Leaving the parking space at Vikraborgir behind the path through the lava field heads up hill to the lip of the caldera. A small incline with sharp chaotic lava abutting hills is coated in the remains of the winter snow. As the caldera comes into view the sheer scale of the area hits hard.
In the distance the Dyngjufjöll Mountains can be seen on the northern side of the UNESCO Vatnajökull National Park. Rising to over 1000 metres they are an impressive sight. A path meanders across the caldera. More of a worn trail than a path, indistinct in places but the intermittent markers show the way whatever the conditions.
Askja is a 45km² subsidence caldera formed when the roof to a magma chamber collapsed after an eruption about 10 thousand years ago. Later small eruptions filled the caldera with ash and lava until a large eruption in 1875 threw pumice and ash into the caldera and the surrounding area. Again the magma chamber roof collapsed and a new caldera formed. Over the next 30 years the caldera filled with ground water and the stunning 11km² Öskjuvatn Lake was formed. This is the deepest lake in Iceland with a depth of 217m. At the same time the smaller Víti explosion crater formed adjacent to Öskjuvatn Lake
Askja is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Iceland. Despite being flat the caldera walls and the Dyngjufjöll Mountains give perspective to the area. The colours of the lava change as you progress across the caldera and snow clings in places even in the middle of summer. As you walk across the caldera look at the craters and rocks that pepper the walls. They each have a unique appearance and vary in size, shape and colour.
Including people in your photographs will give a true sense of the scale. In summer this is harder as they blend with the colours of the landscape, but in the winter when there is snow on the ground, walkers add a new dimension to your photography.
On the edge of the caldera the lava is black and red. A great contrast and there is every size from tiny pieces of gravel to large rugged boulders. Take your time to explore what at first appears to be just a jumble of rocks. Shapes and colours will emerge the longer you look.
Öskjuvatn Lake on a good day will reflect the mountains behind. The best view of the lake is from the rim of the Víti explosion crater. This will provide height and a clear view. The only way to include the whole lake and mountains is with a panorama, it really is vast.
In the winter months the whole area is covered in a blanket of snow. It is easy to become disorientated with such a vast flat landscape. However the contrast of lava against snow and the frozen lake make for stunning and perfect images.
Getting to Askja
Askja is not any easy place to reach. It is reached by driving across lava fields and ash from Ring Road 1 following either the F910 or F905 to Dreki and then continuing along the F894 to the Vikraborgir car park at the end of the road. Whichever route is taken at least four hours if not more is needed after leaving the ring road to get to Askja. A 4WD vehicle is essential as the road is rough and there are a number of river crossings to ford.
The road is not open all year round and conditions change rapidly so the local conditions should be checked. It is also best to check with the rangers at Dreki before continuing to Askja.
Hiking Askja Caldera
There are clear trails and you can reach the caldera from the car park or by a longer walking route from Dreki. The rangers in Dreki can advise on routes and weather conditions.
When you reach the parking area there is a map with information about the routes and times, although these are just estimates. The walk across the caldera is clearly marked with yellow markers which you should follow whatever the weather and ground conditions. the path is indistinct and it is easy to wander off.
If you want to find out more or have company then there are daily guided walks across the caldera leaving from the car park.