Hveravellir hot spring
Hveravellir hot spring is a unique oasis in the stony deserts of Iceland’s interior.
This oasis includes a campsite with basic services and an incredible hot bathing pool with a constant geothermal feed. Hveravellir is also known as the Valley of Thieves. This resting spot sits in a very hostile area of central Iceland. There are ancient sub-glacial volcanoes topped with small glaciers in almost every direction. Getting to Hveravellir by road is possible. You can drive from the north or south, and there is a bus service.
Öskurhöll furmarole with the Bláhver (Blue Pool) in the background.
Thinking of a self drive?
Valley of Thieves
Hveravellir is a location famously used by exiled criminals, where they could hide out in relative comfort during harsh winters. One of the most famous outlaws were Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife Halla, who lived in the wilderness for 20 years after 1760. They even had a child who didn’t survive. There is also a hot spring named after Eyvindur just to the left of the hot springs pictured above, called ‘Eyvindarhver‘. I found it to be a very ugly hole and couldn’t find a good photo angle.
Grettir the Strong was the most famous outlaw from the Icelandic Sagas. He could have used the hot springs at Hveravellir during the winters, as this area was one of his stomping grounds.
To sit among the hot springs at Hveravellir and feel the ground shake when the pressure underground builds, you actually feel that you are on a volcano. This is the honeycomb version of earth’s crust. This hostile area actually offers lots of comfort in the almost unbearably hot bath. A lot of the landscape is actually brittle and delicate, so walkways have been provided through the hot springs. Some of the mineral deposits that decorate the ground are at risk for tourist foot traffic. The most famous and most photographed of the hot springs is Bláhver (or Blue Pool). The pool is only 6 feet across. The pure blue stands out like a dragon’s eye.
There are many light-dependent photo stops on the way to Hveravellir. The road is called Kjölur Route (F35) (also called Kjalvegur) and is notoriously rough. It is possible to get there in a regular car, but be prepared to have some repairs done when you return.
At Hveravellir hot spring, observe the direction and strength of the steam in the geothermal area. Correct control can make or break a shot. If the steam is widespread and slow, try to avoid very long exposures; this will lead to milky white images. If the wind is strong, a long exposure can create a surreal effect.
There can be lots of reflective surfaces among the hot springs, so always explore different angles where there is light or colour in the sky.
Using grad filters or magic cloth can give good results. I have found that the blue pool exposes very nicely to a cloudy sky. In these conditions, there is no need to extend the dynamic range. It is best to expose the whole scene.
Best time to visit
Unless you have a snowmobile or helicopter, late summer is the only time you can visit Hveravellir. The Kjalvegur road is strictly closed during the thawing season. The thaw can last well into June if there is late snowfall in the winter. If there is snow, you can get to Hveravellir by super jeep or snowmobile. But you have to know what you are doing, both with driving and weather forecasts. I think Summer is a good option anyway because camping is comfortable and the midnight sun can give you hours of great colours.
Where to Stay
There is a campsite at Hveravellir as well as mountain hut accommodation. Hveravellir is around 30–40 minutes from the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort, which has better facilities. It would be worth including Kerlingarfjöll and Hveravellir on a summer self-drive.
Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort
Kerlingarfjöll has good camping facilities as well as huts & dorm-style accommodation. It is just over an hour’s drive from Hveravellir. The huts and campsite can be seen easily from the road winding up the mountains. The resort is seasonal and opens from mid-June to mid-September.
Árbúðir is a mountain hut closer to the Kjölur route, about an hour drive from Kerlingarfjöll and 90 minutes from Heravellir.