Getting Steamed Up in Iceland

Oli picks us up a little later today as we have to go only an hour to get to another other worldly destination – We’ll explore some of the unique geothermal areas around Reykjavik (Reykja meaning Steamy and vik meaning Bay)….

A little after 10 am there is enough light to see the extensive lava fields as we wind our way toward Krisuvik, an enormous, very active geothermal field. The entire island is volcanic, and with much creativity, the Islanders have found ways to take advantage of its power.


Off in the distance we see a large power generating station near the Gunnuhver geothermal area. Using modern drilling techniques tap holes reach down more than a mile to reach the steam being generated by the magma. The steam is captured and then distributed by heavily insulated pipelines for both high and low pressure systems. The steam can move miles while losing a very small percentage of its heat.

Only about 10% of Iceland’s energy needs are provided by fossil fuels. In fact quite a few energy-intensive industries come to Iceland to take advantage of the geothermal power. Aluminum manufacturing factories, for example, actually ship bauxite raw material all the way from Australia to be processed.

Just before exploring the Gunnuhver we make a stop to see the impressive lava beach and rock formations formed near the mid-Atlantic ridge. We’re not here at the right time to see the prolific bird life usually booming in this area.

We do see this bird however. The flightless Auk was prolific in this area, especially when Iceland was inhabited around the year 900. The locals would sneak up on the bird and club them as a food source. This is actually a sculpture by American artist Todd McGrain who has created five bronzes (in his “Lost Bird Project”) of extinct birds and placed them in areas where they were once found.

Nancy and Jeff give the bird some scale in a bit of an auk-ward moment….

It’s just few hundred meters from the beach that we come upon the geothermal field. There are steam eruptions everywhere, and the smell of sulphur conjures up a bit of hades and the fallen angel himself. It is a little eerie, and certainly surreal.

The crust is extremely fragile and very, very hot. The only way to circumnavigate the site is on a series of raised walkways. One young man jumps off the walk to make way for our group and Oli immediately yells for him to come back up. If a foot cracks the surface, severe burns are in the offing.


The Reykjanesviti light house is set right in the midst of the geothermal field. It used to be an important beacon for the extensive fishing fleets in this area, but now is mostly a very pretty landmark.

It’s just a short ride to the little port and fishing town of Grindavik where we stop for a delicious local lunch of fish and chips, soup and salad. The fish is caught fresh each day, and today’s catch is pollock. Thick chunks of the flaky white fish are delicately coated with light panko-like breading and quickly fried (no napkin-staining grease here). The best I’ve ever tasted.

[An aside about the price of food in Iceland. Whatever large savings Icelanders have in energy costs are eaten up pretty quickly by other living costs. For example, a bowl of soup for lunch, even at no-frills take out place will run close to $17. Average entrees at a mid-range restaurant can run $30-$40 or more. We just use our credit cards and don’t do the conversions, so we don’t notice the final bills].

After our steamy morning, it’s time to literally immerse ourselves in our “work”….

The famous Blue Lagoon is frequented by Icelanders and tourists alike to soothe and smooth their bodies. Of course outdoor thermal baths and steams are a large part of the natives’ lives. After all they live on top of it. Many communities have a common bath and many residents have their own outdoor tubs. The Blue Lagoon was a creative way to turn a mistake made in siting a geothermal power plant. Since it didn’t work for that, someone said why not make a huge, natural “hot tub” with striking blue water – set in a a beautiful black lava field. And include some bridges, waterfalls, buckets of anti-aging mineral mud for face masking, and a full floating bar. [Again about Icelandic prices: Basic entry to the Lagoon with a towel – $65]. Guess you don’t do it every day.

We had an incredibly relaxing couple of hours, albeit some pretty red and wrinkled skin. (photo courtesy of Jeff Burns)

After another great day, our last full day in Iceland, you can certainly see how the sights…and the Lagoon relaxed us for the trip back into town and our SmarTours farewell dinner. And it was delicious, highlighted by special and unique roasted Icelandic lamb.

Tomorrow we have most of the morning free (we’ll explore the Icelandic Settlement Exhibition) and them have a very special tour of the world-renowned Harpa Concert Hall.



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3 Responses to Getting Steamed Up in Iceland

  1. Sekita Ahlstrøm says:

    Thank you so very much for this amazing adventure. Felt as if we were there with you all the way. Wish we had been.

    • jfdowshen says:

      Did think of you while there, especially when the guide talked about the “testy” relationship with Denmark. I once said “tak fa mel” to a server. Our guide heard it and asked if I spoke Danish! I asked it he could say “the noble knight” in Danish. When he couldn’t, I said I spoke it better than he could. Ha. We want to go back in June, rent a car and explore to the east and north. Are you up for it? Love to you both!

  2. Mary Ellen Bornak says:

    Joel what a great job on the blog. Reading them feels like a revisit
    Wonderful photos
    Mary Ellen

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