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.


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.

118 thoughts on “The Icelandic Highlands

  1. Great stuff, I went to the Blue Lagoon a few years ago its lovely in the water but then you had to face those few minutes between getting out of the water and racing back inside before pneumonia sets in

      1. Ooh how is it? I’m moving my home base to Darwin soon so all the Asian countries will be super close! Lots more opportunity to explore 😊

      2. Super close? You mean like only a whole 5 hours right? Haha. Thoroughly recommend south east Asia, only a third of the way into the trip but loving it.

  2. In a short distance and time you had different weather, temps, skies, and then the warms waters below the cold air. Fun. Earth is a marvelous place.

      1. We were in Iceland, enough said! I did learn that caves weren’t the best place to keep dry in the pouring rain, though. 😀

  3. What an amazing adventure, and the lava-produced hot springs seem like a pretty great second prize to the missed hike!

  4. Such a barren looking place. Yet you’ve scratched the surface and shown the true beauty of what can found . Iceland is rapidly moving quickly up my travel list.

  5. Aaaand now I have to go to Iceland – I’ve always been intrigued but I get the feeling that this one will require some actual planning to make the most of a trip.

    1. You are pretty spot on with that! I love to ‘wing it’ when I travel, but places like Iceland and Greenland require at least a little planning and a decent amount of research

      1. I spend 3 months backpacking some of Europe after an exchange. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to get out and see more of the world, I’m somewhat living vicariously through your blog!

      2. I spent 3 months backpacking some of Europe after an exchange. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to get out and see more of the world, I’m somewhat living vicariously through your blog!

    1. My pleasure, I hope my readers can live vicariously through me if they are unable to get to such far away places themselves 😊 where are you from?

  6. This is such a great post! I really like how you travel to places not most tourist would prefer to go and experience. Really want to do this someday! Oh and the jeep ride looks extremely fun and exhilirating.

    1. Thank you so much! I do love getting off the beaten track and escaping the crowds when I travel 😊 I hope you get to do this sooner rather than later

  7. What a great story and love the photos! It is totally true that should your day not go according to plan, it always turns out the way it was meant and therein experiencing new things. What beautiful and warm things you experienced! Thanks for sharing!

  8. I was a bit apprehensive about swimming when I was in Akureyri and surrounds as my friends told me the story of the woman who stuck her toes in the hot springs and got third degree burns! I am glad you didn’t. Great pics. You brought bach my memories of Iceland

    1. I’d be apprehensive about that too! But this area wasn’t a hot spring- just an area of new cooling lava with geothermal water running over it 😊
      Where was your favourite place in Iceland?

  9. I really really want to go to Iceland. I am so close and can’t wait. But first I go to Scotland, I see you have also just been there. Very cool posts 🙂

      1. To Edinburgh only. It is a short trip, only 4 days. But I think I will enjoy it, even though it is in November. Lets hope for more or less good weather haha

      2. Not really 🙁 I will let my friend be the tour guide 🙂 Do you have a blog post about what to do in Edinburgh? I am happy to read it.

      3. I have several actually! If you head to my blogs main page and hover over the Europe tab- a drop down list of countries will appear and if you click on Scotland you’ll find all those posts 😊

  10. Beautiful, volcanic hikes are a favorite of mine. This region is familiar with volcanic activity. Been through two eruption that covered the area in ash.

  11. Glad to hear you liked my country. Also, happy to see you exercised caution as too many people do not heed warnings, and tend to rush into dangerous situations 🙁 Did you go to Jökulsárlón by any chance?

    1. I did actually! I went back to Iceland after leaving Greenland for a few more days and visited then! There will be a post about it in a few weeks 😊

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