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Askja is a place where you abruptly sense the immense forces that have shaped Iceland throughout time. The black a field at the bottom of Askja and the sharp peaks towering all around, give this unique place a feel of mystery that will leave no-one untouched.
Askja is a giant caldera (Spanish for cauldron) in the mountain range of Dyngjufjoll. Dyngjufjoll lies to the north of Vatnajokull - the third largest glacier behind the Arctic and Greenland. The caldera has subsided below the water table. In the S-E-corner of Askja lies Lake Oskjuvatn, 11 km2 and 217 m deep, which makes it the deepest lake in Iceland. The lake, formed by a giant eruption in 1875, is well fenced off by sheer cliff walls and can only be reached from the eastern side.
Scientists believe that Askja may have been the biggest mountain in Iceland before it literally exploded and was transformed into a caldera. Thus it is an extremely rare phenomenon and has been the subject of extensive scientific research.
Vigorous geothermal activity is manifest on the eastern and southern boarders of the lake and in wintertime small patches west of the lake remain ice free. A large crater, Víti (inferno), just northeast of the subsistence, contains fumaroles and a small pond with warm water. Viti was also formed in the eruption of 1875. At its bottom there is lukewarm water (approx. 22°C), exactly the right temperature for bathing. This more than makes up for the fact that Askja is harder to get to than some places in Iceland (not being near the ring road). Bathing in the waters - kept warm by the pent up geothermal heat of the rocks - is certainly an acceptable way of appreciating Iceland.
Its only really possible to visit Askja in the height of Summer (a one-two month period) as the roads in the interior become impassable in the winter and are closed. Its possible to take a jeep tour from Lake Myvatn (which lies to the north and is superb) to Askja which would be an excellent experience (i imagine) but comes in at around £100. A cheaper alternative is the bus but this is still a hefty ~£50.
Be careful not to be fooled into thinking that you can bathe in the crater, Viti, a few kilometres from Lake Myvatn. Theres actually two Vitis (just to be confusing). One of them is warm and hard to reach while the other is very accessible but is freezing and probably not that healthy to bathe in. The 'pretend' Viti (yes I was duped too) lies in the Krafla volcanic plane and adjacent to the Krafla geothermal power station; just a few kilometres from Lake Myvatn. My girlfriend and I hired bicycles from the campsite and cycled the ~30km round trip. It was one of the best days in Iceland. However, Viti was not the highlight - the nearby 'Hvervir' provided a much more enjoyable stop off. Hvervir is an area of intense geothermal activity with fumaroles, bubbling pools of acidic sulphurous mud and steam vents. It makes a trip to the 'pretend' Viti well worth it.
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