The flight from Reykjavik north takes us to the agricultural/tourist/service centre of Akureyri, a small (pop. 17,500) neat town at the west side of the inland end of the beautiful Eyjafjörður fjord.
Although about 100k from the Arctic circle, on this first day it is so warm that people sit outside cafes; presumably it is the locals in T-shirts.
Norse Vikings settled the area in the 9th century. By the 17th century Danish merchants set up camp on the site of the now town and In 1779 the 12 permanent residents were (temporarily) granted a municipal charter!
Our first visit was to the Arctic Botanic Gardens to wonder at some of the floral displays; the range begin to make sense as you realise that at this time of year, the sun shines almost round the clock. The garden were begun in 1910 when women from Akureyri founded the Park Association to beautify their city. The previous year the city had given them a hectare of land. It was the first public park in Iceland. The garden area has increased to 3.6 hectares. Its prolific range has proven that shrubs, trees and other plants can survive on the edge of the Arctic. Besides arctic plants, those from the temperate zones and high mountains are grown. There are about 400 Icelandic species and about 7000 species altogether.
After the Gardens we drive along the northern shore of the fjord to visit the Laufas farmouse.
Laufás is a renowned church site and chieftain‘s residence from settlement (874-930). The current Laufás church was built in 1865, among its special items is a pulpit from 1698.
The current farmhouse (below) which is now a museum typifies of a wealthy vicarage from 1853-1882 furnished with household items and utensils from the period.
The drive is dotted with extraordinarily picturesque scenes of nestled farms, horses grazing and hay bales waiting for transport. Bright pink bales, a symbol of breast cancer awareness, stand out. Like everywhere in the world, people are slowly moving from the land into the town but when I think of what conditions must be like here in winter, I can sympathise. I also wonder about how these wonderful while farmhouses must disappear into the winter snow but then again, it is dark most of the winter time!
Next, an area full of geothermal and volcanic features
Lake Myvain (Midge Lake)
The next day we venture further visiting landscapes around Lake Myvain (Midge Lake) and I observe the good sense of tourists with full netting over their heads to protect them from the small flying irritants. The area is one of active volcanism not far from the Krafla volcano.
The lake and its surrounding wetland are prolific with birds. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and pseudocraters.
At the close of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, the Mývatn basin was covered by a glacier which pushed up huge moraines which can still be seen at the north end of the lake.
(Moraines are accumulations of dirt and rocks that have fallen onto the glacier surface or have been pushed along by the glacier as it moves. The dirt and rocks composing moraines can range in size from powdery silt to large rocks and boulders. – I know this because one of our group had a PhD in glaciers!!!)
Godafoss waterfall (Waterfall of the Gods) perhaps so named because the Lawspeaker who proclaimed Christianity as the new religions of Iceland in the year 999 is said to have thrown his pagan statues in here. Whatever the reason, it is spectacular.
Dimmuborgir lava field
Dimmuborgir “The Dark Fortress” is a true wonder. Dimmuborgir consist of fields of huge lava rock formations which make you feel like you stepped into another world – a world of fairy-tales. This is where trolls come from =this is their homeland surely? True, further south one can see their rock like silhouettes on the sides of hills and mountains but it is here in the lava towers they must have originated.
Hot lava streamed over these ponds trapping the water underneath the lava, and steam issuing through vents formed these pillars, which then remained standing even after the crust around them had gone away. The rocks are brittle and fragile because of how they came to be made. Walking along the pathways between the towering lava is truly an experience from Middle earth.
Grjótagjá rift is one of the best known underground caves in Iceland. It has two entrances with steps leading down to it. It is half-full with geothermal water and our guide says that as a boy he used to bathe in it. He explained an underground stream which brave lads swam beneath to reach the girls’ in a second cave.
During the eruption of Mt. Krafla in 1975-1984 the temperature of the water rose so it couldn’t be used for bathing until 2004. The temperature of the water is now too hot for bathing. We were warned against testing it although the potential danger didn’t seem to worry a few tourists; one man clambered deep down into one cave regardless of a small baby he was carrying. This tourist below was only intent on his photo opportunity.
This day we also walked up Hverfjall, a bare symmetrical and circular explosion crater thought to be 2800 – 2900 years old. It is about 140 metres deep and 1km in diameter which makes it one of the largest of its kind in the world. To my shame I was a little out of breathe when I reached the rim.
Lest it all be too physical and overwhelming, back in Akureyri there is a more than a decent cup of coffee to be had in a charming bookshop and more children to watch as they are chasing whatever one chases playing Pokemon Go! There are installations in the street outside the art gallery.
But the real surprise is one of the best Japanese entrees I have ever eaten (and there are about 10 Japanese restaurants in my neighbourhood). A gastronomic surprise up here on the Arctic Circle, just down the street from the art gallery, the bright red Rub 23 serves Japanese, fusion, Asian and seafood. I was so impressed I bought the book. Below is the cod served as a main.