In a supposed visual dictionary, the words “desolation” and “bleakness” would be matched with a picture of the Icelandic highlands. The landscapes in the East and North-East, in the Westfjords, in some volcanic areas such as Krafla or Hverir might look desolate enough. But nothing to compare with the highlands. Here you won’t find anything else than striking endless sceneries of black rocks dotted with electric green moss and tiny bushes every now and then, surrounded by disquieting dark mountains, broken by glittering lakes which contrast the dusty soil. Anything else than dozens of rivers, lava fields, fierce volcanoes and impressive glaciers.
The longest and most legendary of the highland roads undoubtedly is Sprengisandur route that crosses all the island from North to South in the center of it. This is where outlaws were hiding in the past days, this is a land full of ghosts. No wonder why. Lonely, isolated, in the middle of nowhere, deserted. Many are the adjectives which can properly fit Sprengisandur. Though, the main sensation this huge area spreads is a melancholy feeling. The few hundreds of kilometers along the route can be easily spent in a full silence of contemplation. Crossing Iceland from the South, only few kilometers before getting back to the civilization you would find one of the most astonishing and not very known waterfalls. Aldeyjarfoss is photogenic and imposing at the same time. The pearly turquoise waters loudly rumble down from a black cliff, framed with perfect basaltic columns, into a canyon creating a unique, unforgettable dramatic landscape.
More or less half way of Sprengisandur, East of it, there is this currently ongoing eruption we’re sure you heard about. Bárðarbunga is the guilty guy. It is the second highest mountain of Iceland and a volcano, part of 200km (200km!) long volcanic system located under the north-western section of Vatnajökull glacier. The eruption started in August 2014 and before it slowed down in March 2015, the lava field created at Holuhraun is already bigger than Manhattan being the largest one in Iceland and one of the largest Earth witnessed in the last 10.000 years.
Anyway the most famous area of all the highlands rightly is the one situated just over the northern edge of Vatnajökull. The Kverkfjöll ice caves, under the glacier, are a natural marvel formed by the heat of subglacial hot springs. They can be as dangerous as beautiful because of possible cave-ins. Some tens kilometers direction North stands the “Queen of the Mountains”, mount Herðubreið, a majestic table mountain with a truly peculiar cake or pot shape. The dark silhouette is unmistakable even from very far away when appears in all its charm. Last but not least, in between the caves and the queen there is the most precious gem of the region: Askja. Basically a volcanic depression formed by the collapse of a magma chamber, Askja and its magnificent environment dominated by the metallic blue lake Öskjuvatn are the pristine wonders you can cherish nowadays since 1875, when a tremendous eruption generated also another caldera, Viti. The milky blue lake is warm enough for a relaxing swim, surrounded by one of the windiest and most desolate place of Iceland; lost in the thought of how immobile everything looks and how fast it can change if Earth decides to destroy and recreate.
How to get there and around:
If you’re coming from Reykjahlíð on lake Mývan drive road n.1 50km direction West until the junction with road n. 842. Here turn left and at a certain point road n.842 ends and road n.F26, which is to say Sprengisandur, begins.
If you’re coming from Húsavík drive road n.845 37km direction South until the junction with road n.1. Turn right and after 11km direction West there will be the junction with road n.842. Here turn left and at a certain point road n.842 ends and road n.F26, which is to say Sprengisandur, begins.
If you’re coming from Akureyri drive road n.1 51km direction East until the junction with road n. 842. Here turn right and at a certain point road n.842 ends and road n.F26, which is to say Sprengisandur, begins.
From Reykjavík to Sprengisandur it’s a 140km drive. Drive72km on road n.1 direction East, turn left on road n.30 and follow it for 18km direction North, turn right on road n.32 and 50km later road n.F26, which is to say Sprengisandur, will start.
From Reykjahlíð on lake Mývan to Askja it’s a 233km drive. 134Km are on road n.1 direction West until the junction with road n.F88. Here turn right and Askja is 99km away, direction South.
From the East (Egilsstaðir,…) to Askja it’s a 132km drive. 33Km are on road n.1 direction East until the junction with road n.F88. Here turn left and Askja is 99km away, direction South.
On the way to Askja mount Herðubreið is 60km from the junction road n.1/road n.F88. From Askja to Kverkfjöll is some tens kilometers drive. First turn back on road n.F88, then road n.F910 and road n.F902.
Sprengisandur route, road n.F26, is 220km long and close to the northern entrance/exit there is Aldeyjarfoss.