It was with some trepidation that our crew set out to bathe in as many natural geothermal pools in South Iceland as we could manage in three days. It’s now common knowledge that some locals have become disgruntled at their secret hot spots becoming not-so-secret. And that is fair enough. The 2010 publication of Jón G. Snæland and Þóra Sigurbjörnsdóttir’s guidebook ‘Thermal Pools in Iceland’—which details the location of most if not all of Iceland’s hidden hot pots—was indeed met with some frustration by locals, protective of their “secret pools.”
Somewhat sheepishly armed with our very own copy of the forbidden tome, we set off determined to enjoy these thermal springs in a respectful, “non-touristy” manner.
How to get there: Heading east on route 1, pass Hveragerði and then the river Varmá. Turn right at the road with a farm on the corner (Vellir). Keep driving until you reach a red house (nb: this is private property! Be kind!). Go a bit further down the road until you see a clearing where you can leave your car. Climb over the barbed fence, and trek through a boggy marsh until you see steam rising and a pool- you’ve reached Opnur!
Treacherous factor: Finding this pool is not for the faint hearted – wear appropriate footwear as you will be walking through mud. Mud that likes to hold onto your foot and not let go. Also, the area is surrounded by either barbed or electric fences. You have been warned!
Water temp: on the tepid side- definitely not warm, but not cold. The bottom is algae filled. You will sink into the floor, but it is a nice sensation.
Change room: Nope! The ground will most likely be freezing, muddy and wet. A friend held a towel around me while I changed, and I used her head as a hook for all my clothes. Thanks friend!
Tips: While this isn’t the easiest or warmest of thermal springs to sink your booty into, it is worth the effort. The experience is unique and things always feel better when you’ve worked hard to achieve them (don’t forget that, fellow generation Y-ers). Please remember this is on private property– don’t leave anything behind.
How to get there: This pool is in a valley between Lambafellsheiði (to the west) and to the east, the mountain Raufarfell. Drive on route 1, and exit on road 242. Veer left to pass the camping grounds until you reach the end of the road and a few summer houses. Walk for about 15-20 minutes along a river where you soon should sight a concrete hut. Walk past this hut and the pool will soon be visible.
Treacherous factor: An easy walk, though there is a small river to cross and a few rocks to scramble down.
Water temp: ‘Warm’. The closer you get to the hot water pipe, the balmier the water temperature. There are also a few little streams coming down the rocks, which are hot. Coming from the Indian Ocean, this was a pleasant temperature for me. Others may find it a bit too chilly for winter. Toughen up!
Change room: Yes. Sheltered but a touch dirty. There were used nappies and sanitary napkins on the floor. Please remember we are all visitors to this pool – take your rubbish with you!
Tips: The scenery is amazing, and the pool is big and deep enough to even get a spot of exercise in. It is worth braving the tepid temperature for. In summer this pool is swamped by tourists, so make the most of winter’s desolation and enjoy a dip.
How to get there: Make your way to Flúðir, then turn off onto road 344. You will see a church farm called Hruni, where you will then turn onto road 345. Drive until you see a small parking area with a ‘no camping’ sign. Someone has helpfully graffitied ‘Hrunalaug’ onto it for all y’all wayward tourists. Walk for five minutes to the pool.
Treacherous factor: An easy walk, though there is a small river to cross and a bit of mud.
Water temp: Excellently hot. Perfect bath temperature – the kind you always try to achieve but never do.
Change room: Yes. There is a small building which leads into the ‘standing’ pool on one side, and to the larger pool on the other.
Tips: This is on private property. A gentleman comes once a week to clean up after pool users. It has been said the vegetation around the pool is being ruined. Please be extra courteous when bathing in this delightful area.
How to get there: This is very close to the tourist attraction at Geysir. Drive past Geysir, turning left onto road F333. Head along a gravel road towards a church (Haukadalskirkja). Keep an eye out on your left for a wood hut. You can park your car along the road near the hut. It is then a 30m walk to the pool.
Treacherous factor: Bit muddy, but the pool is close to the road and very easy to find.
Water temp: Delicious. A bit mossy but your skin will love it.
Change room: Yes. The wooden hut has a few stools in it and shelter. Alternatively, you can de-robe behind one of the dense fir trees, and leave your clothes hanging up on them.
Tips: Apparently there is a second pool close to Kualaug. Why not try and find it? Fun and possible treachery guaranteed!
How to get there: There are a number of pools in the Lundarreykjadalur valley. Shortly before you reach a farm, you will see a pump house to your right. A little below this house is a track by which you will see a river. There is a red metal pipe bridge that crosses the river – it is safe to cross but might be a bit too ‘adventurous’ for some. Near the river bank are two streams- hot and cold. Follow the hot stream until you come across a pool at a swimmable temperature.
Treacherous factor: The bridge looks scarier then it is. This is an easy pool to get to.
Water temp: Variable – use your judgment to find a pool that suits your likes.
Change room: No, but there is a bench to leave your clothes on.
Tips: Worth a re-visit in summer- the cooler water would make for a refreshing dip.
How to get there: This pool is in Hvalfjörður near Hvammsvík. Driving along route 1 from Reykjavik, turn right on road 47. Follow this road until you can turn left near Hvammsvik.
Treacherous factor: Low. Just beautiful Icelandic scenery. Ahhhh.
Water temp: Self-adjustable! There is a hose leading from a well to the pool. You can control the temperature by taking the hose in or out of the pool.
Change room: No, but there is a wooden bench nearby to lay your clothes on.
Tips: The day we visited the hose had been turned off at the faucet and the pool was empty. You might have to get adventurous and find a way to turn the faucet on, then wait for the pool to fill. Worth it!