How does that sound for a virgin outdoor hot spring experience while on a honeymoon road trip in the land of frost and fire? We were in the middle of freezing April so I imagined a thermal bath in the wilderness was definitely a good idea. And with Iceland being such a hotspot of volcanic activity, all the more reason for us to try one. So we debated on whether we should visit the famous Blue Lagoon, or Myvatn Nature Baths or maybe even one of the heated public swimming pools you can find in every main town (this is really strange for me coming from a tropical country where the pool means cool off time from the sweltering weather). Somehow we didn’t make it to any of these, instead we found ourselves at Reykjadalur Hot Springs and it was one of the most memorable “first-time” activities for me. Best of all, it didn’t cost a cent to enjoy all that beauty and adventure.
Also known as “Steam Valley”, this unique hot springs are part of the Hengill geothermal area and are nestled in a picturesque mountain valley. The walking trail to the thermal river starts about 4 km from the nearby town of Hveragerði and it took us about 45 minutes of almost non-stop hiking to reach the springs. While the super scenic hike up was not particularly demanding, there were some pretty steep sections that gave us a pretty good workout and which kept our bodies nicely warm in the wintry cold.
Making our way up into the mountains and through the valley, we passed miniature waterfalls, crossed gentle streams, tiptoed carefully past bubbling mud pools, and pressed our numb faces into rising swirls of hot steam. I loved the feeling of being quite alone among the rugged crags, taking in the sights and sounds of all the unique geological features which were a thankful distraction from my tired calves.
By the time we reached the hot spring, we couldn’t wait to sink our bodies in the liquid warmth. But the water is actually warmer as you go further upstream, so don’t jump right in (which was what our eager selves did, and promptly regretted). Unlike the toasty 50°C onsen at the ryokan I experienced in Hokkaido, the Reykjadalur waters weren’t as hot. However once we found a comfortable spot, it was warm enough to wish we never had to get out, especially so with the snow falling hard all around us as we soaked happily in the springs.
Enjoying the warm waters while my fellow bathers were half-freezing in various stages of undress
Part of that authentic experience means there are no toilets and no electricity here, basically no service facilities… just wonderful nature all around. Getting out of the water and back into our clothes at the makeshift “changing room” (see: chest-high wooden dividers) was a real challenge because they provided neither shelter from the harsh elements, nor any privacy from your semi-clothed neighbours. In addition, the weather that day was being its usual undecided self, alternating between sunny and snowy every few minutes. But there is a saying in Iceland that goes “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”. It may sound like an exaggeration but believe me, it is so true. I quickly learnt that if I time my exit well, I could try to finish my dressing during the sunny few minutes before the snow took over. While in the water, I was quite amused to watch others struggle their damp bodies awkwardly into thick winter wear and that actually spurred me to do some mental strategising about the order of putting on my clothes before I took that brave step into the frigid air.
Hiking and hot springs… a perfect combination for wintertime adventures. Who knew it could be that much fun?