Our exploration of the Diamond Circle continued on Day 6 of our road trip. We spent the first part of the day in the Krafla volcano area (the Krafla caldera is 10 km (6 miles) in diameter) . The area was volcanically active for the past three thousand years. There are several geothermal areas, lava fields, caves with warm water, craters, etc. Given our limited time in the area, we couldn’t possibly see everything, so the decision was made to see the main attractions and leave sights off the beaten path for our next Iceland visit.
We started with Hverir geothermal area under the Námafjall mountain. The area is visible from the Ring Road and very close to Lake Myvatn, so it is no wonder that the site is very touristy. During the day, buses with tourists were arriving and leaving constantly, but at night there were just a few people. When we visited, the site was free to enter, but now the owners charge 800 kr (around $7) entrance fee. Tourism has skyrocketed in Iceland, so the owners are afraid that the site may get ruined, thus the fee.
The geothermal area is not very big and can be explored in an hour. There is also a hike to the top of the Námafjall mountain, but we didn’t have time for that because we planned three more hikes that day.
The first hike was supposed to be up to the Viti (“Hell”) crater lake just a few minutes away from the geothermal area (by the way, there are at least two crater lakes named Viti in Iceland, the other one we know of is near the Askja volcano in the highlands). I was expecting a long hike up to the top but it turned out that there is a road that goes up there, a nice surprise that saved us about an hour. The crater has a lake with turquoise water of a more greenish hue than the Kerið crater lake we saw on Day 1.
The second hike was to and around Leirhnjúkur lava fields. A 5 km (3-mile) round trip hike led us through geothermal hot spots, lava formations, bubbling mud pools, and snow covered fields. Very eclectic and, if not for many tourists around, its beauty would be completely unearthly.
After the hike we were hungry, but there was no place to eat nearby. We needed to go back to Myvatn for food (about a 15-minute drive). On our way we drove under a power plant pipe that curved to make a sort of gate over the road. It looked kind of cool and unusual.
There are several places around Myvatn that offer good food (according to my research). We wanted something that is not totally fast food and preferably the place that should be free from tourists. We went to eat at Daddi’s Pizza. The place is kind of off the Ring Road and not at a tourist attraction site. It was almost deserted at the time we came, and the pizza was absolutely amazing. We ordered a large pizza (medium by North American standards) with smoked trout and pine nuts as toppings. It was one of the best pizzas we had in our lives. Total cost: pizza + coffee = $32. As a bonus, we got to watch a World Cup game on the big screen TV at the cafe.
Next, we went to a hike to Mount Rauðhólar (Red Hills). It is a 5 km (3 mi) loop that includes many interesting sites such as Hljóðaklettar with basalt columns, cliffs, honeycomb weathering, caves, and the Red Mountain itself. On the park’s map that trail was marked as challenging and Alex was afraid that it could be too much for us because he thought that yesterday’s hike to Dettifoss and Sellfoss was marked as easy even though it was certainly not easy. I found the map for Dettifoss hike and showed him that it was also marked as challenging. This ended Alex’s doubts. Just for the reference, here is the definition for challenging hikes in Iceland:
Routes and trails which may include lengthy rough, difficult sections, and obstructions such as unbridged brooks or small rivers, loose gravel, steep sections, and so forth.
The road we took to get to the hiking site was the same road that leads to Dettifoss from the west bank (the day before we took the east road). Up to the turn to Dettifoss, the road was a very good paved road (even newly paved). After that the road became an F-road, unpaved and uneven with only one lane for both directions. Once in a while we saw signs with a letter “M” at the side of the road and were trying to figure out what they might mean: “Mind the gap/mud/lava/boulders/tractors/rivers”, “More of this ahead”, or “My, you got too far”. Finally, we realized that they marked the spots where one car could pass another (in the same or opposite direction).
It turned out that the hike was not difficult though rather lengthy with uneven terrain, but we kind of got used to that, since many hikes we took in Iceland were like that. The sites we saw on the hike were amazing and, with good weather and absolutely no other people around, we had a fabulous time.
Our last destination for the day was Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls from the west side. Despite the fact that the road to the west side is much better and the hike itself is easier, it is not as popular as the east side. The east side has two important advantages: better views and no spraying water from the waterfall. Even without any rain we quickly got wet and it was extremely difficult to take pictures because camera lenses were constantly sprayed with water.
The hike from Dettifoss to Sellfoss was not difficult, but the view of Selfoss was not as good as on the other side. Alex decided to hike all the way to the beginning of Selfoss but I decided to skip it. When Alex came back he told me I was right to stop where I did.
By the time we were back to civilization it was too late for any type of food place to be open, so we ate more of our Lara bars. We also found a geothermal cave with hot water inside (called Grjótagjá), but it was too hot for bathing and too dark for picture taking, so we decided to visit it the next morning.
Here is the map of the places we visited on Day 6.