ICELAND: Bathing Between Mountains - The Other Hot Spring
When people think of Iceland, most consider an uninhabitable block of ice. For those who know a little more about the volcanic island, hot springs come to mind; in particular, the infamous Blue Lagoon.
Granted, the Blue Lagoon is known for good reason. It’s located on the South Western tip of the island, on a stretching, flat expanse of land. There are pools of water bordered by jagged volcanic rocks. The pale blue colour of the water is so surreal, it’s as if the water is glowing.
There is no public transport service running to Blue Lagoon, so you’re forced to board one of the tourism coaches. I believe most include your entrance to the lagoon and will set you back at least $100 AUS.
If you hire a car, the drive from downtown Reykjavik is 40 minutes. I was staying close to the international airport in a guesthouse and the drive was only 20 minutes. The man who owned the guesthouse drove a group of us and charged 20 Euros each, return. We were dropped off with another family who were also staying at the guesthouse and were told he’d be back to pick us up at 3 pm, giving us five hours at the spa.
Spa is the exact word I’d use to describe it. Sure, the colour of the water was unlike anything I’d ever seen, but I felt like the lagoon has been hijacked by tourism. If you’re into luxurious, fluffy bathrobes, slippers, flutes of champagne, cocktails and don’t mind teeming crowds, by all means, the Blue Lagoon is a dream.
However, if you’re a nature-loving adventurer like myself, the lagoon, which has been majorly reworked for tourists, may lose its appeal pretty quickly. LUCKILY I can tell you that as Iceland is a volcanic island, there are some pretty epic natural hot springs alternatives, and I’m going to focus on one of them below. Its name is Seljavallalaug.
To get there, hire a car.
Reykjavik is a cool city. The seafood is amazing and the hot dogs by the harbour are out of this world… but really, you go to Iceland for the landscapes.
It isn’t necessary to hire a 4WD, but rather a modern car with good snow tires. In Iceland in the thick of winter, not only is it dark until 10 am; EVERYTHING is covered in snow. I’d never driven in snow before, but the roads around populated areas are snow ploughed every day so as we made our way into the country, I eased myself into roads with more snow on them.
I think the trick is to be extra cautious, drive slowly into corners and hold the steering wheel tight with both hands so you have control and are able to continue straight over icy patches if the wheels slide at all.
My road trip along the south coast of Iceland (following Route 1, a road that wraps the entire island) involved multiple stops and was spread over four days. For the sake of this article, I’m going to pretend I drove straight to the hot spring, which would take roughly two and a half hours driving along route 1 from Reykjavik.
Before you drive out of Reykjavik, stock up. Stop at a BONUS (Iceland’s budget supermarket) and purchase whatever you need to fuel your adventure. The countryside in Iceland is sparsely populated, and dining options are few and far between, so pack enough that you won’t get hungry.
Remember your towel, swimmers and a change of clothes.
Before I visited Iceland, I read a blog post that said, "you read about how incredible Iceland is, but it just doesn’t prepare you…"
On route one, there are very few villages or even farmhouses, but I promise you will not get bored driving. Like the blogger said, you think you know what it’s going to be like, but you so don’t.
In the middle of winter, the sun doesn’t 'rise' until 10 am and set at 2.30 pm. I put rise in inverted commas because the sun barely rises above the horizon. As a result, your hours are spent in faint light, enveloped by soft pinks and blues. It’s a dreamy sunrise that lasts five hours then melts into dusk. Everything is smooth and creamy like the world is half asleep. I can’t tell you how beautiful it is.
Along the road, your breath is caught constantly in your throat. You'll pass glaciers, cracked ice, raging rivers, frozen lakes, towering waterfalls... There are mountains that jut up from the vast, open plains and horses huddled together in snow-covered paddocks.
Your GPS will instruct you to turn off Route 1 onto Route 242. If you don’t have a GPS, the turn off is signposted, Seljavallalaug. (Have a laugh at the GPS struggling to pronounce that.) In winter, the road is buried beneath snow so take it really slow, driving for about five minutes to where I imagine the car park would be in the summer. Park and grab your swimmers, spare clothes and towels, and begin walking along the river.
The river is called Laugara and it runs through the middle of Laugarargil canyon. As you follow the river upstream, you walk between the two mountains that rise gloriously from the riverbanks. It is incredible to feel so small and yet so present in the company of such majestic bodies of earth.
When we arrived at the pool, we were the only people in sight.
There is a tiny change room, with snow banked up in the doorway. Climbing over, you'll have to get changed on wooden slats then hop back over the snow and dive into the pool.
The water is warm compared to the outside air, but it's lukewarm and I suspect you'll soon gravitate to the end of the pool where hot water from the hot spring is flowing naturally into the pool. One side of the pool is raw, jagged rock covered in moss and snow. The other side is bordered with a concrete wall that is the same level as the water, giving that 'infinity' effect people pay good money for.
All alone, we bathed between two mountains. It was heaven on earth and I still get goose bumps thinking about it.
Here, there are no lines, no tickets and no fluffy slippers. Instead, what you get is silence, the earth's honesty and a wonderful feeling that the world is opening up. There is simply so much room to breathe.
When it is time to get out, wriggle back into your snow gear. Somehow though, I suspect that like me, you won't seem to feel the cold, caught in the electric thrill of it all. You'll be high off nature… whole and happy.