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The Hellisheiði Power Station

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Just outside the hot spring haven of Hveragerði is the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station. If you want to visit, don’t worry about accidentally driving past without spotting it. This is the world’s largest geothermal plant, spouting giant columns of steam high into the atmosphere, and it’s unmistakable.

Hellisheiði Power Station Iceland

The plant was completed in 2006, before the financial crash, when Iceland was still filthy rich, so no expense was spared. Hellisheiði is state of the art, and beautiful to behold. As a fan of industrial design, Jürgen was in heaven during our short visit. But even those of us less enthusiastic about power plants will find it worthwhile. Inside, there are interactive exhibits which describe the process of harnessing geothermal energy from the earth, and demonstrate exactly why Iceland has a practically endless supply of it.

We also spent time walking around the grounds outside the plant. With the Hengill Mountain Range in the immediate background and white clouds of pure steam shooting straight up into the air, incredible photo opportunities are not hard to find.

Location of Hellisheiði on our Map

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October 8, 2013 at 7:05 pm Comment (1)

The Hot Spring Town of Hveragerði

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Precariously situated in the middle of an active geothermal area southeast of Reykjavík, Hveragerði makes for an easy excursion from the capital. During our visit, we explored hot springs, ate an geothermally-cooked egg and treated our feet to a therapeutic mud bath.

Hveragerði Mudd Bath

Nowhere else in Iceland is geothermal power so intricately connected to everyday life as in Hveragerði. Here, you can visit geothermal bakeries, eat bread fresh from geothermal ovens, buy vegetables in geothermal greenhouses, play golf with geothermal vents blasting out of the ground around you, tour a nearby geothermal plant, walk around a geothermal park, and take a dip in geothermal waters.

With the Varmá River running through town and the Hengill Mountains providing the backdrop, Hveragerði is stunning. But I must question the sanity of anyone who says, “Yes, this is where we shall settle! Here, where scalding steam bursts forth from the earth. Where muddy pools of boiling water open up below unsuspecting feet. Where the earth quakes regularly. Here, the exact spot that nature is clearly trying to warn me away from, is where I shall make my home.”

Our first order of business in Hveragerði was a visit to the Geothermal Park, where a short trail leads around a number of bubbling, smelly hot springs. We bought an egg to boil in one of the pools and paid a little extra to take a footbath in hot mud. There might not be anything as weirdly pleasurable as the feeling of warm clay squishing between your toes. Afterwards, we stopped into one of the town’s bakeries for coffee and a delicious cinnamon roll fresh out of the oven.

Re-energized, we set out to explore the trails which lead from town into the foothills of Hengill. We saw the golf course and a number of steaming vents that had opened in the ground. These trails eventually lead to the wonderful hot spring rivers that we had visited a few weeks back, but for today we’d had our fill of geothermal-related activities and turned back toward town.

On almost any trip to Iceland, you’ll be passing right through Hveragerði on your way to or from Reykjavík. And while the town might not have enough to keep you entertained for days on end, the sheer strangeness of its sights definitely make it worth a stop.

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October 7, 2013 at 9:37 pm Comments (5)

Hafnarfjörður

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By bus, Hafnarfjörður was only fifteen minutes away from our apartment, but it took us over two months to finally get around to visiting. The once proudly independent town is now little more than a suburb of Reykjavík, and though it doesn’t rank high on the tourism radar, Hafnarfjörður has fought to retain a history and identity of its own.

Hafnarfjörður Panorama

Hafnarfjörður’s main claim to fame is an incredible natural harbor; its name, in fact, means “Harbor Fjord”. Since the days of the settlement, this has been among the country’s most important ports, welcoming waves of English, German and Danish traders. Even today, huge fishing vessels are a constant presence in Hafnarfjörður’s docks, and there’s no doubt which industry powers the town’s finances.

But Hafnarfjörður is best known for its connection to the mystical world of færies and dwarves. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d admit to it today, but belief in such things persisted in Iceland for much longer than it probably should have. Chalk it up to the country’s isolation, the sheer weirdness of its landscape, the dark winter days, or the inexplicable natural phenomena, but a belief in “the little people” was common right up into the 1980s, and especially persistent in Hafnarfjörður.

Despite wandering around the Hellisgerði Lava Park where they’re rumored to live (and where there’s an elf-themed cafe), we didn’t see any magical creatures. Although perhaps I shouldn’t say that, because shortly after leaving the park, we did find a magical horse. A magically delicious horse. We had lunch at Gamla Vínhúsið, a restaurant in an old wooden building near the harbor. With affordable lunch specials, great horse steaks, and nice interior decor, this was an excellent find.

After eating, we finished our quick excursion with a hike to the top of the Hamarinn Cliffs where we had a great view of the harbor, the town and the lava fields to the east. Hafnarfjörður isn’t the most lovely place we’ve seen in Iceland, but definitely worth a quick bus ride for a walk along the harbor, a hunt for færies and an excellent lunch.

Location on our Iceland Map

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October 3, 2013 at 9:33 am Comments (0)
The Hellisheii Power Station Just outside the hot spring haven of Hverageri is the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station. If you want to visit, don't worry about accidentally driving past without spotting it. This is the world's largest geothermal plant, spouting giant columns of steam high into the atmosphere, and it's unmistakable.
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