This stop is one that I had looked forward to for several years. Nicknamed the Capital of North Iceland, Akureryi was settled in the 9th century by Helgi Eyvindarson and is still an important fishing center. It also was one of three bases where the allies were based during World War II. Amazingly, even though it’s in the north part of the country, the harbor doesn’t ice up in the winter!
Our guide Thor picked us up in Akureyri and before taking us out to the scenic tour of the day, he drove us around the older area of town where his grandparents had lived. He showed us the first hospital in the town as well as his Grandpa’s prized Soviet era Jeep. It was a lot of fun to hear his stories about his grandparents, parents, and even about him growing up in Akureyri.
From town, we headed to Godafoss and lake Myvatn. These were on my ‘must do’ list for northern Iceland and now it is a wish come true. Flowing from the river Skjalfandafljot (I dare you to try and pronounce that!), Godafoss falls over 40 feet down and is 99 feet wide. The sound is stunning and relaxing, if you can ignore all the ooohs and ahhhs from all of us tourists. It is a beautiful fall.
From Godafoss, we move on to Lake Myvatn as we listen to stories from our guide about spending his summers here with his grandparents on their sheep farm. As if Godafoss wasn’t beautiful and spectacular enough, Lake Myvatn is a beautiful blue with natural hot waters that many consider to be healing. Thor’s grandparents had a small sheep farm at the base of this mountain and he talked about his fond memories of summers there.
The lake is 2300 years old, having been created by a volcanic eruption at that time. This beautiful blue volcanic lake is the fourth largest lake in Iceland but is also very shallow. Thor told us that brown trout, up to 6 pounds, live in the lake. It was almost fantasy looking and you kind of expected magical creatures to appear.
There are pseudo craters around the lake which look like volcano craters but actually they were created by the bubbling hot water coming up through the lava during the eruption thousands of years ago. There’s a nice walking trail up to the craters and overlooking the lake.
Outside of Reykjavik, we had visited Thingvellir where the Parliament met starting in 871 at the time of settlement, and this is also where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet (and are currently pulling apart a few centimeters at a time). But what we didn’t expect near Akureyri was to once again visit the tectonic plates. This time, the ground and rock makeup is different than in southern Iceland where the plates meet. It is very very clear where the plates meet and divide. This was very cool!
Underneath the chasm of the plates, are caves with beautiful blue water that is too hot to take a swim in, but a lot of fun to see. On this very cold day, it was nice and toasty warm in the cave.
The Dimmuborgir lava formations are nearby which were formed at the same time as Lake Myvatn. Dimmuborgir is famous for legends and stories about Gryla, a half-troll, half-ogre and her husband Leppaluddi. Like many Icelandic folklores, it doesn’t end well for somebody and in this case it’s the children of Iceland. Gryla and her giant pet cat liked to eat children over Christmas time. This fable was to encourage children to complete their chores of knitting and sewing before Christmas in order to avoid being eaten by Gryla and her cat! According to the story, Gryla and Lappaludi had thirteen sons, also trolls of course. And is the nature of trolls, the thirteen sons would harass Icelanders, one at a time, for the 13 days before Christmas. One son might harass the livestock, while another would steal all the skyr, a beloved yogurt treat in Iceland. And then there was Window Peeper, who was a burglar. Icelanders love their folklore, and they usually have some sort of moral to the story such as scaring kids so they wouldn’t wander out in the freezing cold Icelandic winters, or to do their chores, or mind their parents. What always strikes me is they are so scary that I wonder how stubborn these children must have been to have to go so far with over the top tales. Nowadays, during Christmas season, locals dress up like the trolls and are gentler, kinder creatures who bring gifts to the children, but will continue to steal the beloved Skyr.
If you look carefully, there are trolls everywhere at Dimmuborgir — including a married couple having an argument.
One of the ‘highlights’ of the Icelandic highland tours is the stinky smelly sulphuric fields where you can watch mud boiling up, or cones of rocks blowing steam — and blowing some of the most disgusting smells in the world. You can see in the background the mountains devoid of vegetation due to the chemicals being spewed. The temperature is above 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Barrett and I reluctantly wandered over to the fields, while trying to breath in-between steam bursts because to breath that crap in was hard on our lungs and hard on our vomit reflex. We took some pictures, looked at each other and said, ‘done.’ Not a highlight for me, but I’ll tell you, those Asian tourists were all over it. Maybe there aren’t any stinky Sulphur places in China — I dunno.
We made a quick stop overlooking the Eyjafjordur, one of the longest fjords in Iceland. The fjord is about 37 miles long! It is a popular place for divers, (I’m not one), due to it’s hydrothermal vent field, which means WARM WATER while diving! In the cold climate of Iceland, that has to be fantastic.
And then we ended our day at the Akureyri Botanical Gardens, enjoying a cup of tea at the coffee house and walking through the gardens.
A lot of the flowers were coming to the end of their lives, but we found so many beautiful flower plants and this one very unique green pad that looks kind a like a lily pad but is actually some sort of tuber.
Tomorrow we arrive in the small village of Isafjordur, population 2600. Our shipload of 2350 will overrun the small village, and we will escape town with Helga from Isafjordur tours and try to beat the tour buses to Dyandi Waterfall.