According to our guidebook Akureyri has only about 1,000 hours of sunshine annually. We really lucked out. The entire day we had bright sunshine and blue skies, so important when you are on a tour where everything you want to do and see is outside. We crossed the Arctic Circle to get here, but the climate is remarkably temperate due to prevailing winds from the south. It has already snowed in the mountains that ring the town, but in town it’s a big deal if they get a foot of snow and it readily melts again. When Iceland was at its worst economically, many residents of Iceland immigrated to North America. They gravitated toward Manitoba and North Dakota, which they thought would have a similar climate to what they were used to. Those who settled near Lake Winnipeg, hoped to continue making their living fishing. They were in for a shock. Both the winter and summer temperatures were far more extreme than what they were used to and they didn’t know how to fish on lakes that were frozen over. Some came back.
But on this beautiful day we traveled to the Myvatn Valley to see more of what Iceland is famous for - waterfalls and thermal areas. Myvatn is a shallow lake located in an area of active volcanism, not far from the Krafla volcano that is still quite active, having erupted from 1975-1984. Today the area is best known for the huge number of migratory birds that visit every summer. Some were still here. The lake is named for all the bugs that feed all those birds. Head nets are for sale in all the tourist shops.
We drove through large swaths of flat land that were being farmed. We saw a potato field or two, but mostly farmers grow grass to fodder their sheep and cows during the winter. Because winter is almost here, the sheep were brought back down from the hillsides where they have spent the summer grazing and doing sheep things. Because the weather is surprisingly mild, they didn’t want to be caught. They are far more enthusiastic about living in barns when it is snowing.
The Go∂afoss (the waterfall of the gods in Icelandic) is the most spectacular in the country. It sent up so much spray it was hard to photograph. From there we drove through more and more volcanic looking land to Dimmuborgir (The Gates of Hell), where the lava had cooled in fantastic towers and ridges. There was already a lake here when the volcano erupted and when the lava encountered some of the lake sediment, ensuing steam explosions tore the lava into small pieces which were thrown up into the air, together with some of the lake. We walked through this grim looking forest, once again agreeing with Hollywood that this country has some fantastic scenery for fantastic films. These lava deposits were laid over 2,000 years ago, but vegetation was only beginning to make inroads in this hostile looking spot.
Then we passed some steaming power plants, much like we saw in the geothermal tour in Reykjavik. Here too, everyone bakes their bread in the ground for 24 hours winter and summer. Although few people live here year round, we passed numerous cabins and guest houses. A picturesque campground was on the shore of the lake. Tourism is growing exponentially here, helping to bring unemployment down to 2%, a dramatic improvement after Iceland’s economic meltdown in 2008.
The final stop was in a dramatic looking thermal area. There were steaming vents, bubbling muds pots, and colorful deposits. The area reeked of sulphur.
Today’s tour gave us a good introduction to this northern part of the Island, but leaves a large question unanswered. Until we found this cruise I had visions of spending ten days in Iceland, renting a camper or a car and driving the ring road around the island about an 800 mile drive. But the weather is iffy for an area where most interesting sights are outside and the prices are staggering. With a cruise you can plan ahead and get a general idea of costs. So after four days traveling around Reykjavik and two other stops on the cruise, we have seen sights on about 2/3 of that ring road drive. There are surely many things we missed, but we can imagine that after a while one great waterfall begins to look a lot like another; one thermal area smells a lot like the other. Because everyone speaks great English it would be easy to come back on our own and tour at our own pace. But should we??