GUIDEPOST REPRINT, FEATURING ICELAND: “WHOEVER HEARD OF AKUREYRI?,” 12 October 1973

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Akureyri today


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A GUIDEPOST Reprint

Ed’s note:
Photos used in this reprint are an attempt to
show how Arkureyri looks like in recent
years,  as compared to how it was  in 1973.

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WHOEVER HEARD OF AKUREYRI?

12 October 1973

 

By Jack & Carol Baker

AKUREYRI, Iceland – It’s a long way to Akureyri.

In fact, Iceland’s second city (pop. 11,000) lies just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

But it’s worth every inch of the trip to this bright modern community, particularly if you value clear water, blue skies and the great outdoor.

You can fly here from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and minimetropolis (pop. 100,000). The 40-minute flight ($25 return) offers a spectacular look at the glaciers, which cover one-tenth of the country.

Aprés-ski in Akureyri whose population in 2017 has risen dramatically to 18,000

You may prefer to combine the flight with the eight-hour bus trip ($6 one way). The coach windows provide a memorable closeup of this haunting, lonely land. The 280-mile road from ReykJavik to Akureyri is the country’s main artery, yet it’s gravel all the way.

“Too much road and too few taxpayers,” our bus driver grumbled.

“There are only 200,000 people in all Iceland, so asphalt’s a luxury we can’t afford. Pavement is for the towns.”

He was taking a coffee break at a panoramic hillside way-station, where his passengers could count more waterfalls than houses.

“The coach rides smooth on gravel, though,” he added, looking out at the mountains. “Anyway, I’d rather have wide open spaces than a concrete jungle.”

Back on the bus, eight British students, here on a geology field trip, served as good humour men. Their makeup choruses, sung to the tune of Tipperary, included the following:

“It’s a long way to Akureyri,
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way to Akureyri,
Past green fields and mountain snow.

“Goodbye to pollution,
Hello, pure fresh air.
It’s a long way to Akureyri
But the hot caves are there!”

The hot caves are actually 60 miles east of Akureyri, near Lake Myvatn. It’s a bizarre place where you can walk into the mountain cave and swim in its natural hotwater pools.

The Grjótagjá hot cave near Lake Mayvatn, once a popular nature bath. However, shortly after “Whoever Heard of Akureyri?” was published, the temperature of the water rose to more than 50 °C (122 °F) , making it impossible to bathe there now

There’s nothing “touristy” about this attraction: no admission charge, no attendants, no lockers. The mountain just happens to contain some ready-made, kingsize bathtubs, one of them 80 feet long.

One pool is for gentlemen, the other for ladies. The gent’s pool is nine feet deep in places, but don’t leap, in deference to the rocks. Just undress and wade in, in all your immodesty. Of course no one will object if you wear a bathing suit.

The warm water is always fresh but no one has ever figured out where it seeps in or out. All that’s certain is it’s always a pleasurable 90º F.

There’s also a “mixed” pool deep inside the mountain, but you can enter it only with ropes, torchlights, and, preferably, a guide. All are readily obtainable at the tro country inns at the Myvatn settlement.

The lake itself is notable for the weird lava formations and rock pillars that protrude from the tranquil waters.

Nearby are fields of gushing geysers and boiling mud flats. Two other local attractions are Godafoss, a miniature Niagara, and more volcanic surrealism in the moon-like Valley of Dimmuborgir.

Akureyri town lies at the end of a deep fjord, with the surrounding hills and sheep pastures seemingly coated in green velvet.

At first sight, you may be amazed at how crystal-clear everything looks in this thriving fishing and farming centre.

It’s partly because natural hot springs heat the chimney-less town. Not one puff of smoke mars the horizon.

The Cathedral

A stark Lutheran Cathedral, 112 steps above the main street, dominates the town. It’s backed by a duck pond and botanical garden. The citizens take pride in their meticulously groomed parks, all genuine labours of love in a land where trees are rare. They’ve even grown a small forest of dwarf pines a few miles outside the town.

The Hotels KEA ($17 a double) and Vardborg ($12) are immaculately clean and comfortable, and the Supper Club Sjalfst is tops for dining and dancing. But no one really comes here for the night life.

From May to September, there’s not much night, period. But there are 18 to 22 hours of light each day, the better to explore the countryside. Summer temperatures range from 50 to 70 degrees.

The region offers everything under the Midnight Sun, from turf cottages and whaling stations to skiing on the glaciers and pony trekking along the fjords. A place with potential for “I-was-there” buffs is the fishing community of Grimsey, some 25 miles off Iceland’s north coast.

At present, Grimsey Island in the Arctic Circle: forty-five years after the article was published, its population “jumped” to 90!

You can get there by mailboat or charter plane from Akureyri. The island has one store, 70 inhabitants, innumerable birds and no trees.

The main attraction? The Artic Circle crosses the island. Visitors are given official certificates to prove they’ve entered the Arctic.

“It’s kind of nice,” one visitor notes, ”when you can visit Santa Claus country in your shirtsleeves.”

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Images
Featured image (Akureyri 2012)/HarmonyRae, CC BY2.0
Aprés-ski/AEvar Arnfjöro Bjarmason, CC BY2.0
Grimsey Island:/ https://www.akureyri.is/grimsey-en/grimsey-island/the-present-day, Fair use
Myvatn/https://www.northiceland.is/en/what-to-see-do/towns/myvatn, Fair use
Grjótagjá cave (summer 2009)/Chmee2, CC BY3.0