Tourists Flock to Unmarked Hot Spring in North Iceland

A hot spring in Eyjafjörður, North Iceland

A hot spring near the Vaðlaheiði tunnel in North Iceland has attracted tourists for its natural 30°C baths and picturesque waterfall. Without official signage or facilities, visitors have turned to social media and Google Maps to locate the popular spot.

“Hope it’s OK”

A hot spring near the entrance of the Vaðlaheiði tunnel in North Iceland has become popular among tourists. The spring was created during the construction of the Vaðlaheiði tunnel when workers accidentally drilled into a vein of hot water. This led to the formation of a brook with water at 30°C, which gracefully tumbles off cliffs, creating a picturesque waterfall.

As noted by RÚV, the site lacks official signage or registration with tourism agencies, and there are no facilities for changing; visitors typically drape their clothes over nearby bushes. Despite its popularity, bathers proceed with caution, uncertain of the legality of their bathing activities.

“We just thought: ‘If people have been here, it should be fine, right? We hope it’s OK. Until someone says it’s not, we’ll just keep doing it,” Maria Lauridsen, a Danish tourist, told RÚV yesterday while bathing in the spring.

The spring and the surrounding waterfall have garnered attention on social media. As noted by RÚV, Google Maps is the most effective tool for locating this secluded spot, which attracts tourists for its no-cost, natural bathing experience. The spring serves as the main bathing site, but the waterfall remains a significant draw.

New Path Paved Through 85-Year-Old Forest

A team of some of Iceland’s most experienced loggers is in the process of cutting a path through Vaðlaskógur, an 85-year-old forest that stands across from Akureyri, on the other side of the Eyjafjörður fjord in Northeast Iceland. RÚV reports that the felling will make way for a a 2 km [1.2 mi] walking and cycling path, as well make way for hot water pipes from the Vaðlaheiði tunnel to run water to a new bathing area in the forest. An estimated 130 tons of timber will be cut down in the process.

“You can read the history of Icelandic forestry here,” says Ingólfur Jóhannsson, managing director of the Eyjafjörður Forestry Association who is overseeing the project. “People were just experimenting in 1936, when planting started here—no one knew what [species] would thrive in the country.” Ingólfur says that at the time, pretty much anything and everything was planted in the area. “…[S]ome [trees] lived and some died, and that was the foundation for our forestry work today.”

Screenshot, Vísir

Today, several species of spruce grow in Vaðlaskógur, as do beach pines, pitch pines, mountain pines, Alpine firs, rowans, and multiple willow species. All told, Ingólfur estimates that there are some thirty species of trees growing in the forest.

The diversity of species makes this a complicated process for the loggers, who must be selective and ensure that they aren’t felling just any tree. The eleven-person team was assembled from experienced professionals hailing from Reykjavík, Skagafjörður, Akureyri, and Egilsstaðir and will spend about two weeks completing the project. The resulting timber will then be used for building materials and firewood.

Although a number of trees will need to be cleared for the project, Ingólfur spoke highly of the planned outdoor area, which will be easily accessible to visitors. “Paths are also valuable in forests.”

Whale of a Watching Season in North Iceland

This summer has been particularly good for whale watching in North Iceland, Vísir reports. According to one representative, Freyr Antonsson of Arctic Adventures in the North Iceland village of Dalvík, his company made 180 whale watching trips in July and saw a whale on all but four of them.

“We’ve had to sail a bit further out than where their food supply is, but there’s nothing unusual about that,” he remarked. “Yesterday, I went on three trips. In the morning, I saw one humpback, in the middle of the day, I saw five, and then one in the later part of the day. All in the same spot.”

There have been reports that few whales have been sighted of late in Eyjafjörður, the fjord on which the town of Akureyri is located. According to Freyr and others in the whale watching industry, however, that problem hasn’t extended beyond the fjord.

New Museum Examines the History of Tuberculosis in Iceland

Hælið, a new museum dedicated to the history of tuberculosis (TB) in Iceland, opened in Kristnes in North Iceland earlier this month. RÚV reports that the museum is located on the grounds of a former sanatorium for patients suffering from what was dubbed “the white death,” both in and outside of Iceland. Its collection includes photographs, personal effects, and dramatized, first-person accounts of people who suffered from the disease.

A total of 5,900 people died from tuberculosis between 1911 and 1970 in Iceland.

Tuberculosis isn’t “sexy”

The Hælið museum was founded by María Pálsdóttir, who grew up around Kristnes, just outside of Akureyri on the Eyjafjörður fjord. María was back for a visit in 2015 and said she was sorry to see the former clinic falling into disrepair. And so, she thought: “Why don’t I do something with it?”

The Kristnes Hospital was originally founded as a sanatorium for TB patients in 1927. Today, the main building houses the Akureyri Hospital’s rehabilitation centre and gerontology ward, but some of its outbuildings have not been in use for some time. María converted one of these unused buildings—the former living quarters for female sanatorium staff—into the Hælið museum.

“I got all kinds of warnings that [tuberculosis] was not something I should be focusing on—that it wasn’t sexy. But then I asked in response, ‘What’s sexy about herring?’” she recalled, referring to the town of Siglufjörður’s famous Herring Era Museum.

Loved him “to every last bone”

The museum has already been visited by a number of people who were once patients at the sanatorium. María says the exhibition has touched these visitors in different ways, explaining that there was no such thing as trauma counselling in those days and as such, many of these former patients hadn’t fully processed their experiences or even talked about the illness before now. She continued that there was a great deal of shame and isolation surrounding the disease, even after patients had recovered, as people around them often remained afraid of contracting the illness.

Over the last four years, María has been contacted by numerous people touched by TB and received mementoes and objects related to patients’ time in the sanatorium and their treatments. This response just goes to show how important this subject is for people, she says.

Among the most remarkable things in the exhibition are five rib bones that belonged to a TB patient named Bjössi Sör. Bjössi contracted tuberculosis in 1953 and underwent a Thoracoplasty, that is, a surgical technique that was one of several ‘collapse therapies’ used on tuberculosis patients prior to the advent of antituberculosis chemotherapy. The procedure involved “the removal of several ribs at a time to cause the deflation of part of the lung.” It was thought that collapsing part of a lung in TB patients would give the organ time to rest and repair itself, and also cut off the supply of oxygen to TB bacteria. Thoracoplasties were the most drastic of the collapse therapy methods because they were permanent and as such, were only used in the most desperate of cases. Typically, the removed rib bones were thrown out, but in Bjössi’s case, his wife, who “loved him down to every last bone,” decided to keep them and stored them ever since in an old pantyhose box. Both the bones and the box they’ve been kept in are now on display at Hælið.

Hælið is open every day in the summer and will be open on weekends in the winter. In addition to its interactive exhibit, there is also a café on site. See more on its Facebook page or website.