Iceland is the only country in Europe where you can witness exploding hot springs. Stóri Geysir, the famous Great Geysir, can be found right here in the beautiful geothermal valley of Haukadalur. The best-known geyser of all has been inactive for quite a long time, last erupting in 2009.
Strokkur, just a few footsteps away from Great Geysir is now the hot spring to watch. Strokkur means ‘the churn’. Churning out its dramatic steam-filled watery explosions of power every few minutes, this geyser hot spring certainly lives up to its name. Living in Iceland I have watched Strokkur erupt its scalding steamy jets many times, but the feeling of watching something very rare and special never goes away. Standing still and watching Strokkur’s steaming but tranquil surface, a very special kind of anticipation builds.
Will you be able to second-guess the moment when Strokkur will burst into eruptive fury? Sometimes you can but other times you can’t. I have sometimes felt a change in the ground beneath my feet, like a small judder, particularly before a really powerful spout, which will easily explode steam 20 to 30 meters into the air. The best sign to look out for, which comes a split-second before Strokkur blows, is a slight change in the surface of the water. The moment you witness a kind of subtle stirring beneath the surface, or any change at the perimeter of the wide pool, you know Strokkur is primed and ready to blow.
I promise you will be filled with awe when Strokkur blows. The sight of hot water and steam from deep within the earth being hurled explosively into the air is magnificent. Even Strokkur’s smaller blasts are seriously impressive. Too overawed to capture the sight with your camera? Just wait around five minutes for Strokkur to erupt again! The sight of an erupting geyser is a very rare thing, something you can see in so few places around the globe. The soft misty vapor that is left hanging in the air after Strokkur blows gives the area around it a surreal feel. It is so easy then to imagine the lords and noblemen of a legendary past coming together in a splendid hall at Haukadalur. The history books do not tell of this, but the steam-filled atmosphere can stir our imagination in beautiful ways!
Watching a geyser erupt is a very powerful experience, one that really does remind you of the forces of nature at work, beneath your feet, and all around you. Steaming streams trace their way between small geysers and multiple boiling pools.
So what causes a geyser?
An erupting geyser is a hydrothermal explosion. To create this, the first essentials are volcanic activity, when red-hot magma heats the rock at a depth of around 2000 meters, and a plentiful subterranean water supply comes into contact with the boiling rocks. The superheated water and steam explode deep within the earth, and that force, together with convection, facilitates the spouting or geyser activity.
However, before we can enjoy this wonderful spectacle, a couple of other requirements need to be satisfied. There must be adequate fractures in the rock forming a vent through which the water can flow to the surface, and the rock surrounding the chamber or receptacle that holds the water and steam must be able to withstand the explosive pressure that is generated. Silicon dioxide is leached out of nearby rocks and this seals the vent, ensuring pressure is maintained as the water is forced upwards. If the vent becomes silted up or the hot water supply becomes insufficient, there will be no eruptions. This happens to all geysers eventually.
How geyser works?
As jets of steam and water rise towards the surface, the top part of it cools. However, the water held at a deeper level or in the receptacle cannot cool, and it remains far hotter than boiling point. Thus, the rising superheated water becomes an unstoppable force that explodes through the surface of the cooler (but still very hot) water, forming the scalding, steaming jet that soars skywards when the geyser erupts. The process then repeats itself at intervals. Strokkur can be relied upon to erupt every five minutes or so.
How is geyser spelled?
You probably noticed I have used the spelling Geysir and geyser in this blog, something that is by design rather than sloppiness! Geysir with an “i” is the Icelandic word, taken from Stóri Geysir. When this geyser‘s name was adopted to describe this form of exploding hot spring, the spelling was altered to Geyser with an “e”. In Iceland, when using Icelandic places or names, for example, Geysir in Haukadalur, the Icelandic spelling is used. Of course, when writing in English about the geyser phenomenon in a general way, the correct spelling is geyser!
Where is Geysir Geothermal Area?
Geysir is situated on the Golden Circle 107 km from Reykjavík if you take the shorter northerly route.
Take the Ring Road north to Mosfellsbær, then turn onto Road 36 signposted to Þingvellir. You then take Road 365 through the village of Laugarvatn, and continue on Road 37 until you turn left onto Road 35.
Traveling south, Geysir is 115 km from Reykjavík. Take the Ring Road towards Selfoss and turn left onto Road 35 just before the town, and continue to Geysir.
How far is Geysir from Gullfoss?
Geysir is 9.6 km from Gullfoss Waterfall. You just need to follow Road 35.
When is Geysir Geothermal Area open?
Geysir is open all the time.
Geysir Geothermal Area – Where to eat and facilities
Hotel Restaurant Geysir
Restaurant Geysir Glíma
The Súpa restaurant in the Geysir Center, which specializes in soup and healthy food.
Fast food outlet in the Geysir Center
The Geysir Center offers a range of facilities including toilets and a retail outlet selling good quality souvenirs and outdoor clothing items.
How to get to Geysir
If you want to hire a car and drive there is a free car park close to the geothermal area. But if you prefer to join a shared or private tour check our Golden Circle tour options.
Written by Kay Tina Cook