Nature spread bare in the interior
Between north, south, east and west Iceland lies the “fifth dimension,” the great interior of the Central Highlands where man has never made his home and is still a rare visitor. Here, nature is still at its rawest and most archetypal, with glaciers deserts of black sand, barren glacial moraine, steaming hot springs, active and spent volcanoes and strange oases of vegetation, thriving against all the sub-Arctic odds.
Two main overland routes link north and south, in fact following ancient trails once braved on foot or horseback. The western route over Kjölur is passable by 4WD cars in summer, skirting Langjökull glacier on the way to Hveravellir geothermal field before emerging by the Ring Road in the north. A side road leads to Kerlingarfjöll mountains, a summer skiing and hiking centre.
A more directly central route is over the black sands of Sprengisandur; with rough tracks as well as unbridged and unpredictable rivers to cross, it can only be negotiated by big 4WD cehicles, and even then preferably in convoy. The Sprengisandur route threads its way between glaciers to come out southeast of Akureyri, near Lake Mývatn.
Other highland favourites are the area around Mt. Askja, where weary travellers can bathe in a naturally warm lake called Víti (Hell), and Kverkfjöll high-temperature geothermal field on the rim of Vatnajökull, where the heat creates fantastic but ever-changing caves in the ice.
Guided tours are a popular way to see the area, either as part of an all-in package tour or taken for a day or two. Scheduled coaches on the north-south run also operate some overland services during the summer, for sightseeing rather than stopping.
For a taste of the interior without “going the whole way,” two gems of nature on the southern rim of the highlands are among Iceland´s most popular summer outdoor spots. Þórsmörk is a designated nature reserve, a hikers´ paradise with woods and grass nestling among mountains and glaciers. It is devided by powerful glacial rivers into three separate areas that can only be reached by driving through the river in good 4WD vehicles at specific places.
Newcomers should not attempt the crossing alone – the river is unpredictable.
Landmannalaugar is a hotbed of geothermal activity, with springs to bathe in and riotously coloured mountains – including shrieking pink rhyolite. Landmannalaugar can be reached by 4WD car in the summertime, but you should drive carefully alon the quite bumpy road. Regular coaches operate to both Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar in summer, and visits are included in some packages as well.
Travel to the Central Highlands is limited to summertime – check the Public Roads Administration website www.vegagerdin.is/english to find out exactly which roads are open when. Enquire about the state of highland roads before you set off, tell someone about your plans – and don´t take risks.