Along Þjórsárdalur valley lies the road leading to Landmannalaugar and the highland center Hrauneyjar as well as Viking age farm Stöng which has been restored after being excavated in 1939. Mount Hekla is located in this area and is one of the more active volcanoes in Iceland regularly spewing out volcanic ash and lava flows and believed to be the gateway to hell in medieval times. The Hekla eruptions have been quite numerous and on average the volcano erupts every 10 years, the last major eruption was in 1947, but it has now been almost twenty years since the last one so everyone is waiting excitedly for the next one, of course the longer we wait the bigger the bang.
Þjórsárdalur valley has entered popular culture recently through the Game of Thrones tv series which feature backdrops from this area and it is especially recommended to check out Hjálparfoss waterfall which is a stunning spot where the river is split in two as it tumbles off an ancient lava flow. There are some day hikes that can be done here and it is a good idea to check out a hiking map detailing the safe routes.
When going through Þjórsárdalur towards Fjallabak Nature Reserve and Landmannalaugar you go through Laugahraun lava field among others and there you find rhyolite mountains as well as the Blue Peak. There is quite a bit of construction here in connection with hydroelectric power production, a reservoir and a deep canal, using the plentiful glacial water to produce power for the area as well as supplying to the national grid. This is also one of the few places that windmills have been set up and surprisingly wind power is only at an experimental stage in Iceland.
There are some natural hot springs here although the biggest ones are in Landmannalaugar. The area is very much a product of being on the mid atlantic ridge and in fact Þjórsárdalur has a large portion of one of the biggest lava flows from prehistoric times that have ever been discovered. Þjórsárhraun Lava Field formed during a massive eruption some 8600 years ago in 6600 BC and covered a vast area around 130 km from its source from the Veikiðivötn area in the interior of Iceland all the way out to sea and is estimated to be around 970 km2. Parts of this lava flow can be seen on the banks of Ölfusá river and Þjórsá river but a lot of it has been covered by latter day minor eruptions as well as having been buried underground. On the coastline by the towns of Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki you can check out where the lava entered the ocean and pretty much stopped there although highly eroded it still be made out. There are of course various major eruptions which have affected not just Iceland but the rest of the world. Around 1200 BC a Hekla eruption spewed so much ash into the atmosphere that it affected the climate in the northern hemisphere and caused the demise of some cultural pockets in Europe. Then there is the great Lakagígar eruption which created Eldhraun the earth´s biggest lava field of historic times around 600 km2 or roughly the size of the city of Chicago, and the ash cloud resulted in very harsh winters which caused a famine in Europe which in turn sparked the french revolution. So, Icelandic volcanoes are not to be messed with.
Icelandic touring can be a lot of fun and it is well worth reading up a bit on the various places to see. Whether you want to do mountain huts and sleeping bags or find a comfy hotel with a geothermal spa and cozy bar, there is always some way of catering to your needs.
The highlands of Iceland have some of the very last wilderness left in Europe. Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Nature reserve are among the most scenic and otherworldly of so many amazing destinations in Iceland. The central highlands are littered with lava fields, volcanoes and mountain ridges and this is basically what you can expect on the highland road that is taken up here. The area lies right on the edge of the Laugahraun lava field and sports a very nice natural hot spring as well as having rhyolite mountains with their varied colours and abstract shapes.
Landmannalaugar are very much a part of the south icelandic system of volcanoes with Hekla to the west as well as Eyjafjallajökull and Katla to the south. The amount of volcanic activity in these parts is simply extraordinary with geothermal areas, earthquakes and active volcanoes all around. If you are looking for a place where truly it feels like you are on a different planet then this is it, and it is not just the place itself but the whole journey up here is absolutely awesome. No wonder some of this area has been used as backdrop for sci-fi films and post-apocalyptic worlds.
All day tours have their highlights and Iceland is blessed with an amazing amount of spots that are like no other in the world and fortunately can often be combined such is the diversity in this country. Going to Landmannalaugar in Fjallabak Nature Reserve you might want to prepare for some walking and up to a full day hike depending on how much physical activity you are interested in, it can easily be enjoyed even without any kind of hiking but the option is there. When doing any kind of Icelandic touring it is always a good idea to do a little research and even if you are not planning to do sleeping bags and mountain huts it is nevertheless a good idea to bring some supplies or at least confer with your driver/guide.
While traveling in this part of the country it is a truly frightening thought that the local shepherds would spend months up here without GPS and before electricity. Just the idea of impending eruptions, the ground suddenly trembling from earthquakes and then entertaining the idea of trolls and monsters possibly hiding in the rugged lava or behind the next hill. Wondering about the blue peak in rhyolite mountains and what entity might live there or indeed what went on when these mad landscapes were created. The Iceland highlands are indeed a great adventure that should leave no traveler untouched with their otherworldliness, breathtaking sights and true beauty.
The icelandic highlands are the last true wilderness of Europe. A vast area ravaged by volcanoes and glaciers, carved out by glacial rivers and lava flows, a domain ruled only by the elements. Visiting Landmannalaugar is a step into this world, a super jeep tour taking you on a day trip through Fjallabak nature reserve feels like being an explorer of a new century or the star of your own science fiction epic. Just traveling the road leading to Landmannalaugar through the lava fields and then reaching the rhyolite mountains is a dreamlike experience. Whether you choose to bathe in the geothermal pools or use this as a starting point for a day hike or anything in between just reaching the area is an accomplishment in itself and worth a day tour.
The way to Landmannalaugar from Reykjavík lies through some very scenic areas. First going across Hellisheiði with its geothermal power plant Hellsiheiðarvirkjun and lava tunnel Raufarhólshellir. Then heading towards Þjórsárdalur valley, an area created by massive prehistoric lava flow around 180 km long, it's been 8000 years since the eruption but bits pieces can still be made out here and there. There are a number of active volcanoes in this area. To the south lies the infamous Eyjafjallajökull possibly the most famous icelandic volcano of modern times. Mount Hekla is located closer to our route, been called both The Mother of all Volcanoes and The Gates of Hell in medieval times. Hekla is one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland erupting on average every ten years or so, and in the past her eruptions have completely dominated this area and even extended into the big world. The ash cloud from an eruption around 1200BC temporarily changed the weather in Europe and greatly affected many tribal societies and even led to their demise. This of course reminds us of the Lakagígar eruption in 1784 which left a lava field roughly the size of Chicago, the world's largest lava field from historical times, and sparked the French Revolution. In 1104 an explosive eruption in Hekla covered this area including many farms in volcanic ash. One of the farms Stöng was dug up in 1974 and reconstructed to give us an idea of housing in Iceland during the middle ages. Reaching Landmannalaugar we experience a change in both the colour and shape of the surroundings, the light colours of the Rhyolite Mountains, Mount Blue Peak and Laugahraun Lava Field create stark contrasts.