North-central Iceland’s attraction to tourists revolves primarily around two areas: Akureyri, for being “the capital of the north”, and Húsavík, which has exceptional whale watching tours. Sadly, the wonderful stuff in between these two towns is often completely neglected. However, there is a tour that can introduce you to quite a number of these little treasures.
Grapevine’s photographer and I flew up to Akureyri for the “Lake Myvatn is Natural Magic” tour. We were greeted at the airport by Trausti, a jovial and informative freelance guide who’s been in the business since 2007. While part of what he does is offer private tours for visiting VIPs, he told us that the Mývatn tour has been popular, especially in the winter.
Travelling with us in Trausti’s van were three elderly Australians and a quiet Canadian photographer. Trausti was anything but quiet, and made for the perfect guide—having grown up in Akureyri he knows the surroundings like the back of his hand. He provided interesting commentary (including a brief explanation of the aluminium smelters vs. exporting electricity debate) peppered with forgivably corny jokes, kept the mood lively, and answered questions faithfully.
WATERFALL OF THE GODS
Our first stop was just outside Akureyri, at Gallerí Surtla—a converted barn where handmade felt products are sold. In the next barn, we were able to witness the use of an automatic, laser-guided cow milker from France, which I personally found pretty cool.
After that, we were off to Goðafoss. Trausti explained that the name, “waterfalls of the gods”, originates from when Iceland officially converted to Christianity, and the newly saved Icelanders threw their graven images of Óðinn and Þór into this waterfall. It’s a spectacular site, but what struck me was the contrast between it and Gullfoss. At the latter, you will find a large tourist shop and a restaurant; at Goðafoss, you’ll find a waterfall. It was refreshing to be able to enjoy this natural wonder without being reminded that we were all tourists.
Moving along, our next major stop was Lake Mývatn, and if you haven’t seen this place, you’re missing out. Stand on a tall enough hill, as we did, and you’ll see how positively Tolkienesque this volcanically and glacially created lake is—cone-shaped hills, giant craters (created by hot lava meeting cold water and subsequently exploding, we learned) and hundreds of tiny little pools along the lake’s edges gives this place a surreal beauty; the lack of any major souvenir shop helped preserve it.
DIMMUBORGIR: NOT JUST A BLACK METAL BAND
After about half an hour there, we were off to Dimmuborgir. Now, for most of my life, Dimmuborgir was a black metal band. But it’s also a frankly mind-bending maze of lava pillars and winding paths that you can easily get lost in. It’s also home to the famed Icelandic Yule Lads and their mother, the half-troll Grýla. We were told that every Christmastime, Icelandic farmers from the surrounding area dress up as the Yule Lads and provide terror and joy for visiting children. We were also told that it’s not unusual to “see things” that you might not expect to see—one American tourist allegedly saw the ghost of John F. Kennedy sitting on a rock and reading a book. Trausti did not know what book it had been.
Once our stay was finished, we stopped briefly at a number of places—the natural geothermal vents of Hverir, the enormous crater Víti (literally, “hell”) and the naturally formed jacuzzi-in-a-cave of Grjótagjá. All of this was very nice, but it paled in comparison to our final stop before heading back to Akureyri: the Mývatn Nature Bath.
KEEP IT LIKE A SECRET
On my first trip to Iceland, in 1998, the Blue Lagoon was little more than the lagoon itself and a tiny shack for selling admission and ice cream. Today, it is a full-fledged spa, replete with its very own eponymous cocktail. I am of course not speaking badly of the Blue Lagoon—there’s a time and a place for the luxury the place provides, and it will always be a staple of Icelandic tourism—but the Mývatn Nature Bath was pretty much exactly what the Blue Lagoon used to be over a decade ago: understated, low key, and simple.
As the photographer and I floated in the steaming hot water, listening to the excited conversations of a group of Danish tourists, I couldn’t help feeling as though I maybe didn’t want to write about this tour after all; that I wanted to keep this to myself, preserved in time, remaining a humble attraction that stands on the strength of the natural wonders it provides. But in the end, I decided to share the secret with you. Because I’m generous like that.
‘The Lake Myvatn is Natural Magic tour’ is available year-round, costing 200 Euros in the winter, 212 Euros from March 24 to June 14 and August 21 to October 26, and 228 Euros from June 16 to August 20 . Tours are held daily all summer long. For more information, call 570 3000 or visit their website at www.airiceland.is/day-tours/iceland/lake-myvatn
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