The Icelandic Highlands

After a wonderful Diamond Circle adventure with the wonderful team at Saga Travel, I was completely and stupidly excited for a second day out with them. Unfortunately poor weather conditions led to my initial plans going awry, but sometimes the best days are the ones that don’t go to plan.

I had wanted to visit Askja which is a stunning and practically deserted caldera in the middle of the Icelandic highlands. Photos of Askja looked absolutely out of this world, and for me, this was the main appeal of travelling to Akureyri.

If you have heard of Askja and are planning to head there on an upcoming Icelandic adventure, I should preface this post by saying that I absolutely do NOT recommend self driving to Askja unless you are an incredibly experienced Jeep driver in extremely tough terrain. To get to the caldera requires hours of obstacle laden driving, including several places where you must drive across fairly deep rivers. Rangers of this area have to tow out a whole bunch of drivers who ignore this warning each year. Proceed with caution.

The guys at Saga Travel are used to navigating and driving through this area; and have enormous ‘Super Jeeps’ which are made for traversing this tough and treacherous landscape. If you want to visit Askja, these are the people to get you there safely.

So we started our very long day early in the morning. I was still pretty knackered from the previous days adventures, so I slept for the first few hours.

When I woke up It was amazing how much the landscape and scenery had changed and how barren everything looked.

The drive then became so bumpy that further napping would prove impossible. I will admit, driving through the Icelandic highlands is not the most pleasant of drives.

Bumpy roads + female anatomy = feeling the need to pee for literally the entire day!

However, that should not put anyone off! We had been driving in the highlands for at least three hours before we saw another vehicle. To me, that kind of solitude is worth its weight in gold (and some mild discomfort).

As I mentioned in last weeks post, I am a truly terrible driver and get nervous in tough road conditions, so whenever we came to a river that needed to be driven through, my heart would race a little bit. But the Super Jeep (steered by a very experienced driver) got us across safely each and every time.

A great feature in the Super Jeep was a little monitor that showed us our current altitude and current temperature. At our initial departure point in Akureyri the temperature was +7°C, however as we continued to reach higher altitudes, this continued to drop until it got to its coldest point of the day, -3°C. As soon as the temperature dropped below zero, it was incredible how different the landscape looked.

After four hours of tough driving we finally reach the starting point to the hike to the caldera.

However, the clouds were so low and thick that once we hiked to the crater we wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all, and the conditions would make the hike very unsafe. This left me feeling pretty disappointed, it’s tough to be told that the day wouldn’t turn out as you’d hoped.

I ended up stepping out of the Jeep for a while and taking in the beautiful surroundings to try and cure my disappointment.

Once I got back in the car to eat my lunch, the Saga guide told me that the day wasn’t for nothing, and that ten minutes away was Holuhraun; a brand new lava field. Holuhraun began erupting in August 2014 and only stopped in February this year! It is one of the newest lava fields in the world. Not only that, this volcanic eruption has caused the natural geothermal heating of water which now runs over this lava field.

At this site it was -2°C. So naturally, it was time to strip down to my bathers and jump into the +35°C water!

The place was completely deserted except for a hysterically funny and 100% naked Norwegian guy who took the next photo for me.

After taking about 30 pictures of the area whilst just standing knee deep in the water, my tolerance for the cold started to wane and I had to put my Olympus OM-D E-M1 away and switch to my little waterproof Nikon Coolpix, so that I could fully immerse myself in the water and not worry about drowning my beloved DSLR!

The lava pebbles and rocks were absolutely murder on my poor feet –  they ended up badly bruised – but to be able to hold fresh lava in my hands made that so worth it.

The water was so warm, but as the rivers have fairly strong currents, sometimes the water would run a bit colder for a few minutes before the warm water would flow through again. Eventually though, I found a spot so warm my skin started to turn red, like during a super hot shower. It was absolutely heavenly! I could’ve stayed there forever.

I remember watching an Animal Planet documentary when I was younger about a breed of monkeys in Japan who survive the harsh winter climate by spending the cold months in hot springs. I now totally understand those monkeys and have decided that this would be my preferred winter survival method also.

#notamodelbuthowcuteismybikini
#notamodelbuthowcuteismybikini

After a few hours relaxing and lazing it was time for the long journey back to Akureyri.

The day had not gone at all to plan but it was still amazing. I got to do something that very few people had done before me; and I did the impossible. I fell even more in love with Iceland.

T H E   L O W D O W N
Getting to Akureyri: Air Iceland flights between Reykjavik and Akureyri run several times per day and cost depends on when you fly
Askja and/or Holuhraun: A day trip with the wonderful Saga Travel will cost ISK 41,900 (AUD $458) and I highly recommend them
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-40mm lens and 52mm HOYA polarising filter and waterproof Nikon Coolpix S810C
Threads: My adorable bikini is from the Australian label Tigerlily
Remember: Bathers, hiking shoes, towel, a packed lunch and adaptability

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

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