Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hveragerði, Kerið, Þjórsárdalur

Photos: (1) Hveragerði; (2) Kerið; (3) Highland feeling with Háifoss; (4) Campsite Sandártunga with Hekla; (5) Hekla, snowy and ashen; (6) Camping at Sandártunga

I’m awake at 5:45 and the sun is shining. It’s too good to be true! Iceland has been having a horrible summer so far – cold and rainy and this just might be the first sunny day of the season, just for me! By 7:30am it’s 17°C (63°F). There’s no wind either, so I relax in front of the tent and have breakfast. It’s time to move on and see something new today.

After breakfast I get in my silver racecar and decide not to stop until I’m past Reykjavik. It’s a always a bit chaotic driving through the suburbs but the roads are well-marked and it’s Sunday and there’s not much traffic at all. Good thing, because my cell phone rings and it’s my friend Súsanna. Tomorrow is a holiday here and many Icelanders don’t have to work. Súsanna drove out into the countryside for the weekend and tonight we plan to meet at a campsite and hike together to Háifoss tomorrow.

My first real stop is Hveragerði. There’s a lot I haven’t seen in this little town yet. Since it’s so close to Reykjavík it’s one of those places that is easy to overlook. Just last winter I had a look here for the first time and saw that there is plenty to do and discover. And their swimming pool is wonderful. But no time for swimming just yet. Although I don’t have a clue of what I came here to see, I end up parking near the geothermal park. I peek through the fence and see hot springs bubbling and fumaroles steaming and decide to have a look. Hveragerði is the only town in Iceland where steaming holes from the earth can be found right downtown. The geothermal activity also makes the town prone to earthquakes, and during one just a few years ago, a whole new geothermal area opened up in town. The town is know for its greenhouses, which are heated by the volcanic hot springs. In such greenhouses, Iceland can grow a number of fruits and vegetables, and no longer has to import such produce. Tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers are among the local products available, as well as carrots and potatoes. Today I also learn that Iceland might one day soon have bananas, and I admire the banana trees in the small greenhouse at the entrance as I have a quick cup of coffee. The lady tells me the town had banana trees several years ago already and they were just ready to produce bananas (which only happens after the tree is a few years old), but the trees were infected with bugs. In an attempt to rid the trees for the bugs, the trees themselves were killed and the town of Hveragerði had to start all over. These new trees could produce bananas as early as net year already, so it might be nice to visit again and have a look. As I leave, the kind lady running the place here allows me to take her picture as she sits in the sun doing her knitting.

Time to leave Hveragerði. Although there is lots more to do and see, it is indeed so close to Reykjavík that I will be back soon. My next stop today is Kerið – a volcanic crater lake. Although I’ve passed this spot many times, I’ve never stopped here. Today it’s 20°C (68°F) with a clear blue sky, and the parking lot is absolutely full. This caldera is roughly 3,000 years old, it has steep walls and a bright aquamarine lake in the bottom, colored this way due to minerals in the soil. I walk all along the rim, and then down to the lake at the bottom. I heard that Björk played a concert here once. It’s incredibly beautiful here and despite all the people, I’m glad I stopped.

I spend the next few hours in the car, first looking for a short hiking trail near Laugavatn that doesn’t seem to exist and second, looking for the waterfall Brúarfoss. After finding myself on back roads in a cottage recreation area, I ask a few Icelanders out for a walk and even they can’t really tell me where I should go. I give up since I really don’t like the area much anyway, and drive on to the area where I’m to meet Súsanna later.

I stop to make some lunch at Skaftholtsréttir, which is the place for this region where the sheep that have grazed wild all summer are rounded up every autumn. The weather has gotten quite windy and it’s a bit difficult to keep my food on the picnic table.

The drive down road 32 is absolutely beautiful, this is one of my favorite roads in Iceland through the region of Þjórsárdalur valley. It’s green and lush with the river Þjórsá meandering through it. High mountains rise in the near distance, with Búrfell mountain and the volcano Hekla dominating the landscape. Búrfell is a popular name for mountains in Iceland, since the word describes its form. Búrfell is always a flat-topped mountain with a small peak. Hekla has a lot of snow yet on top, but it’s gray from the recent volcano eruptions.

The road climbs in altitude, the vegetation becomes sparse and I’m in the highlands. Although there is a lot to do here (and I’ve done most of it several times before), I only stop this time at Hjálparfoss, a picturesque waterfall. Up here, the weather is harsh – cold and windy as compared to the mild and warm temperatures in the valley. After an extensive photo session, where none of the photos really turn out, I head back down the valley to the campsite Sandártunga.

The campsite is quiet, although it’s a holiday weekend. The individual sites are isolated by trees, so each camper has a bit of privacy. Only a handful of Icelanders are here and seemingly no foreigners. The sun is shining, and it’s warm as I set up my tent. Súsanna soon arrives and sets up hers as well. We start the evening with a walk along one of the several marked trails. The weather is so beautiful that we even lie in the grass a bit in the evening sun. After dinner we take another walk. It’s just too beautiful to go to bed and the evening sun is shining right on our tents. We sit for a long time at the picnic table chatting until it gets chilly and is time for bed.