Thirty kilometres due east of Hekla via the four-wheel-drive F225, Landmannalaugar is an astonishing place, a hot springs area set in a flat gravel plain between a glacial river and the front of a fifteenth-century lava flow. The landscape oozes rugged grandeur, with sharp-peaked obsidian and rhyolite mountains, brightly streaked in orange, grey and green, rising to a snowy plateau. Despite its proximity to Hekla, the area has provided summer pasture for sheep since medieval times, and was once a stage on back-country routes to the coast when flooding from Katla had closed the preferred coastal trails. Today, hikers have made Landmannalaugar a popular destination in its own right, not least for its position at the start of the exceptional four-day Laugavegur trail down to Þórsmörk, though an escalating number of campers simply come to enjoy a hot soak amongst the wild scenery.
The hot springs
Your first stop at Landmannalaugar has to be the celebrated hot springs, which are in a patch of green at the end of a boardwalk up against the lava front. A scalding stream emerges from underneath the lava and merges with a cold flow; you simply wade up the latter to where they mix, find a spot where the temperature is just right, and sit down up to your neck. You have to keep shifting every time a fellow bather moves, which alters the water currents and temperature, but you couldn’t ask for a better place to unwind. Be aware that some unidentified parasite in the hot pools has caused paralysis in ducks; the effects on humans are unknown but locals certainly don’t care.