ABOARD THE OCEAN DIAMOND – No way around it. I was going to get cold. Very cold.
I’d have to made a mad dash in low 50-degree temperatures, still wet from the dressing room shower to that glorious warm lagoon outside. Chilling for sure. But well worth it.
Since opening in 2004, Myvatn Nature Baths has proven to be a comforting experience for travelers and residents. When I saw the shore excursion listed on the Ocean Diamond’s itinerary, I knew this would be my choice.
Other options in Akureyri were a super jeep ride, cave exploration, Diamond Circle tour and local food. Even without the chance to bask in the lagoon, I would have picked Lake Myvatn purely on the Iceland ProCruises description:
“A schizophrenic landscape where it’s said that ‘heaven and hell’ clash. One side of the lake is characterized by the rugged remnants of volcanic activity, while on the other you find fertile plains with lush greenery and a varied bird life.”
How fascinating does that sound? Sure hooked me.
Leaving the Ocean Diamond about 8 a.m., we picked up bag lunches for the eight-hour tour and were reminded to take one of the ship’s plush towels on our way to the waiting buses. Iceland ProCruises does try to think of everything.
On our way back from the day’s activities, an expedition leader was waiting at the bus to take our damp towels and put them in a big plastic bag to return to the ship, instead of our having to carry them. Little things mean a lot and Iceland ProCruises does seem to go out of its way to take care of big and small details.
Lagoon has long history of use
Although the Myvatn Nature Baths facility is new, the idea of bathing in the site’s geothermal hot springs certainly isn’t. Historic relics and folk tales have recalled that the early Vikings valued the springs. The steam hole used for steam bathing was blessed by the good bishop Gudmundur during the 13th century.
The most famous hot springs spot in Iceland, of course, is the Blue Lagoon. Located close to Reykjavík and Iceland’s main airport, the Blue Lagoon is gorgeous and easily accessed. But it is also often crowded, over commercialized and costs twice as much as Myvatn Nature Baths. Both are well worth visiting but I’m happy to be spending today at Myvatn Nature Baths.
The large dressing room has showers, bathrooms and free lockers to store our belongings. With storm clouds scuttling overhead, the eerily milky blue lagoon seemed otherworldly. The lagoon itself has secluded areas and little benches where bathers can sit and relax in the waters.
The geothermal water is drawn from the depths of the earth and contains a unique blend of minerals, silicates and geothermal microorganisms. The water is free of pollutants and chemicals and is said to be good for the skin and health.
A natural steam room is a pleasant place to remove stress from the body and soul. The site also has a hot tub and a colder water lagoon. I stayed in the warm one.
Waterfall of the Gods
After our lagoon visit, we headed to Goðafoss, which means “waterfall of the gods.” One of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Goðafoss is quite powerful.
“It got its name because it is where, when Iceland converted to Christianity around the year 1000, a chieftain brought all his pagan idols out here and threw them in the waterfall,” said guide Boarki.
We could smell the “hell” part of the trip before we even got there. Sterile of any vegetation, the Namafjall geothermal field is like walking on Mars. Hverir is a large expanse of hot springs with numerous fumaroles, mud pools and mud pots that all seemed to be boiling with eternal energy. The fumaroles are steam and gas emitting openings in the earth’s cruise usually near volcanoes.
Visitors are asked to stay within lines indicating trails to avoid serious burns. In former times, early people believed hell to be under volcanoes. This site certainly can reinforce that belief. It is definitely one crazy looking stinky chunk of earth.
Iceland is blessed with abundant geothermal power, which is harnessed for heating and for production of electrical power, Boarski said. In fact, more than 90 percent of Icelandic homes are heated that way. Fossil fuels are used only for transportation, while hydropower is the main source of electricity. As a consequence, Icelanders enjoy a clean pollution-free environment.
On the ride back to the ship, I must admit that I fell asleep – despite the gorgeous scenery rolling past our bus windows. Today’s water adventures left me so relaxed that I – and several others – dozed off. Despite our glimpse of hell, Mother Nature can be so soothing.
Photos and Videos by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Video of the waterfall
A video of “hell”: