Kleifarvatn and Seltún (sightseeing) Route Details

Route Description

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A drive to the geothermal areas of Krísuvik via Kleifarvatn, a pretty and dramtic lake, much beloved of car advertising photos.


Gravel road. Four wheel drive is not required in normal conditions.


A cold rainy day offered the chance to drive out to see the geothermal areas just over the mountains. The area is not that well known, and missing the crowds of some locations.

It takes a while to get used to the incredible difference between urban and undeveloped areas in Iceland. Within a 15 minutes of the centre of Reykjavik, you hit the outside edge of new development. The new buildings look like any 1st world nation at first, until you see the roads are carved into a rough moss covered lava surface which makes it look like a business park transported to Mars. The oddness if the scene is further heightened by  the current ecomonic crisis stalling work midway through development, so pristine office park roads lead into fields of bare lava. 

Once past the last modern buildings, there's really not much to see at first, bar miles of green moss covered rock, and some fish drying racks to remind us of Iceland's past industries. As the mountains are approached, the tarmac gives way to gravel, and the road climbs steeply. After the pass, we arrived at the end of Lake Kleifarvatn. When we walked onto the black sand beach we could hear the ice, which had piled up on the shore, groan and crack. All at once we felt a long way from civilisation.

The lake is much used in car commercials, and has featured in many, as it looks remote, yet it is so close to the airport. I was told that Top Gear filmed the car vs. snow mobile race here in 2005.

Once back on the road it was a short, but very twisty ride, at first along the lakeshore, and then up onto the hills, before our arrival at Seltún. Sadly the low cloud made the view limited and the rain made photography difficult.

Seltún is something you smell before you see. When you arrive you can see a path leading up onto a yellow and brown snow free hillside, with coils of steam shrouding the view. Fortunately, there's a wooden walkway to keep you above the boiling water and steaming mud. Photography doesn't really do the place justice; the steam hides your subject matter, but if you are there in person, you feel as if you have arrived in some corner of hell, with a horrible smell, steam and vigorously hissing jets of water bursting from the ground. The whole valley of Krísuvik has lots more of these areas, but Seltún is by far the most acessible. There can't be many such places that look like a vision of hell 30 minutes drive from a European capital city, unless you count Milton Keynes. Pity the poor farmers who used to farm the valley before increasing levels of geothermal activity chased them from the land.

Once we had seen and smelt all there was to see, it was back in the car and the drive back along the lake. 20 minutes saw us back at the edge of the Reykjavik conurbation, and back in the world of Ikea and McDonald's, and away from fire and ice.

If you had more time, you could carry on south to the coast road and return via the Blue Lagoon.

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