If you can get past the sulphuric, eggy smell stinging your nostrils, a trip to ‘Old Smokey’ to watch the bellowing smoke pyres and the heat-infused bubbling geysers is a must.
Yes, it may be a top tourist attraction on the Golden Circle route but if you want to avoid the big tours, hire a car and head to Haukadalur either early in the morning or late afternoon and you will find geysers gurgling away to a limited audience.
This geological wonder of hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles erupted into life back in 1294 thanks to an earthquake and since the 18th century over 40 geothermal features have steadily sprayed water and steam up into the air for tourists to gawp and gasp at.
With so many hot spots it’s difficult to avoid the heated water when wandering around Haukadalur. Trenches along the roadside emit a steamy vapour warning unsuspecting visitors that temperatures are about to rise.
Due to the volcanic nature of Iceland, geysers feature heavily across the country. Drive around the Ring Road and you will often see small signs highlighting a geothermic pool or a bubbling hot spring that is well worth diverting off the main track to explore. Walking through the gateway of Haukadular, the most popular geyser tourist attraction, however, and you begin to get a sense of the explosive nature of this naturally formed sight.
Many travel to this particular region to see two geysers – the Great, albeit quiet, Geysir and Strokkur – often without realising that this area itself is a geothermic wonderland.
First erupting back in the 14th Century this particular geyser is world-renowned. The word ‘geyser’ itself comes from this iconic landmark; the Icelandic and Old Norse verb ‘geysa’ meaning ‘to gush’. Unfortunately, gushing is not necessarily a word that is synonymous with the Great Geysir as it has suffered from long periods of dormancy. Even today, it is very unlikely that you will see this magnificent hot pool explode before your own eyes. After laying quiet from 1916 until an earthquake reawakened the sleeping beauty in 2000, the Great Geysir now has a stronger resemblance to a large, naturally formed swimming pool and rather lacks its previous vigour. That’s not to say that is doesn’t, on occasion, still like to make its presence known and be warned it is still an impressive sight, but it does not compare to its previous prowess as Queen of this spurting valley.
By comparison, this geyser is a pressure-cooker constantly exploding every 8-10 minutes, demonstrating its abilities to curious crowds standing nearby. Be warned, stand in the wrong place and a soaking will arise when Strokkur releases it churning water on to nearby spectators. With outbursts reaching between 20-30m in height this natural phenomena can be heard before it is seen. Its rumblings and whooshing can be heard from the road side on quiet traffic days.
If you want to see Stokkur at its best though, be prepared to watch the water simmer and gurgle away for several minutes before the upsurge of water wows you. Whilst it does boil over every few minutes some explosions are minute in comparison to the 30m eruptions that people have come to expect.
Alongside these two crowd pleasers you will also find several smaller geysers which will leave you reflecting on the wonder of nature.
Blesi, known as the ‘Blue Pool’, attracts the eye. From afar you will easily be drawn to the bright blue, azure colour that is not dissimilar in colour to the Blue Lagoon. Do not be fooled though, dipping your toe in this wonder will result in third degree burns and is not advised. Slightly dull in comparison, perhaps, is its sister pool. At 100 degrees centigrade however, the clear waters are far hotter than the glistening bright blue hot spring which remains at a moderate 40 degrees centigrade. Quite cool in fact for a geyser.
Little Geysir (litli Geysir) and smiður both churn away expelling steam on a constant basis and Konungshver, known as the king of hot springs, has an alluding blue hue that will be hard to ignore.
After a better viewing platform?
If you have the time, and the right foot wear, take the small track that runs alongside Konungshver where you can walk up to the top of Langafell Mountain and see the geothermal activity from above. You will be able to glance across the valley where you will see the various steaming hot spots venting their sulphuric-smelling haze and watch whilst Strokkur yet again plays up for its audience.
Head back down and towards the front gated roadside and once again you will be hit by a fog of white vapour and the steaming hot pots of Þukkuhverir (also known as the vicious hot springs). Here, years ago, bread baking would have been a daily pastime whereas today ‘Big Smokey’ takes pride of place, bellowing gusts of mist out constantly trying to woe an audience.
With such a wealth of natural wonders vying for your attention take your time and enjoy wandering around. Rush and you are in danger of missing something. Whilst we were there a local was showing a couple of people around, discussing each hot spring or geyser in turn, explaining the history, the common myths and the science behind each one. Tagging along, our spontaneous decision lead to an enjoyable afternoon of exploration; the knowledge of our on-the-spot guide beating anything we would have found in a guidebook. Make sure that you chat to others, find out what they know; ask the team on the front gate for advice on must-see aspects, they are happy to share their expertise.
Whilst visiting Haukadalur and the geysers, why not stop off and refuel at the café across the road. They offer a full range of hot and cold snacks, full meals and desserts that will make your eyes water. If you are a lover of soups we recommend trying the fish soup; thick and full of taste, it’s a guaranteed winner especially on a cold day.
Important to know:
Parking is free but entrance to the Geysers will set you back 600 ISK per person (around Euros 3.80/US 5.20).
Other geysers around the world worth visiting:
- Yellowstone National Park, US
- Valley of Geysirs, Russia
- El Tatio, Chile
- Taupo, New Zealand