The highlands in Iceland are a great source of inspiration for those fortunate enough to witness and explore them.
Some of the most stunning locations in Iceland, such as Hveravellir, Landmannalaugar and Askja, are found within the extreme contrasts that define the Icelandic Highlands.
This gigantic area, which covers a significant part of the country and is frequently described as a volcanic desert, is located in an altitude of above 400-500 m. The raw landscape is barren and dominantly grey and black apart from a few sporadic neon green patches, the tender whiteness of the various surrounding glaciers and some oppressively hot springs. Want to go there? WOW air offers cheap flights to Iceland and several guided tours you can book when you've found your flight.
Between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers, lies the Kjölur plateau, with an altitude of 600-700 meters. Across Kjölur lies the rocky Kjalvegur gravel road, a very important route that connects (and is the shortest way between) the south- and north-west regions of Iceland. Kjalvegur is believed to have been used by the inhabitants of Iceland since the early days of settlement and is mentioned in the Sagas. In 1780, two brothers and their entourage of three perished on the route at a hill now known as Beinahóll (Bone Hill), their bodies weren't found until 65 years later. Following this incident and other circumstances, Kjalvegur was not as frequented by travelers in the following century. Today, a memorial serves as a reminder of this tragic event and Beinahóll is still rumored to be haunted. The Kjölur area is however not all gloom and doom. It is a popular area for horse riding ventures and those who use the road, whether by car, horse or on foot are strongly advised to visit the unique Hveravellir, a particularly welcoming destination for weary wanderers.
A refuge for outlaws
The special attributes of Hveravellir have certainly attracted people from all walks of life throughout the centuries. One of the most famous visitors, or in fact inhabitants, were legendary outlaws Fjalla-Eyvindur (Eyvindur of the mountains) and his wife Halla. For over twenty years they managed to survive in these desolate highlands. Without amazing skills and ingenuity no one could manage under such adverse conditions. When they stole sheep they simply used the hot springs to boil their meat. Eyvindur enjoyed great popularity and respect for his resourcefulness and many people were eager to secretly assist him when needed. The story of this 18th century pair is well known among the Icelandic nation and it has been a source of inspiration for a number of artistic works. Traces of their existence are still believed to be visible in Hveravellir and one of the hot springs is even named Eyvindarhver (Eyvindur's Hot Spring).
Hveravellir is one of the most extensive geothermal areas in Iceland as well as one of the last great wilderness areas in Europe. Often and appropriately referred to as an oasis in the desert, Hveravellir is a popular destination the whole year round with each season presenting an unforgettable setting for precious experiences. The hot springs in Hveravellir offer a spa-like experience in a lunar-like landscape. In the summertime you can unwind in the natural and soothing hot spring under the midnight sun and during the wintertime you have the opportunity to enjoy the spectacle of the northern lights while soaking.
Hveravellir's wildlife is sparse, characterized by the occasional herd of sheep and wandering fox. It's very important to treat this delicate area with great respect and for those who want to spend a night there, there are two mountain huts with kitchen facilities available as well a camping area.
“Getting away from it all” is an understated description of this other worldly terrain. The quiet serenity of Hveravellir makes it a wonderful location for intimate moments of deep reflection.
How to get there?
By car: During the summer the Kjölur route (F35) to Hveravellir is passable by jeep and most cars with four wheel drive. Travelers are strongly advised against taking the route if they have the smallest type of car or if they are inexperienced drivers. The distance from Gullfoss waterfall to Hveravellir is ca. 90 kilometers.
By bus: The SBA-Norðurleið bus company has a scheduled bus service over the Kjölur route during the summer, departing from both Akureyri in north Iceland and Reykjavik. You can jump off in Hveravellir and catch the bus back the following day (or a few days later).
By foot: Kjölur and the highlands are a popular hiking area but they should not be underestimated. There are no shops in the highlands and the weather can be unpredictable. Be sure to pack sensibly, have a few days' worth of extra food and warm clothing, let someone know where you're going and check in regularly. Visit www.safetravel.is for a comprehensive guide to being safe in the highlands and download their app for added safety.
Text by Hjördís Erna Þorgeirsdóttir