Last updated 14 March 2021
Embracing the Icelandic way
The pungent smell of sulfur invades my nostrils as I approach a loosely shaped circle of stones. Waves of steam drift across the water’s surface indicating we have arrived at the right place. This is one of the many thousands of natural geothermal pools found all over Iceland. And I’m about to indulge in my first hot bath after driving almost 400 kilometres (with my travel buddy Amy – not solo traveling this time) along the stunning coastline of Iceland’s Westfjords region. We’re both keen to relax and unwind from the journey.
This remote community we’ve stopped at for the night is called Bjarkarholt. In the west of Iceland, this tiny blip on the road map (refer to the map at the post’s end) is simply a cluster of houses. And one of them is our home guesthouse for the night.
Thermal pool experience
As we enter the front door we’re greeted by our host, Rognvaldur, A tall Viking type (I’m trying not to stereotype here) is welcoming us by showing us around the kitchen and lounge. At the end of the quick tour Rognvaldur suggests we check out the hot pool across the road.
Even though it’s a brisk four degrees and the wind is blowing chilled air from the icecaps, seemingly straight from Greenland (the next island across the Denmark Strait) we are making a beeline towards. I’m keen for my first Icelandic hot pool experience. The previous night at Stykkisholmur, Amy and I considered visiting the local thermally heated pool but too exhausted from driving for most of the afternoon after flying into Keflavik, we decided to pass on the experience, despite our B&B host suggesting it was one of the town’s highlights! (Amy was still in recovery mode from this horror cough she carried for most of the trip around Scotland.)
The silence is deafening
It is 7 pm, but the sun is high in the sky – we’ve got a few more hours of daylight. At the hot pool, we remove our warm outer gear (and there are a few layers) and carefully step onto the slippery moss-covered rocks, submerging quikclky into the welcoming warm water. These outdoor thermal pools are a civilised way to enjoy the unique natural surrounds of Iceland. Submerged under the warm water, towering snow-dusted mountains the backdrop, this moment is one of our many surreal Iceland moments.
Quieter in the West of Iceland
It is the middle of May, summer is approaching but it is not yet peak tourist season and in the less-visited Westfjords region we don’t experience the influx of tourists so often talked about in Iceland. Figures say annual visitor numbers to Iceland (pre-COVID) are two million-plus. A crazy number when you consider the local population is around 340,000.
We’re happy with our decision to head west and explore the roads less traveled. With the long days of daylight, driving until 9 pm at night is a pleasurable experience, with minimal traffic.
After two days, I’m embracing Iceland’s uniqueness – nature at its raw and unyielding best.