The geologically-active and fascinating region of Lake Myvatn (pronounced “mee-vaht”) is located about an hour east of Akureyri. The area is filled with volcanic craters, unusual lava formations, steaming fumaroles, a beautiful lake, outdoor nature baths, and more. It’s clearly a must see when visiting beautiful Akureyri in Iceland’s north.
My “winter Iceland” trip (March 2016) took me and my friends to Akureyri for three days. We signed up for Saga Travel’s afternoon & evening Lake Myvatn Tour, which included a Northern Lights hunt at the end. It was an excellent tour with a fun group – six Americans, two Brits and one Aussie. Ingi (short for Ingimar) was our amiable and knowledgeable guide.
After departing Akureyri at 1pm and crossing over to the eastern side of the fjord, we headed inland through a vast expanse of rolling hills covered by deep, pristine snow. Turns out, Akureyri had received much more snow this winter than normal, the most since 1995. The snow doesn’t usually melt until June or July.
We occasionally passed herds of Icelandic horses standing in the snow-covered fields. These small but hearty creatures were brought to Iceland many centuries ago by the Vikings. The horses live outside year round, even throughout the cold winters – brrr! Our first stop was the beautiful Godafoss waterfall, which was two main falls in this winter season. Apparently, Godafoss looks quite different (and more expansive) in the summer due to the river’s heavier flow.
As we approached the lake – mostly frozen and snow covered during winter – we began to see lots of activity. We learned they were filming scenes (somewhat secretively) for the “Fast & Furious 8” movie due for release in April 2017. Only stunt car drivers (and crew) were there, no movie stars. As we drove by, I was able to snap a quick photo of a red Lamborghini driving on the frozen lake. I will confess I’ve seen none of those movies, but it was still fun!
Lake Myvatn’s Craters, Lava Formations & Steam Vents
After a rest stop / coffee break at the nearby Sel Cafe, we walked across the road to follow a snowy path to view the Skutustadagigar pseudo-craters (lava formations) surrounding a frozen pond (photo below). Once back in the van, we began to enter an area of Lake Myvatn with many lava fields – from Iceland’s active volcanic past! Ingi was excited to share that some episodes of the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones” have been filmed here.
A hill-top stop (above) gave us a beautiful view of snow-covered craters and lava rock formations contrasting with deep blues of lake waters – in the few areas where the lake wasn’t frozen. We entered the Dimmuborgir valley (below) with tall jagged lava formations and made a stop at Dimmuborgir (“Dark Cities”).
We took a walk along a snow-covered hiking trail through a pretty valley. In Icelandic lore, this area is believed to be the home of trolls and elves. In fact, lore says that elves lured the night-dwelling trolls outside so when they were caught in daylight, the trolls turned to stone. So this explains the various shapes of the lava formations. Interesting!
A little further along, we took a quick look inside Grjotagja, a small lava cave with a naturally geo-heated swimming hole (around 108˚F). This is where an important scene from Game of Thrones was filmed – the scene in which Jon Snow was “deflowered” by Ygritte. Gosh, I missed this one too! We passed by a small geothermal power station (built 1969) which generates electricity from the area’s plentiful steam (photo below left).
We then visited Hverir (near Mt. Namafjall), which is a particularly active geothermal area – with bubbling hot springs, mud pots and fumarole steam vents. I enjoyed the short walk that got us up close (safely) to these fumaroles explosively spewing and shooting upward with a deafening sound (below)!
Vogafjos Café – A Dinner to Remember
After all the sightseeing, it was time for a real meal! We arrived at the Vogafjos Café around 6pm for dinner at this family-owned sheep and cattle farm, which also operates a guesthouse and the café-restaurant serving homemade local food. The café is in the same building as their cow shed where – through glass windows – you can observe dairy cows lounging in their pens. As we sat down to dinner, one of the waiters brought around a tray with small cups of freshly-milked milk for tasting.
We had an absolutely delicious meal, from start to finish! For our entrée, we had a choice of lamb shank or Arctic char (my salmon-like choice!) Vogafjos Café makes their own Geysir rye bread which we all loved – it was sweet, cake-like and melted in your mouth. This type of hverabraud (“hot springs bread”) is baked in the ground by geothermal heat. In fact, on our way to Vogafjos, Ingi pointed out these special ovens. (photo below).
Dessert was a large bowl of delicious Skyr with berries and cream on top. Skyr is a yogurt-like dairy product made from skimmed milk. It has been an Icelandic tradition for over 1000 years and is served everywhere and pretty much anytime. I don’t usually like plain yogurt but I really liked Skyr. After dinner, we made a quick visit to the cow shed next door to say hi to the Vogafjos bovine ladies.
Myvatn Nature Baths & Northern Lights Hunt
After dinner, we headed to the nearby Myvatn Nature Baths for a luxurious evening soak under the stars in geothermally warmed waters (kept between 97-104 degrees F). It was a true delight even with outdoor temperatures registering 32°F/0°C.
It was a great introduction to Iceland’s unique bathing culture, which I describe more in my post: Iceland’s Blue Lagoon & Myvatn Nature Baths: Hot Pots and Outdoor Soaking.
After departing from the Baths at 9:30pm, we began the evening’s Northern Lights hunt as we slowly worked our way back to Akureyri. We first headed out into total darkness on some back roads. We stopped, waited and watched the skies.
Yes, we did have a “small viewing” of the Northern Lights around 10:30pm. We saw one white arc of light (which was slightly greenish) across the sky with another arc rising up from it. Ingi ranked it a 2 on a scale of 1-10. The Lights never got any stronger, with the skies getting increasingly cloudy as we continued to drive home.
Luckily, I enjoyed a real Northern Lights success two nights later (as detailed in my blog post – In Search of Iceland’s Amazing Northern Lights). We returned to Akureyri at midnight, after a long but wonderful day exploring the many fascinating sights of Lake Myvatn. I highly recommend this tour when you visit Akureyri, whether in winter or summer.
Link to the Saga Travel Tour: Lake Mývatn Afternoon & Evening Tour
Check out my related post: Akureyri – North Iceland’s Not-To-Be-Missed Travel Gem
Comments: Is this a trip that would appeal to you? What parts did you like most or would most want to see?