In this last part of my Mývatn in North-Iceland series Part I-IV I am going to show you the extraordinary geothermal areas and lava fields by Mt. Námafjall and Krafla. This area is only some 5 km away from Mývatn and here you will see a big contrast in the landscape and vegetation; changing from the green and vegetated Mývatn area to the barren and colourful geothermal landscape of the Krafla area.
Let's first stop at Mt. Námafjall (485 meters above sea level), which is the orange/yellow mountain south of Námaskarð - hovering above the geothermal area Hverarönd. The geothermal area by Mt. Námafjall covers some 4 km2 and is one of Iceland's largest sulphur spring areas.
Hverarönd or Hverir is a barren, high-temperature geothermal area with the biggest fumaroles east of Mt. Námafjall and the whole area is boiling and bubbling and hissing.
This area is sometimes called "eldhús djöfulsins" in Icelandic, or Hell's (Devil's) Kitchen due to the boiling and steaming hot pots and the strong smell of sulphur in the air - coming from the all surrounding steam and fumarole gas, amongst them hydrogen sulfide.
The sulphur fumes can overwhelm you at times there, especially when the wind is strong. Try to stay upwind as the fumes can be toxic and can give you a bad headache and nausea. I once got sulphur poisoning when the wind was so strong that it blew the fumes straight onto my face and it took me 2 days to recover! We don't want that to happen when we are on the road.
The yellow colour you will see in the geothermal areas, f.ex. in my photo above, are sulphur deposits, of which the hot springs produce considerable amounts. Sulphur was mined in Iceland in the olden times, exported, and used in the production of gunpowder.
Now, let's be very careful in this area as it is extremely hot and one can easily get severely burnt if not careful. We want our foreign visitors to be safe here, so don't stray from the marked paths and never go inside a fence.
I always get startled when I see people stepping inside a fence to get better photos - your next step might be inside a hidden mud pool with boiling hot water! I understand the urge to get a little closer to get a better photo or a better look at the mud pools, but it is not worth it.
We Icelanders are warned by our parents from an early age to fear the dangers in Iceland, so we wouldn't even dream of stepping inside a fenced-off geothermal area. We hear horror stories about what happens when people step into hidden mud pools and the skin comes straight off. This has happened way too many times in Iceland. So let's be safe here!
In August 2019 actions were taken to close off some areas to keep people safe and to preserve this delicate area.
Mt. Námafjall is located by ring-road 1 just "behind" the Mývatn area. Right on the other side of Mt. Námafjall is the Blue Lagoon of the North, the Mývatn Nature Baths. This is an extremely volcanic area with Mt. Krafla just a few kilometres away, where the last volcanic eruption took place in 1984.
Mt. Krafla (818 meters above sea level), which is located only a short distance north of Mt. Námafjall and Hverir, is a major volcano, situated on the border of the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North-America. The Krafla caldera is 10 km in diameter and contains one of the Víti craters in Iceland.
I have written another travel-blog on Askja and Víti so that you can see the difference between these two explosion craters. There is a big difference and you can actually swim in the Víti at Askja as it is warm albeit sulphurous.
This Víti at Krafla is called Helvíti or Stóra-Víti - Big Hell. It is an explosion crater formed in 1724 in the Mývatnseldar Fires, which erupted in 1724-1729. Víti is the Icelandic word for Hell as people often believed Hell to be located beneath volcanoes. The explosion crater is filled with a lake, which takes on the most beautiful azure colour in still weather and changes to royal blue when it is windy.
We were able to hike on the top of the rim of Stóra-Víti and visit the colourful geothermal area behind the explosion crater. There the striking geothermal colours are like something out of this world. Just be very careful when you are hiking on the rim as it can be very windy up there and I have seen people all but fly off the rim, yours truly included.
We do not want to end up in the 30-meter deep Hell!
Always be very careful when visiting geothermal areas and stay on the paths. I was quite startled when I saw the couple in the photos above and below!
They had strayed from the path to have a closer look at the colourful geothermal area and to shoot some photos, probably not realising that they were in grave danger.
This hike was closed in August 2019 to preserve this area and to keep people safe.
I understand that they wanted to get closer to the most colourful spot, which you can see in my photo below. And I felt so sorry for them and was worried about their safety. The man was helping the woman up as she was sliding down again. One false step in these boiling geothermal areas can lead you to step through the thin crust and be seriously injured with dreadful burn wounds.
It is impossible to see where boiling hot pots or mud pools are hiding just beneath the crusty surface. This is why we have these paths so that we can visit these beautiful but dangerous areas. So please stay on the paths so nobody will get hurt.
The hike around the Stóra-Víti crater and the geothermal area east of it takes about 50 minutes.
Krafla (818 m) erupted 9 times from the 20th of December 1975 until the 18th of September 1984, giving us Icelanders a lot to think about during the 9 massive fissure eruptions. The last eruption lasted for 2 weeks with a lava flow of 24 sq.km.
During this period the earth was ripped apart by the movements of the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates, creating a fissure with red-hot molten lava welling up. Lava fountains were spewed up to 70 meters high in the air and lit up the sky during the first days of the eruption.
This gave a name to the eruption Kröflueldar or the Krafla Fires. When visiting the Krafla area keep this in mind as it is really calm now, but when will it erupt again? I followed the Krafla Fires on TV back when I was younger and am very aware, during my visits in this area, of the fact that I am walking in a lava field of a massive eruption.
The inhabitants of the close-by populated area by Mývatn were greatly affected both by the 9 years of the Krafla Fires and during the biggest eruption of the Mývatnseldar Fires in the year 1729. That year the lava flowed from Leirhnjúkur all the way to Lake Mývatn destroying 3 farms. Reykjahlíðarkirkja church miraculously escaped the lava flow, called Eldhraun.
When you enter the Krafla area you will notice the Krafla geothermal power station on your left-hand side. It has been operating since 1977, but Krafla erupted at that time, making it dangerous to be in this area, as the eruptions were only 2 km away from the power station. Krafla power station has drilled 33 boreholes, but only half of them are in use. The Visitor Centre of the Krafla power station is open during the summer months.
To get to Krafla you have to pass the Krafla geothermal power station and drive up a steep hill. Here you might actually get stuck behind a truck, of which there are many in this area as this is a working area. The paved hill is steep and these heavy trucks drive very slowly up the hill. I once got stuck behind a heavy truck and it was no fun. If you see a truck on the hill better wait by the power plant for it to pass.
As you get to the top of the hill of the Krafla area, the Leirhnjúkur area is on the left-hand side, a viewpoint on the right-hand side and just a little further is Stóra-Víti explosion crater.
The view from here is amazing, all those colours and steam coming up from everywhere. And there is a lot of activity and traffic, especially to Leirhnjúkur and Stóra-Víti crater.
Leirhnjúkur is yet another very colourful geothermal area with brilliant geothermal colours, which is really like stepping into another world, there are such big contrasts here and moon-like landscape. Actions were taken in August 2019 to keep people safer here and to preserve this delicate area.
At Leirhnjúkur you will walk amidst steamy lava with hidden boiling hot springs, colourful bubbling mud-pools and a great number of fumaroles, extraordinary lava formations, lava fissures and multi-coloured hills. Here you will see hills which have the brightest yellow, orange and red colours.
Mt. Leirhnjúkur itself is a yellowish, red clay coloured tuff mountain which rises 592 meters above sea level with a myriad of hot springs and mud pools by its roots. You might not even know that this is actually a volcano as it rises only ca 50 meters above the ground. The name Leirhnjúkur means Clay Hill and the volcano got its name from the clay.
An easy walk from the parking lot to Mt. Leirhnjúkur takes something like 15 minutes. And from there a trail will lead you through the geothermal area of Leirhnjúkur. The shorter hike takes a little over an hour or so, depending on how many stops you make to take photos, and if you are anything like me then there will be many stops ;)
As always stay on the paths as it is bubbling and boiling all around you and the area beneath is extremely hot and dangerous. You might melt the sole of your shoes if not careful here and get burnt.
Notice how exotic looking the opalescent blue oblong lake is with the contrasts of the pitch-black lava field behind it and the pink-orange lava clay which frames it! There are many such sights at Leirhnjúkur.
This area is just out of this world and the colours here are amazing, so don't miss it while visiting Iceland. I try to visit Leirhnjúkur once a year and am always blown away by the extraordinary lava landscape here at the geothermal area of Krafla.
Further on lies Gjástykki, which belongs to the same volcanic zone as Leirhnjúkur, the northern part of the Krafla fissure swarm. At Gjástykki you will see the colourful and brittle lava formations from the Krafla volcano-tectonic eruptions in 1975-1984.
The tectonic plates are active in this area and Gjástykki and the whole Krafla area is located on the border of the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates. Gjástykki lava field was created in the years 1981-1984, but during these years the eruptions were the most active in this northernmost part of Krafla.
Here you will see steam coming from the lava in the 2-5 km wide rift valley, which was ripped apart during the Krafla Fires. The 2 geothermal areas in the south of Gjástykki still contain geothermal heat creating the steam.
At Gjástykki I saw lava which looked like a dinosaur egg - one of the eggs was open and inside it was filled with the most vibrant lava colours - it looked like a piñata :) Lava never ceases to amaze me and I was so happy to be able to visit Gjástykki at last.
Here at Gjástykki, I saw the most beautiful colourful and shiny lava I have ever seen above ground in Iceland. Such lava is most often only seen down in the lava caves.
The details were amazing, I would have needed a whole day at Gjástykki just to roam around and have a look at the different lava formations and take photos.
Gjástykki can be visited with a guide on a tour called the Wilderness Lava Walk from Lake Mývatn. I joined this tour and have written a special travel-blog with a lot more information and photos a Unique Lava Walk through the Colourful Lava Field at Gjástykki in North-Iceland.
Now this concludes my journey around the major sights - in my opinion - of the Mývatn and Krafla area on which I have now written 5 travel-blogs. I hope you have enjoyed travelling in this area with me :)
There are many interesting guided tours to and of Mývatn, f.ex:
Mývatn Sight-Seeing Tour and Hot Springs with Flight and many many more
To reach Mt. Námaskarð and the Krafla area you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up here in a couple of days.
I have added several travel-blogs about the Mývatn area:
Have a fantastic time in the beautiful Mývatn area and I hope that my travel-blogs will prove to be helpful in planning your Iceland trip :)