Some of the staff of Guide to Iceland had joined one of their Mystery Super Jeep Tour - South Coast or the Highland, and I had seen photos of the spectacular red super jeeps, so I was eager to be a part of this action.
I opted for a summer tour to Þórsmörk valley - a beautiful pearl of nature in South Iceland, an oasis nestling between three glacier caps, Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindafjallajökull. Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted back in 2010, is one of the glaciers you will visit on this tour - and not only visit it - you will get to touch and taste one of its glacial outlets!
Top photo: Þórsmörk nature reserve
Midgard Adventure in Hvolsvöllur
We arrived bright and early to the base camp of Midgard Adventure in Hvolsvöllur, a lovely town some 100 km southeast of Reykjavík, where I live. Pick-up from Reykjavík for the Midgard Adventure tours is also available, but we opted for driving there ourselves.
The tour started at 9:00 in the morning and was to last for 7 hours with lots of stops on the way.
With Heimir by the super jeep at Landeyjarsandur black sand beach - the Westman islands in the background
We got the most wonderful, cheerful, and funny guide, the very informative Icelandic Heimir, who was filled with jokes and humour.
Being a driver-guide is a very difficult job; driving a specially adapted super jeep on rough roads and terrain, crossing glacial rivers and telling jokes and stories - and forking out information at the same time in a foreign language cannot be easy - although Heimir made it look easy :)
And he even switched between 3 languages as there were Americans and Germans in the group! Respect Heimir!
The road leading to Landeyjarsandur
Our first stop was to be at one of the black beaches of Iceland with a fantastic view of Vestmannaeyjar - the Westman islands, which erupted back in 1973 in the middle of the town - with the inhabitants having to flee to the mainland of Iceland to seek shelter!
You might know that most of Iceland's beaches are black lava sand beaches, and until I was 11 years old and saw Italy's golden beaches, I thought that all sand was black ;)
We drove through some sandy hills on an unconventional road to get to the beach - here being driven around in a specially adapted 4x4 super jeep came in handy as there were also some small pools to be crossed. I love being driven around in a super-jeep to explore rugged territories which I cannot explore on my own.
A wrecked boat on Landeyjarsandur
You never know what you will find while visiting the black lava beaches of Iceland; I have found dead whales, a shark even. On this beach, we found a wrecked boat half-hidden by the volcanic sand!
Now it was time to see some rugged territory, we left the paved road 249 and drove unto the gravel road F-249 leading to Þórsmörk valley. We passed the mystical Nauthúsagil ravine, which is a part of this day tour as we had decided on visiting it on our way back.
By now the gravel road had turned into an F-road, a mountain road only accessible to full-size 4x4 jeeps and buses.
There are several smaller unbridged rivers to cross on this road, which leads to one of the most dangerous rivers in Iceland, the unbridged Krossá river and the beautiful nature reserve of Þórsmörk, one of Iceland's gems of nature.
Crossing the river on the way to Gígjökull glacier
All around us was ruggedly beautiful nature and we made a stop by one such spot, Gígjökull glacier, which is an outlet of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull glacier. Remember Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted back in 2010, causing havoc in air traffic around the world due to the masses of ashes it spewed high into the air?
Before the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, there was a glacial lagoon in front of the Gígjökull glacier. The volcanic eruption caused a massive glacier burst with a tremendously forceful glacial flooding, which ruined the lagoon and filled it with ash, big boulders, and eruption material.
Gígjökull glacier back in 2013
I had visited Gígjökull 3 times before, back in 2013, 2014, and 2016 and had always been amazed at how different it looked from year to year, it was literally shrinking right before my eyes. And now, in 2018, the glacier tongue had almost disappeared, but it is still very impressive.
In my photo above you can see what the glacier looked like back in 2013 compared to what it looks like 5 years later in my first photo. You can see the rift in the rock on the left-hand side in my photo above left by the massive glacier tongue of earlier years.
Hiking to Gígjökull glacier
We took a walk through this new landscape, walking on top of the eruption material, where we could see sandpits in many places. These sandpits are called kettle holes and were created when ice chunks from the glacier were covered by the eruption material and the chunks of ice beneath melted, making the sand cave in, as it were.
We followed the guide into one of these kettle holes, filling our shoes with sand in the process... Some of these kettle holes are filled with water and they make the landscape by Gígjökull glacier very characteristic.
Crossing the rivers on the hike to the glacier ;)
To reach the glacial tongue we had to cross some small rivers and step on some slippery stones. In a couple of spots, narrow planks had been added to make the passing easier. If you feel wobbly on your feet like I am most of the time, don't worry - the guide will hold your hand while you cross the rivers if help is needed.
This was easy, but in Stakkholtsgjá canyon later on during this tour, the guide had to hold my hand ;)
With Heimir on Gígjökull glacier
We then did a little glacier hiking, just to feel the ice of the shrinking glacial tongue - and in order to have stood on the infamous Eyjafjallajökull glacier. Proper glacier hikes require crampons as it is slippery on the ice. While standing on the sloping glacial tongue, trying to keep our balance, we got a lesson in what the black cones on the glacier were all about.
I broke a piece of ice from the surface of the glacier and washed it in the river, you can then suck on it and get a little taste of Eyjafjallajökull glacier and volcano, which might have caused your flight to be delayed back in 2010.
An ice bridge by the glacier tongue
A beautiful ice bridge had formed in the glacier tongue, where the river runs through it. Back in 2013, I had peeked into an ice cave in the glacier tongue, but the ice bridge was equally beautiful - I love the blue colour of the ice - and there was a small waterfall cascading from the ice bridge - ever so pretty :)
It is amazing being able to visit such rugged places and feel relatively safe there - under guidance. Not so long ago the forces of nature played havoc here, and now we were leisurely visiting this area, and even eating a piece of it!
Baby moss by the glacier
But even in such a rugged, rough, and grey landscape, life finds its way and we spotted a beautiful pea-green moss peeking out amongst the rocks by the glacier tongue. Isn't it pretty?
Crossing the glacial river Krossá in Þórsmörk
We crossed some more unbridged rivers, which is why a full-size 4x4 jeep is needed and had by now reached one of the most treacherous glacial rivers in Iceland, Krossá river. Just writing about it gives me the chills, as all through my life I have seen footage on unprepared or even prepared jeeps and buses being stuck in this glacial river.
So even driving a 4x4 is no match for this river, a specially adapted jeep, and experience is needed here. Our guide passed this river like the pro he is and of course, Midgard Adventure's super-jeep was a match for this dangerous river.
This is why I always recommend a guided tour to Þórsmörk, if just for the thrill of passing Krossá river with an experienced guide!
After crossing the river we found ourselves in the beautiful Þórsmörk valley, where the scenery is unparalleled; here you will find 3 volcanic glaciers complementing the green lush Þórsmörk valley. We first visited Húsadalur valley, where you will find a camping area and a lodge. At the lodge, you can buy coffee and something to eat, but Heimir suggested that we visit the Singing Cave before having lunch.
It took some doing reaching the Singing Cave in Þórsmörk, a short hike, and some squeezing between boulders, nothing major though and well worth the effort, as inside the cave it was magical. And Heimir sang an Icelandic song for us. It paid off having a guide who is an opera singer.
I love this photo of the view from Sönghellir cave
I took myriad photos inside the cave, as there are so many troll images to be seen in the rocks - and it was magical being inside the darkness of the cave looking out at sunny Þórsmörk and the surrounding mountains.
Then I saw a boulder which I thought would be perfect for a photo. Only I am not good with climbing so I had to be helped up on the boulder and down again - but it does make for a pretty photo, doesn't it?
Þórsmörk is a truly wonderful place - a hidden gem in Iceland. I have done several of the shorter hikes in this area, but if you want to go on longer hikes in Þórsmörk valley you can join another tour by Midgard Adventure called Hiking in Thorsmork Valley | Super Jeep Day Tour, which will take you up some smaller mountains in the area, from which you will get a beautiful view of the valley.
The camping area in Húsadalur looks like a hobbit world :)
After visiting the Singing Cave we had lunch in Þórsmörk before exploring more of this beautiful oasis - we were so lucky to get some sun which cast a wonderful light on the glaciers and mountains - and created a fairytale atmosphere inside the canyons we were about to visit.
You can bring your own lunch or buy lunch packs from Midgard Adventure. My husband and I shared a lunch pack from Midgard, consisting of Icelandic spring water, the Icelandic Hraun (Lava) chocolate, skyr, which is the Icelandic dairy specialty, orange juice, and an apple, a crunchy bar, and sandwiches.
Lunch was provided on the tour
After lunch, we crossed Krossá glacial river again and visited the next valley in Þórsmörk - Langidalur - the Long valley - which is an absolutely breathtaking place, and from where there is a beautiful easy hike over to Húsadalur valley, whence we came.
And here in Langidalur, you will find the most perfectly shaped Church of the Hidden People. Unfortunately, the sun was not in a favourable position for taking photos of it, you will have to visit Þórsmörk to see it with your own eyes.
And I must visit Þórsmörk again to get a good photo of the church, as I love visiting and writing about the habitats and churches of the Hidden People of Iceland, as those of you who read my travel-blog have found out by now :)
Þórsmörk nature reserve
Þórsmörk will for sure leave no man untouched, the contrasts are extraordinary here; the blue of the surrounding mountains, the white ice cap of the three glaciers, and the green and lush valleys are what make this area in the highland of Iceland a true gem.
Now it was time to explore the canyons and hike into the mystical Stakkholtsgjá canyon, which lies at the entrance to Þórsmörk valley. I had visited it several years ago and written one of my first travel-blogs on this canyon. I was very eager to see this beautiful canyon again - and the treat at the end of the canyon.
I was almost running in the beautiful canyon whilst taking photos of the canyon walls and the troll images, which are omnipresent in the rocks of Iceland. The seabird fulmar was nesting in the walls and the sun cast shadows on the canyon walls, creating ominous images. No wonder that Icelandic folklore is filled with tales of the trolls of Iceland!
I was so captured in the moment and eager to see the waterfall at the end of the canyon that I hurried over the last river, only to fall flat on my behind into the river on the last slippery stone I stepped!
My two cameras were sitting in the river with me and my bruised ego...
The waterfall in Stakkholtsgjá canyon
Anyhow, still excited I brushed it off, as we were so close to the entrance to the waterfall. The waterfall at the end of this mystical canyon is one of the most breathtaking sights I have seen here in Iceland - it is like entering a world of fairytales! As our guide said the gateway to Mordor :)
It took some doing getting there and we crawled on our hands and knees under a rock and then climbed up some boulders to get the best view of the waterfall. Isn't this place just breathtakingly beautiful?
The waterfall in Stakkholtsgjá canyon
It is very difficult to take photos of the whole waterfall at the end of the canyon because of the light from the opening and the drizzle from above, which lit up when I used flash. Plus that my good camera was wet from my dip in the river.
I took a video of the waterfall with my mobile phone and apologize for the quality of it. I add it here to give you a glimpse into this mystical spot in Iceland:
We were there all alone and were mesmerized by the beauty and serenity of this magical place. No wonder Game of Thrones shot one of their scenes here at Stakkholtsgjá canyon.
The return hike in the 2 km long Stakkholtsgjá canyon took some 1.5 hours - again, we were not in a hurry (apart from myself on the way to the waterfall) and the whole tour felt like a leisurely trip with good friends. Only with one of the friends doing all the driving and guiding and us just tagging along ;)
A golden river in Stakkholtsgjá canyon
One the way back through the canyon I saw another beautiful sight; the river had turned into gold when the rays of the sun shone on the river :)
I love Nauthúsagil ravine and had already written a travel-blob about Nauthúsagil ravine prior to our visit. It is a different experience from visiting the wide Stakkholtsgjá canyon, as Nauthúsagil is small and narrow.
It is an equally mystical ravine though - the name translates into Bull Shed Ravine in English, named after the smallholding Nauthús. Nauthús was abandoned back in 1777 as extreme haunting took place here - do keep in mind when you visit this ravine that the area is still believed to be haunted...
What is characteristic of this narrow ravine is the rowan which grows on top almost covering the ravine like a roof - creating some mystical light in the ravine, which adds to the experience.
Looks like fun, eh?
To reach the beautiful waterfall - well, one of the waterfalls in the ravine, as it has got several waterfalls further up, one has to wade the river or hold onto chains and ropes. I find it best to visit this waterfall wearing my Wellington boots and just wade in. But the chains on the ravine walls sure add to the thrill of visiting Nauthúsagil.
In one place you will have to bypass a very small waterfall in Nauthúsaá river, and that is when the chains and rope come in handy (see my photo above). It must have been difficult going any further before the rope was put in - so a big thanks to the farmers who made it easier for us visiting the ravine.
The waterfall in Nauthúsagil ravine
Spending some time by this hidden waterfall will for sure make you feel like you have stepped into another world - the world of the Hidden People of Iceland.
Now, if you want to read the ghost story of the ribald brothers, who lived at Nauthús farm and have been haunting this area since 1777, then I refer you to my travel-blog the Mystical Nauthusagil Ravine in South-Iceland & its beautiful Waterfalls.
You have at least two options for exiting Nauthúsagil ravine and our guide took the group through the more challenging exit, with ropes to help you ascend. I stood at the top of the ravine and filmed them...
I love hidden away waterfalls in ravines and gorges and on this guided tour, you will see 2 beautiful waterfalls in mysterious ravines.
That is why I chose the Thorsmork Valley | Super Jeep Day Tour as I knew it would be right up my alley :)
The larger Midgard Adventure super jeep
I am sure that you will get a warm welcome at the Midgard Adventure's Base Camp. I saw an even bigger super jeep parked outside when we got back, for a larger group. They offer several guided tours apart from the one exploring Þórsmörk and the canyons, and I plan on joining many more of their tours this summer and next winter.
Midgard Adventure also offers accommodation and has got a café, bar, and a restaurant at their base camp in Hvolsvöllur town. Do pay them a visit and let a professional guide take you into the highland of Iceland.
And a new addition to the attractions in Hvolsvöllur town is the Lava Centre, which I recommend visiting.
I was elated after this wonderful day and I must agree with the words of my fellow-blogger Mike, who wrote after joining Midgard Adventures Mystery Super Jeep Tour | South Coast or the Highland tour: "What a difference a single day makes to the mindset" :)
Have a lovely time visiting the beautiful Þórsmörk and the mystical canyons :)