A Trek through the Oraefi

For a first trek in Iceland, it is difficult not to think about the traditional Landmannalaugar trek, a classic. However, we chose to avoid its beaten path : too short to really appreciate the richness of landscape diversity, but especially too busy for our taste. What a shame indeed to discover Iceland without tasting loneliness and that little perfume of adventure…

We thus decided to trace our own way, to draw our path and explore the most unknown areas of this southern region of Iceland in order to discover all of its diversity. Our trek begins at the foothills of the Hekla volcano, before crossing the eerie volcanic area of Hrafntinnusker and the colors of Landmannalaugar valley. After the eruptive fault of Eldgda and skirting the imposing Myrdalsjokull glacier that our trek will end, facing the sea.

Bivouac au pied du volcan Hekla

We chose to leave in August : the midnight sun is already far but the days are still sweet and long. The facts gave us reason as we benefited from exceptional weather conditions to really appreciate this truly exceptional trek… Our first trekking day leads us at the foot of the Hekla volcano. Famous for its violent eruptions, it is the most active and dreaded of Iceland today.

Desert landscapes with monumental lava fields accompany our walk and offer a rather lunar introduction… We skirt around the Mount Krakatindur and the Hekla range whose multiple lava flows seem to have invaded the areas at the foot of the mountains.

Au milieu d'un désert de lave   Au milieu d'un désert de lave

We leave this lunar setting to join the Markajlfot river banks overhung by the imposing tabular Laufafell range. Not far from here, the area of Hrafntinnusker, vast caldeira dominated by the Torfajökull glacier, is famous for its geothermal activity.

Aux alentours du Laufafell

Following our own path, we discover a series of splendid lakes: the small isolated Höfdavatn and its green emerald water, the imposing blue Frostastadavatn lake in which come to disappear several lava flows. And the colorful Ljotipollur lake, at the bottom of a crater with red vermilion walls.

  Au milieu d'un désert de lave

We finally reach the Landmannalaugar valley, famous for its rhyolite rock ranges which gives it this orange yellow color so peculiar : at the bottom of the valley the broad Jokulgilvisl river curves as we climb up on the Torfajokull glacier to reach the peaceful Holmsarlon lake.

Au milieu d'un désert de lave   Au milieu d'un désert de lave

The Holmsarlon lake, long and narrow with its milky water, offers the unforgettable surprise of a hot water source in which it is incredibly good to bathe. It is also for us the starting point of a three days loop enabling us to wander along the Eldgja fault. This eruptive fault, the largest ever observed on this earth's surface, extends itself on forty kilometers and ends near the huge Ofaerufoss cascade.

Passage à gué   Au milieu d'un désert de lave

Back to the Holmsarlon lake, we go along its banks to the Brennivinskvisl river. The acid green waters of the lake end up falling in successive drops, forming a chain of splendid small cascades.

Alftavatn   Holmsarlon   Vers Ofaerufoss

The Brennivinskvisl river banks also is the border of the Maelifellsandur desert, where the landscape changes completely : a vast desert of lava dust next to the glacier of Myrdalsjokull which covers the whole horizon. Right in the middle of this lunar setting, the Maelifell, impressive pyramid covered with moss : born from an eruption, it is about a volcanic “tuff”, a cone made up of an accumulation of ashes.

Sur la glacier du Myrdalsjökull  

We painfully cross this vast desert of dust to reach the base of the Myrdalsjokull glacier. This second larger glacier of Iceland is not easily approached but we manage to reach it for a short glacial hike.

The valley of Porsmork, dominated by the imposing Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers, offers the first trees of the whole trek, and probably of all the region … We begin our long rise to the high col between the two glaciers: on the other side, the sea and the wide black sand beaches of Vik, also the end of our trek…

A long dirt path goes down towards the sea and carries us towards the true end of our tour skirting a deep canyon at the bottom of which hum a succession of waterfalls, higher and more powerful : the Skoga river, fed by the melting water from the glaciers, ends in a clear drop, Skogafoss.

Fin du trek, face à l'océan

Iceland, alive land, land of fire, ice and desolation… This description can be a little reducing, however it summarizes well this extraordinary country and, as it sometimes seemed to us while trekking through the country, it describes pretty well what Iceland can offer.


The arid and desert landscapes around the Hekla volcano and the Myrdalsjokull Glacier thus allow a pretty good idea of Iceland's interior region, as 60% of the country is sand deserts.

As everywhere on the island, water, omnipresent, appears here and there in all of its forms : peaceful lakes, impetuous rivers, monumental cascades… Like everywhere in Iceland also, water creates life since it allows the proliferation of the single most common vegetation, moss. On the other hand, it can also be a frightening obstacle that should not be underestimated : water is a major condition for our paths, as there are several areas where one can cross and others where a crossing should really not be tempted…

The ice here also has its importance : from their disproportionate size, the glaciers have a prevalent importance since they represent 20% of the territory. Myrdalsjokull is the second larger glacier of Iceland : to trek on it was a great experience but most the impressive thing was to realize its omnipresence in the landscape. Sometimes occupying all the horizon, this true glacial sea often merges with the clouds…

Fire and volcanic activity found here a privileged place : the proximity of Hekla and its lava fields, the geothermic zone of Hrafntinnusker where the ground vibrates under one's feet, the monumental eruptive Eldgja fault until the hot springs where it is so sweet to plunge… everything here reminds us that the ground is in constant evolution and that the welcoming landscapes that we crossed were formerly, and perhaps not so long ago, the stage of apocalypse scenes.

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