Family Kiwidutch went on a whistle-stop four day trip to Iceland in February 2014, and whilst we really aren’t “winter” people and had big reservations about how we would handle a winter trip to a cold country, Iceland has by far exceeded our expectations.
We have not only heard about Iceland’s famous hot springs, but have also seen numerous signs during our travels advertising smaller hot pools as we travelled around in the car.
On our last day we headed out to one of the main tourist spots that we have both had recommended and have seen brochures for: The Blue Lagoon thermal hot pools.
Of course there will be comparisons for us with New Zealand’s Hanmer Hot Springs thermal pools, which is an hour and a half away from Christchurch in the South Island and which we have been to often as a family but we love hot pools so we are really looking forward to this visit.
The skies are grey and overcast as we make our way to the Blue Lagoon and the wind is almost gale force so it was rather a shock to find out when we got there that the large carpark is a real distance from the front entrance of the pools.
The man in charge of the little office by the car park is friendly enough and tells us that there are free wheelchairs available to get to me the entrance, but there is no way I can be dropped off there by car. Even with Himself pushing the wheelchair at a good clip and the kids racing ahead with the crutches, this has to be by far the coldest stretch of Icelandic outdoors we have experienced the whole trip. We arrive within a minute of the doors opening for the day and are beyond relieved to be inside. Since we have arrived in winter and so early in the day the queues are almost non existent and we are ushered to a separate disabled changing area that is not only big enough for the whole family but includes a big shower and a set of lockers.
We get to take a short-cut from there to an area that leads to the pools, there are two options: the most direct way is via doors and a few steps the other is via an indoor ramp into the water (inside) and through an area that leads outside (whilst still in the water).
It’s a brilliant way to keep warm getting in and out of the pool so it is of course the option that’s both easiest due to my lack of mobility and most luxurious.
We swim through the divide and arrive outside. There we are greeted by the same howling wind which gives us a situation where our bodies under the water are warm but our heads above it are really freezing.
As we get further out into the pool area we discover that the bottom of the pool follows the natural bottom of the springs and that most of it is really shallow.
We figure out that if we stood up the water would only be knee deep in many places and since the bottom of the pool us natural and undulating there are sharp dips and rises which for me and my foot are painful to negotiate.
The other problem is that such shallow water, and such strong winds mean that the freezing gale is cooling the surface centimetres of the water so that it’s actually cold water, and the “heat” underneath us is variable, meaning that we are basically in lukewarm water with a few hot spots that we discover that every other visitor is huddled in. There are a few extras like some overhead waterfalls that are so strong it’s both luxurious and buffeting to stay underneath, saunas (none of us are sauna lovers as it turns out) and other things further over that we are too cold to go and investigate.
I bought a “Go-pro” to use on this trip but neglected to learn how to retrieve the photos (technophobe as usual) so even though we made videos they are still on the chip (yes, blush, I know I’m really bad).
We end up spending far less time in the pools than we intended and after changing, headed to the Lava restaurant for a lunch. The camera, which I used on the entrance path in, has now seized up again due to the cold so most of my lunch photos are rather ghostly and strange.
The two fuzziest photos are the ones I really wanted to turn out the most… they are of the pool edge outside: the ferocious wind is blowing up gusts of spray off the warm surface which is then freezing solid as it hits the area around the edge of the pool and there is an ever thickening layer of ice in the walking area closest to our window.
Considering that the water in the pools is hot (or in today’s case – warm) it’s quite a feat of one side of Mother Nature over another side.
We brave the icy cold to get back to the car, and while we are pleased we came, we all agree that the depth of the water in New Zealand’s Hanmer Springs, and it’s far more sheltered location make for a much more enjoyable experience even when we have been there in winter and had snow settling on our shoulders, at no point were we cold.
The only thing that the Blue Lagoon does far better is the indoor entrance to the water and the more upmarket lunch. (There was a more café / cafeteria option available but we fancied something more substantial and a longer time to sit down and thaw out).
It’s at this point that we regret not visiting one of the more out of the way hot pool options round Iceland, so my advice on this would simply be: this is one part of the trip where we would recommend NOT following the crowds, even in downtown Reykjavik there are thermal heated public pools, we wish we had our time over and would have tried those instead.
The bridge goes to a small “island” area in the main pool, the area in front of it is all ice…