My travels around the world

Hverir geothermal area

Iceland

September 2020: Who would have thought this would be possible, that we would travel abroad autumn 2020! But we did! We found an opportunity at the very VERY last minute to travel to Iceland! It meant 1 week in quarantine in a nice little house in middle of nowhere, but with great views! And 2 weeks of travelling around the whole island. And being able to travel here during the Covid time has been such a unique opportunity, with hardly anyone around and being able to experience the amazing nature without disturbances.

And today we are visiting Hverir Geothermal Area. An unreal, out-of-this-world, almost like being on Mars, eerie place to visit. Everything is boiling, bubbling, gurgling... Fumes with the smell of rotten-eggs are emitted from numurous cracks in the ground, and the steam is heading up into the blue sky above. A landscape that is "raw" and intimidating, but utterly beautiful in its own right.

All the photos in the collage below are clickable, so you can view the larger photo.

The Colourful Hverir geothermal area

Iceland

Hverir

Our first view over the Hverir Geothermal Area

We are driving on the Ring Road (or also called Road 1), coming from Mývatn and heading east. From here it is not a long drive to the geothermal area of Hverir. The road leads us through a landscape of barren red earth and zigzags over a pass, and suddenly we see it....

The steam is coming out of the ground on many spots and the smell of sulphur is creeping into our car. It is an out-of-this-world view, or maybe something out of a science fiction movie. But certainly not something you can imagine to be real. And I guess the impression is even more stark this particular day as the sun is ligthing up the steam giving it an even more dramatic and eerie impression.

The zigzag road overlooking Hverir

The zigzag road overlooking Hverir

Map Hverir

But before I continue with my impressions of Hverir, please let me give you an idea where you can find it on the map. Hverir is located in northeastern region of Iceland, just a few kilometers east of Lake Mývatn. It is about 6 hours / 480 kilometres drive north east of Reykjavik, directly at the main Road 1 (also called the Ring Road, and in Icelandic: Ţjóđvegur 1 or Hringvegur). It is part of the Námafjall Geothermal Field, which is one of the largest geothermal areas in the country, and also the most easily accessible.

You actually don't need to take any detour at all to visit Hverir, the parking lot is located directly at the main Road 1. (also called the Ring Road, and in Icelandic: Ţjóđvegur 1 or Hringvegur).

location on the map: 65° 64,179'N, 16° 80,694'W

Hverir with Mt. Námafjall in the background

Hverir with Mt. Námafjall in the background

We drive into the parking area and there are only 2 other cars are parked here today. The car park is relatively large, so I guess normally this would be a rather busy place to visit, but today it feels almost deserted. During this Covid time, there are hardly any travellers around, meaning that we have the major sights almost all to ourselves and are able to experience the beauty of Iceland without any disturbances. And being here almost alone gives an extra dimension to our visit, making this strange place even more intense.

We hop out of the car, while the steam is floating above us. And immediately the smell of sulphur is penetrating my nose. And sulphur, as you might know, resembles the smell of rotten eggs. Not that I really know how rotten eggs smell though, I have never experienced that. But, I can tell you for sure that sulphur doesn't smell like the nicest thing on the planet!

The first viewing spot is right at the edge of the parking lot. In front of me unfolds a landscape of red barren earth. And directly below of me is one of the big mud pools that is bubbling away. The whole area is totally empty, hardly any vegetation is visible, no matter what direction I look in. Fumes are emitted from numurous cracks in the ground. And we are surrounded by loud hissing noises and the bubbling sounds of the mud pool below of me. And behind this spectacle rises the red-coloured Mt. Námafjall.

Hverir

Hverir
Hverir

Iceland is one of the most geologically active places on Earth having had regular volcano eruptions during the past century. And at Hverir, being one of the High Temperature Areas in Iceland, you can unmistakenly wittness a tiny bit of this constant geological activity.

At Hverir we are on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge; the boundary where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and separate. The ridge is about 16,000 km long, and reaches all the way from 87°N (about 333 km south of the North Pole) to subantarctic Bourvet island at 54°S. The Atlantic Ridge is also part of the longest and the most extensive chain of mountains on earth, extending continuously across the oceans floors for a total distance of 40,389 km.

Most of the Atlantic Ridge is hidden under water however, and with that, more than 90% of it is hidden from view. But here on Iceland it is not just hidden in the ocean; the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is clearly present and noticable. Especially here in the Myvatn region and even more so at Hverir.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is responsible for the volcanic activity which created Iceland, and the island appeared over the ocean surface about 16 to 18 million years ago. But the Mid-Atlantic Ridge still has a constant impact Iceland, changing its geography. Iceland is in fact still growing from fresh volcanic eruptions and the moving of the tectonic plates.

Hverir

Me trying to take some photos at the Hverir geothermal area. Which isn't all that easy with all that steam coming out of the ground!

Hverir

Hverir

Námafjall

When you try to find information about this area you most likely will get confused by the name for the place, as so many different ones are used. I mainly refer to it as Hverir myself, as this is the shortest of the options :-) But you can also find names like "Hverir austan Námaskarđs" ( meaning: hot springs east of Námaskarđ), Mt. Námafjall, Námaskarđ or even Hverarönd.

There are a couple of walking trails through the area, and one of them leads you to the top of Námafjall. The main route and trail to follow is I guess the one circling around the outside of the field, with a possible detour to the top of Námafjall. We skipped the walk to the top though, but I assume you will have a great view over the area from there. Finally there is a possibility to walk through the middle (directly at the parking area), leading you right through the heart of it from the one side to the other.

Hverir

Hverir

My feet however were not that organized about any route to take. They just followed my eyes, that actually were fascinated by the whole area. But the ones that grabbed the most attention were the fumeroles to the left, spouting steam into the air like a hot boiling kettle (photos below).

The plumes of steam were heading directly at me when I followed the main walking trail, floating over me just above my head. At times I quickly needed to duck to avoid being embrased by these smelly hot steam clouds. But the wind constantly seemed to change direction, and for a while the steam was veering off to the left, making the sun high up in the sky visible for me and giving me some nice opportunities to take some photos.

Hverir
Hverir

Hverir

Ĺke, in the photo above, found a safe space from the steam, placing himself to the very right of the fumerole, away from the direction of the fumes.

Hverir

Hverir
Hverir

Designated paths allow you to walk very close along the scorched grounds and in touching distance of these fumeroles. In fact, these fumeroles are not roped off at all, and that gives such a crazy weird sensation being so close to these natural steam vents that are throwing noxious and pungent sulfuric gas into the air. When coming close you can even feel the heat coming from these fumeroles. No need to say I opted to keep some type of safe distance from them!

Námafjall translates to “mountain of mines,” which refers to the abundance of sulfur that was once historically mined in the area for the production of gunpowder. The “rotten egg” stench is actually sulfur hydroxide that forms when cold ground water interacts with magma intrusions.

Hverir has two of these stricking fumaroles. These are two boreholes from the 1950s, drilled along with 14 other wells for sulfur exploration.

Hverir

Hverir is a magnificent example of how strange and “unearthly” our planet’s natural landscapes can be.

Hverir
Hverir

Hverir

Ĺke overlooking the area. Just below the viewing platform is one of the mud pots bubbling and steaming away. Here you will find bubbling hot pots of sludge spilling over various hues of yellow to red burnt earth. And while Ĺke was taking in the overall views from the viewing platform, I decided to explore more of the central area up and close.

Hverir

mud pots bubbling away

Hverir
Hverir

Everything is boiling, bubbling, gurgling... In these mud pots fumarole gas rises through surface water, producing sulphuric acid, which makes the water acid. Rock and soil dissolve in this acid water, producing the mud which is typical of mud pots and their surroundings.

The gas and heat here are generated approximately 1,000 meters below the surface, where the temperature is above 200°C. Cold groundwater seeps down to magma intrusions, where it is superheated and returns to the surface with the gas. Sulphur deposits with mixtures of silica and gypsum then form around the vents. You have to be careful here though, as these pits can have temperatures as high as 80° to 100°C

I cannot share the full experience of being here with you, especially the pungent sulphur smell, but in the short video below you can get a tiny impression of these mud pots happily bubbling away.

Hverir
Hverir

The earth crust is very thin here, and walking around here is a bit unnerving, especially when there are just 'holes' in the ground as in the photo below. Ropes will guide you where you can walk and should not walk. But standing only a meter away from just a hole in the ground is surrealistic to say the least.

Hverir

Hverir

Nature in Iceland is so diverse and dramatic and ever changing, certainly here at Hverir. But sometimes these changes can be ever so subtle.... The dry crackled surface of the ground in the photo above changes ever so subtle from a grey to a salmon colour, giving it an endless tranquility.

What is very striking in this area is the sheer lack of vegetation. The constant emission of the fumes has made the ground utterly sterile and acidic. The fumes have driven away all plant life from the area, leaving the site totally barren of vegetation, and it feels more like the surface of Mars.

Hverir
Hverir

But the lack of plantlife doesn't mean that it isn't colourful. Especially when you start to look closer at the surface, you will notice a whole array of bright colours. Bright colored mineral deposits adorn the ground around the area from vibrant orange to a bright yellow. It is fascinating to see the scope of colours nature can produce, even in such a hostile environment.

Hverir

Hverir

Hverir

Hverir

Hverir

Hverir

Hverir

While I was clicking away with my camera, Ĺke dedicated some time in taking some short videos. And although videos cannot replace the full experience of being here, it might add an extra dimension to the still photos. Add in your mind the strong sulphur smell and the eerie feeling to the video to get the full experience ;-)

Hverir

I absolutely loved my visit to Hverir, it is such an out of this world place. The Geothermical Area reminds me a bit of Yellowstone, although this is much smaller. But at the same time it is much more "raw" and intimidating than Yellowstone. A unique place for sure! And I feel so lucky to have been able to visit it during some bright sunshine!

But now it is time to get back on the road again and discover some more of Icelands amazing nature and landscape. There is lots to see in this area around Myrvatn, and our car is heading in the direction of "Dettifors" today. But I'll write more about that visit on a separate page.

Simone & Ĺke, September 2020, Hverir, Iceland

 


Simone

It would be great to hear from you!
So please leave a comment or a question.
:-) Simone


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