Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Northwest Iceland: Húsavík → The Mývatn District 15 May

15th May 2008
Húsavík → The Mývatn District

via: Route 87

The journey from Húsavík to Mývatn is short, just within 2 hours of easy drive. Hence we have half a day time to visit some of the attractions around the Mývatn District before checking in the hotel at the main town, Reykjahlíð.

Vistas of the Drive

Route 87

Lake Mývatn is just right ahead.

The first sight of The Mývatn district, an area full of geothermal activities.

The Mývatn District
The Mývatn basin sits squarely on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The 37 sq-km Lake Mývatn is the fourth largest lake in Iceland, of averages depth of only 2.5m which also ominously means 'midge lake' is more than a lake - it's the centrepiece of a rich volcanic area of lava flows, geothermal activity, craters and rock formations that epitomise Iceland's violent geological character. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and rootless vents (pseudocraters). In 1974, the lake and the surrounding wetlands are protected as a nature reserve called The Mývatn-Laxá Nature Conservation Area.

The road leading to Námafjall Ridge

View of The Mývatn District and Lake Mývatn

A glimpse of how Iceland harness the energy from the ground beneath. What you see here is steam from the condensation process not pollutant gases.

Námafjall Ridge
Produced by a fissure eruption, the ridge sits squarely on the spreading zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and is dotted with steaming vents. Námafjall, a geothermal area with boiling mudpools and steaming fumaroles.

This is Námafjall Ridge. For a while, I thought I was on an alien planet. The smoke here is not steam, it's sulphur dioxide, the culprit of the pungent rotten egg smell that fills the air here. By now, I have gotten used to the smell because tap water here has a same faint smell too, particularly stronger when you are in a hot shower.

The steaming fumaroles

Getting some heat to beat the cold 6°C drizzle. This is the contradictory beauty of Iceland. The steam is not exactly scalding but still I do not have the guts to put my hands near the vents. The intimidating loud hissing sound makes me feel as if it's going to blow up anytime.

Boiling mudpools. Imagine the sound of your pot of boiling melted chocolates extrapolate hundredth times, that's what you would expect to hear when you are here.

Looking beyond from where I stand, these stationery tornados are the steam columns generated by the Kröflustöó Power Station located over the Krafla volcanic region.

Krafla is an 818m high volcano but the name is now also used for the entire volcanic region. Krafla is one of Iceland's most spectacular and most active volcanoes. During the 1970's and 1980's, it became famous for its "Krafla Fires" - curtains of lava fountains from a system of fissures inside the huge caldera.

The road leading into this volcanic region. The dark rocks by the side are of volcanic nature - lava rocks.

Kröflustöó Power Station
Development for harnessing of geothermal steam at Krafla began with trial boreholes in 1974. Work commenced in summer 1975 on sinking of production wells and construction of the power station and a 132 kV transmission line to Akureyri, the main town in north Iceland. Various initial difficulties were encountered in exploration and drilling for steam, largely due to seismic activity which caused corrosive magma vapours to enter the geothermal system, destroying the borehole linings. A series of nine volcanic eruptions began near the station on December 20, 1975 and lasted until September 1984. Since then, seismic and volcanic impacts on operations have greatly diminished. To date, there are 17 of boreholes are used.

Below are the shots of the tourist information board on the facts of the power station:

The land area of the power station and the positions of the 17 boreholes are.

To what extent these boreholes are drilled deep into the ground to harness the energy beneath. Looks like I'm standing on a huge magma chamber.

The borehole specifications.

Condenser or cooling tower of the power station.

Halfway up to Viti, a glimpse of the view of Kröflustöó Power Station and its surroundings.

Sjálfskapar Viti
In icelandic, this 320m-wide explosion crater means "home-made hell". It's only one of many vents along the Krafla central volcano, where a destructive eruption began in 1724. The series of eruptions that built it lasted for five years, and although activity has continued in spurts to the present day, Viti is now considered inactive. It contains a geothermal lake of mineral-rich, sulphurous, opaque blue water, which is maintained at a comfortable temperature for swimming.

This is the first sight of the crater after a short walk from the carpark. The lake is still frozen. To appreciate the magnitude of this crater in this picture, click on the photo to enlarge it. On the right just above the slope, there is a small black dot. That is a person walking on it. Magnificent indeed.

Allow me to show some self-indulgence here. This is one of my favourite photo taken. Looks like a melancholy scene taken out of MTV. We are going anti-clockwise around the crater, by following the yellow wood markings erected on the ground. We didnt complete the round eventually as the weather gets worse and it's freezing up there because of the wind and rain.

Looking back to car park, where we started.

Looking back as we move higher.....the path gets narrower and slopes on both sides of the path gets steeper.....

I feel like I'm top of the world. The background is the vast Krafla volcanic region, sleeping for the time being. The car park is somewhere in the centre of this picture. This is the breaking point where I start to hesitate of moving forward. I'm fearful for the wet loose soil on both sides that may give way to my weight.

The unbelievably quiet Krafla Volcanic Region. Krafla has been quite active throughout history. It has erupted 29 times. Its last eruption was in 1984. In 1724, Krafla began an eruption that lasted for five years. This eruption was called "The Myvatn Fires."

This martian-like landscape is just right behind the crater. Patches of pale yellow are the sulfur deposits from the steaming vents.

This picture proves that ice and fire can co-exist. Thick layer and chunks of snow seems unaffected by the steam oozing out from the ground on the right.

The forested lava headland covered with wildflowers and birch and spruce trees. This is a good place to observe Great Northern Divers and their nesting sites. We reached in the late afternoon 4.30pm. The wind and intermittent rain gets stronger any minute.

Crystal clear lake.

This place is called the Kálfaströnd Coastline, on the southern shore of the Höfði peninsula on Lake Mývatn. These interesting formations is called Klasar (lava pillar).

This is the most notorious living thing in Höfði. These mosquito-like non-biting midges are apparently attracted to carbon dioxide (emitted when people exhale) and hence the clouds of them will gather around your body, particularly the face, which they will attack the nose and mouth. Luckily they only reside near the water.

Great Northern Divers. Their calls are particularly chilling....

I think this path will be exceptionally beautiful during spring.

This is the view of the Lake Mývatn on the highest spot in Höfði. The 'sand dunes' on the lake are called pseudocraters, our next and final destination for today.

View of the surrounding on the highest spot in Höfði.

These are the lava rocks at the entrance of Höfði. In general, the landscape of Iceland is mainly made up of lava rocks.

Close up on the moss growing on the lava rock.

The pseudocraters are formed as molten lava from the craters east of the lake flowed across existing lava fields and into the water. Trapped subsurface water boiled and exploded in steam eruptions through the lava surface, forming small scoria cones and craters.

Close up of the craters.

Frozen part of Lake Mývatn.

This is the aerial view of the pseudocraters from a postcard. Impressive.

Accomodation: Hotel Reykjahlíð

Hotel Reykjahlíð is a cute 9-room hotel that stands at the shore of Lake Mývatn. It is managed by a friendly couple who stayed nearby. The Icelandic husband is the chef of the restaurant and the wife, Maria manages the operations. Maria is a Swedish and conversing with her is definitely enjoyable, particularly when she gives an indepth account of a local Icelandic livelihood and how she learns to adapt to the harsh Icelandic winter when she first came.

I must say that this hotel is one of the best place that I have stayed in Iceland, peaceful, cozy, comfortable and most importantly, it has the splendid view of the lake.

This is the humble reception of the hotel. Maria will lock the hotel main door when she leaves for the day at 5pm. Guests are given the key to the main door and those who arrive late can call the number left at the door for check in.

This is the restaurant on the ground floor. As there is no kettle in the room, the beverage table by the door is where guests can help themselves to the tea or coffee at night.

The stunning view of the lake from the dining table.

Room layout. One window faces the lake and the other faces the Reykjahlíð village. Good view.

A view from the room.

The horses on the farmland next to the hotel.

Night view from the room. These 2 pictures are taken at 11.30pm. I wake up a few hours later to see if the sun really set. But it's still the same sight, the sky didnt get dark and the sun simply stop at the horizon.

The farmland and the lake, under the shine of the midnight sun

Reykjahlíð village, under the shine of the midnight sun

Click to see next - Northwest Iceland: The Mývatn District 16 May


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