Waterfalls, mountains, Grimsey & natural wonders of North Iceland
North Iceland has an abundance of remarkable masterpieces of nature, as well as the magnificent natural phenomena of the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights. Amazing landscapes of the highlands, mountain ranges, geological peculiarities, volcanic features, hot springs, waterfalls, glacial rivers are all found in this region. The famous Mývatn (Myvatn) Lake, an exceptional jewel of Iceland’s nature, is also in this area with its unique flora and fauna. North Iceland has much to offer to any visitor, whether nature lover, or an artist, photographer, adventurer, Icelandic saga fan, historian, anyone who enjoys discovering authentic places of great natural beauty.
On the west side of Húnafjörður (Hunafjordur), can be seen the rock arch of Hvítserkur (Hvitserkur). Hveravellir is a geothermal area of fumaroles and iridescent hot pools of delicate kaleidoscope colours. The islands of Málmey (Malmey) and Drangey in Skagafjörður are known for folklore, while Eyjafjörður (Eyjafjordur) has impressive mountains and verdant farms. The two Þingey (Thingey) counties present contrasting aspects of nature, both rugged and tame. Goðafoss waterfall, one of the most spectacular in Iceland, and Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful, are both in this area. Jökulsárgljúfur (Jokulsargljufur), an awe-inspiring canyon, now part of the Vatnajokull National Park, is in the vicinity. The Hljóðaklettar (Hljodakettar),”Echo rocks”, lava formations can be found in the area, as well as the sharp cliffs of Ásbyrgi (Asbyrgi). Far to the south, is the Askja caldera. Mývatn (Myvatn) Lake and its entire surroundings are world-famous for their beauty, while the cliffs of Dimmuborgir are a marvel in their own right.
The Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights
Eyjafjörður(Eyjafjordur) is one the best places to enjoy the Midnight Sun phenomenon in Iceland. Eyjafjörður has its own special character and a more detailed description of the fjord can be found on the Eyjafjörður page. From September through March, on clear nights, the otherworldly displays of the Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis can be observed from most locations in Iceland, including the North.
The Arctic Circle
Iceland’s northernmost face is the island of Grímsey (Grimsey), in the Arctic Ocean, which crosses the Arctic Circle. Grímsey is a small fisherman’s island, about 60 km from Akureyri, where about 100 inhabitants and millions of seabirds live in proud defiance of the elements. The island is a must see, and crossing the Arctic Circle is something many people want to do. All who come to the island are provided with a document confirming the fact that they have actually travelled north of the Arctic Circle and the precise location of the Circle itself is marked by a signpost indicating distances to some of the world’s main cities.
The Arctic and Antarctic Circles are lines drawn on maps near latitude 66.5°, North or South. The particular significance of these Circles is that they delimit the areas on earth where the sun remains in the sky for 24 hours in summer, and, conversely, where the sun disappears entirely for 24 hours or more in the wintertime. In the vicinity of the Arctic and Antarctic Circles one can find the true territories of the Midnight Sun. Sunshine at midnight can be enjoyed in many parts of northern Iceland during summer, since the Arctic Circle narrowly misses the country’s northernmost points.
In many people's opinion, Dettifoss is the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland. With a height of 44 metres and an average water flow to the volume of 200 cubic metres per second, it is the most powerful waterfall in the country, and, as a matter of fact, in the whole of Europe. Dettifoss also has an impressive power to attract tourists from far and wide. The waterfall is only 135 km away from Akureyri, so a visit from the capital of North Iceland makes an ideal day outing.
Goðafoss (Godafoss) waterfall –Waterfall of the Gods
This waterfall is among the finest in the country, not very high but impressive in shape as it divides into two horseshoe-shaped falls. Not far below the waterfall, the river Skjálfandafljót (Skjalfandafljot) splits into two branches which flow around the island Hrútey (Hrutey). The lava field by the waterfall, Bárðardalshraun (Bardardalshraun), flowed out of the volcano Trölladyngja (Trolladyngja), north of Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull), Europe's largest glacier, more than 7,000 years ago and reached as far as 100 km from the crater. Goðafoss is about 40 km east of Akureyri. The landscape around the waterfall is spectacular.
How Goðafoss got its name
During the Icelandic Commonwealth period (930 AD to 1262 AD), the Icelandic Parliament met each year at Þingvellir (Thingvellir), “Assembly fields”, or Parliament Plains. One of the chieftain-priests (goði) present in the year 1000 when adoption of Christianity was being debated at the Assembly, was Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði Þorkelsson - Thorgeir, goði of the people of Ljósavatn and Lawspeaker at the Assembly from 985 to 1001 AD. Þorgeir was eventually given the authority to decide whether Christianity was to be adopted, or paganism was to continue as religion. He was a pagan himself, but after a period of profound thought, he decided that all Icelanders should have one set of laws and one religion, and that Christianity was to be the religion of Iceland. Upon his return home, it is said, he took the statues of the pagan gods he used to worship and threw them into the waterfall – "foss" in Icelandic, near his homestead. From this time, the waterfall has been known as Goðafoss - 'Waterfall of the Gods'. Þorgeir's story is preserved in Ari Þorgillson’s (Thorgillson’s) Íslendingabók – The Book of Icelanders. One of the beautiful stained glass windows in the Cathedral of Akureyri illustrates this event.