Krafla is a volcanic area in the northeast of Iceland, and one of Iceland’s largest lava lover lures. Craters, cones, pools and geothermal heat – Krafla has it all.Krafla is basically a 10 kilometre wide caldera which contains volcanoes – the latter containing a small azure-coloured geothermal pool and the former containing Iceland’s deepest lake. Both are inland in the Highlands and only accessible in the height of summer.
But the Krafla area starts close to Lake Mývatn and only a few minutes’ drive from Reykjahlíð village. At this convenient nearest point, accessible in any car, you will find the remains of the lengthy mid-80s eruption. This means a large, relatively flat area to explore and the opportunity to get up close and personal to spiky lava, hot pools, bubbling mud, ‘eggy’ sulphur smells and the expansive power station in the area.
The large Krafla geothermal power station takes full advantage of the volcanism in the area and its run-off is used in the lovely Mývatn Nature Baths. The site is also home to the first drill hole of the fascinatingly exciting Iceland Deep Drilling Project.
The project looks to harness the power of “super critical” water in energy generation and this involves drilling down to the lava where large quantities of water can quickly be heated to over 400°C. The project aims to drill around 4 km below the surface – but at Krafla the scientists and engineers hit lava at just 2,500 metres. That’s shallow!
Krafla is a sensitive site and is easily damaged by people walking around and exploring. That is the reason the site is so well marked with footpaths and trails. These, combined with the good car park and bathroom facilities make Krafla a good place to go hiking with children and people with somewhat reduced mobility. The paths may be suitable for wheelchairs in good weather, although they can get soft and muddy in wet conditions.
Krafla is the best place to see first-hand where Iceland comes from. The whole country used to look like this at one point – as in fact did almost every country if you look far enough back into prehistory. It makes a good contrast with places like the Reykjanes peninsula down south, which features the same sort of landscape, except a few thousand years older. The difference is at once both stark and surprisingly little.
One thing is for sure: we all owe our lives to volcanoes and given long enough, Krafla will develop into remarkably fertile soil. But none of us will be alive to see that…
Krafla Geothermal Power Station
Development for harnessing of geothermal steam at Krafla, near Lake Mývatn in north Iceland, began with trial boreholes in 1974. Construction work commenced in the summer of 1975. The powerhouse and other structures were designed for two 30 MW turbines.
The station was initially designed and built for the Icelandic State and was run by the Krafla executive committee and later taken over by the State Electric Power Works. In 1985 Landsvirkjun purchased the Krafla station from the State.
Various initial difficulties were encountered in exploration and drilling for steam, largely due to seismic and volcanic activity which caused corrosive magma vapours to enter the geothermal system, destroying the borehole linings. A series of nine volcanic eruptions began in the vicinity of the station in December, 1975 and lasted intermittently until September 1984. Seismic and volcanic impact on operations at Krafla has been gradually diminished since then.
In 1996, Landsvirkjun decided to complete the install action of the second unit. Drilling for steam began immediately using improved drilling technology which has proved highly successful. Electricity production from the second unit began in November 1997, and since late 1998, the Krafla station has been operated with full capacity of 60 MW, as originally planned.
Get there by bus from Mývatn