, we did satisfy the urge for tipple with a few rounds of brutal Vodka Roulette (not as final as Russian Roulette, but a damn sight more painful in the morning).
Drinking continued into the hot tub upstairs, where we happily sat soothed, bleary-eyed and filled with hope as the faint hint of the Aurora Borealis made but a wavering appearance above us. Besides the hot tub was a steam room, and though I didn't venture inside myself on account that I was half-conscious in the tub, it was incredibly gratifying to know the option was there should I decide upon it.
That night, we were accommodated in Midgard Base Camp's dorm rooms, each of which can house up to a maximum of six people. The dorm rooms provided an exquisite level of privacy—it's amazing how much difference a curtain over the bed makes—creating a comfortable environment perfect for single travellers, friends and couples.
And so, as I laid myself down on the comfy mattress, settling myself in for the night, I couldn't help but ponder on how much difference a single day can make to the mindset. It was though I had been transported, not just physically from the city, but from the angst, pressures and contradictions of daily life.
Negative thinking? I couldn't reconcile why, only a night before, I had been so glum, an emotion that suddenly seemed foreign and alien to me... carrying the weight of the world? Oh no, the world, even the highlands, are far too big for that...
If once again, I find myself self-absorbed and pitying, I will look back to Fjallabak and hurriedly reorganise my thought processes. For that realisation, I have only Midgard Adventure, Siggi and Stefnir to thank.
In fact, Midgard Adventure's philosophy of treating the establishment as their second home comes out across the board, be it in their personalised adventure service, their family oriented bar, restaurant and accommodation, and, most importantly, their incredible passion for the Icelandic Central Highlands.
It seems this family run business has settled easily into the role as a social centrepiece in Hvolsvöllur, hosting numerous events throughout the year such as Yoga, documentary screenings and live musical concerts. It appears destined to continue being so.
If you're planning to spend some time amongst Iceland's mountains, make sure to do with it Midgard Adventure. You'll find yourself in the hands of a stable and experienced operator whose close proximity to the highlands makes for a fantastic and authentic experience in the wild Icelandic country.
Not all surprises are bad... in fact, they're the only thing worth stepping out the door for.
Have you ever been snowmobiling in Iceland? Have you ever visited the beautiful Icelandic highlands and if so, what did you do there? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below.