Mývatn and Laxá
Mývatn and Laxá is part of the Tentative list of Iceland in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Lake Mývatn and River Laxá comprise a unique freshwater ecosystem known for its pseudo-craters, waterfowl and midges. It is situated along the volcanic zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The perfectly shaped pseudo craters were formed by steam explosions as hot lava flowed into the lake some 2300 years ago. More species of ducks nest in the area than anywhere else in the world, including the rare Barrow's golden eye.
Map of Mývatn and LaxáLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The Mývatn-Laxá Nature Conservation Area in northern Iceland consists of Lake Mývatn - a shallow lake - and its outflowing river Laxá. Together they are important for bird conservation, especially of ducks. Of course (this is Iceland after all) they are located in an active volcanic area as well, which has shaped the landscape. There are several short walks that you can do from the road around the lake, which combined make for a fun, active day. Fortunately the weather was dry and sunny when I visited; in the rain the charm of this area will soon elude you.
I started at Höfdi, a small peninsula / rocky promontory which reaches into Lake Mývatn. I had arrived early, but the trail turned out to be closed between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. to give the birds a rest. So I stopped by again later in the morning. The 1 hour-hiking trail here leads through a forest, which is a rarity in Iceland. It provides access to several excellent viewpoints over the lake and its rocks and islets created by lava.
I continued my loop around the lake by visiting Skutustadir. This is where the pseudo craters can be seen, the other potential OUV of this site next to the duck life. Pseudo craters are small hills that look like extinct volcanoes, but were actually formed when hot lava reached the lake. Water that came under it eventually pushed itself out of the “crater” like steam. This rare feature can only be found here, in Hawaii and on Mars.
In this area 2 walks are signposted: a short one to the top of the largest pseudo crater and a longer one along the waterfront and several craters. I choose the latter which took an hour – it was pleasant enough but nothing exciting. In the hotel opposite Skutustadir I ate lunch: very appropriate for the rich bird world of Myvatn I choose a ‘pulled goose’ burger.
I spent the rest of the day visiting some more spectacular geothermic and volcanic sites, but these probably will not be included in a future WH nomination. After dinner I went out again once more: to the point where the Laxá River enters the lake. This fast-flowing river is full of fish (Laxá means salmon, but there is also trout). The river mouth is particularly popular with the ducks of the lake. No fewer than 13 species live and breed here, including the rare harlequin duck. Unfortunately the prettier species had already moved to the sea for this year, so I had to make do with rather boring brown and black ducks (wigeons and tufted ducks I think). Spring offers the best possibilities to see them all.
While I was watching the ducks from the bridge over the Laxá (right at the crossing of roads 1 and 848), I noticed for the first time the large swarms of midges that give the lake its name. They do not bite people but are a delicacy for the birds. A substantial group joined me in the car, but died or otherwise vanished quickly.
In conclusion I’d say that Lake Myvatn is an excellent stop on the Ring Road for a day or so. I am a bit inconclusive whether it is outstanding enough for WH material, but its volcanic setting and the resulting hydrological conditions provide scientists with enough material to think and write about.
Read more from Els Slots here.
Mývatn lake is right on the 1 loop road around Iceland and thus impossible to miss. Lots and lots of people come to the area for the hot spring baths (mainly via Akureyri from the looks of it) and I have to say: don't do the Blue Lagoon - come here instead! Just open TripAdvisor for the Blue Lagoon and sort by negative reviews first to read how disgusting and overpriced it is plus the scenery down there is nothing spectacular for Iceland standard, thus it's basically for those with little time or lack of venturing further than Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. But this isn't a review for the hot springs anyway.
The lake is large but I don't find anything special about it. There were some ducks but overall, boring. The interested sections were the natural baths were they filmed Game of Thrones (look it up yourself as I won't post any story info no matter how old/minor). Unfortunately just a handful of people crowd out the small entrance and tourists often hang around here longer than one would think is worth checking it out for. There are quite a few of these and you can do mini hikes. The ever changing weather in Iceland made it a no-go for anything but 10min outside the car.
Unfortunately I didn't find it too amazing (the hot spring spa was nice) and it just seems like a regular place in Iceland. Still nice, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't rate it WH material.
The Myvatn lake in northern iceland is aptly named "midge lake", as it is home to clouds of annoying flies, at least in summer. The flies can be a real damper on your travel experience here, to the point where putting a flynet around your head turns from a ridiculous tourist folly into a totally reasonable and diserable act. The area is a major tourist destination, with multiple sightseeing stations around the lake. A typical trip around the lake could include:
- Skutustadagigar: An area of the lake shore with a lot of the typical pseudocraters. Nice views and a pleasent walk, if you don't mind the swarms of flies chasing you (Views 3/5, Flies 5/5).
- Dimmuborgir: A lava field next to the lake, with enormous lava rock towers to walk amongst. Crowded with tourists, but most do not advance far from the shortest walking circle (Views 5/5 Flies 4/5 at parking, 1/5 at church rock (most distant point)).
- Hverfjall: A hill-sized ash crater, which can be climbed for views and bragging rights. Too strenuous for me.
- Grjotagja: A nice little natural hot water grotto, about 10min. from the lake. Bathing is no longer allowed, and it can get overcrowded, still worth it in my opinion (Views 4/5, Flies 2/5).
- Nature baths: Hot water springs, about 10min. from the lake. Fully developed with spa building and entrance fees, so not too much nature. Not visited.
- Namaskard: A geothermic area with fumerols and mud pools, devoid of all plant life. Not too spectacular, but athmospheric and really nice for pictures (Views 4/5, Flies 1/5).
In the WHS application, only the pseudocraters are mentioned, the rest of the geological side attractions are not considered. Instead, the description concentrates on the biological richness of the lake, which is hard to evaluate as a normal traveller. Visiting in early autumn after the breeding season, I could not detect major differences between Myvatn lake and other lakes in iceland. It's also hard to appreciate the duck variety when you are covered with flies.
All in all, the visit to Myvatn lake was surely worthwhile and a nice experience, although maybe not among the top experiences in iceland. As with many natural WHS, I lack the knowledge to be able to judge the core worth of the site.
Visited in September 2018.
Importance 3/5 Beauty 3/5 Uniqueness 4/5 Environment 4/5 Experience 3/5
Successor to former TWHS Myvatn - Lax
2011 Added to Tentative List
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