Iceland. That Stunning Golden Circle
It is another cold day in Iceland. The temperature is 1C. And we are well togged up to hit the road again!
We are on our way along Iceland’s Golden Circle, a 300-kms drive that will take us to three of the country’s most popular attractions. But before we get there, we stop plenty of times, to play in the snow, to photograph the cute Icelandic horses, to gasp at amazing scenery and to ogle at nature’s gallery of picturesque places.
There is a popular saying amongst the Icelanders “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” And that is so true. One of the best things about traveling in Iceland is the extremes in weather that changes landscapes into various colour palettes in any given day. From the whiteness of snow and ice to greys and blacks from volcanic rocks and escarpments to green fields to the most colourful towns.
“Every five minutes is a whole new album of sights”
The Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is where the Viking settlers, who arrived in the 10th century, chose as their first parliament because of its unique geologically natural amphitheater. It was considered to be a perfect for public speaking including the high rock wall of Logberg (Law Rock), where the laws of the land would be recited from memory.
Aside from its historic interest, Thingvellir has some stunningly beautiful views. This Park is situated in an active volcanic area that spans 24,000 ha. The Park is surrounded by a belt of mountains, with grass-covered lava fields and the beautiful Lake Þingvallavatn which lies at the southern end.
The walking trail is long, yet well worth the effort. I walk through the Thingvellir Rift Valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. These plates are being pulled apart at a rate of 2 centimetres (nearly an inch) per year. On either side are high cliffs, dramatic fissures and the views are simply stunning.
The entire hike takes about 2 hours.
Our next stop is in the Haukadalur valley to see the Great Geysir, Iceland’s oldest known geyser and one of the world’s most impressive examples of a hotspring. But since the Geysir erupts only about three times a day, we assemble around the smaller version, the Strokkur geyser which erupts every 8-10 minutes.
The day is bitterly cold and my fingers barely bend to hold the camera! But I am determined to catch this spurt of hot water. And sure enough, whooooooosh…and a blast of boiling hot water shoots up about 40 meters into the sky, followed by a stream of hot vapour. Not happy with one show, we decide to stick around for a couple more ‘shoots’.
We drive on to our next stop, Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall. Cascading down from Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull, the tremendously powerful force of water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon. On either side, the walls reach up to 70 meters in height.
The viewing platform is high above the Gullfoss and the surrounding area is spectacular. As you can probably tell, I am enthralled by nature’s beauty and love to breath in its freshness and absorb its splendor.
Gullfoss also has an interesting story. In the early 20th century foreign investors wanted to harness the power of Gullfoss to produce electricity. In 1907 Howells, an Englishman wanted to buy Gullfoss from Tómas Tómasson, a farmer who owned Gullfoss at this time. Tómas declined Howells´ offer to buy the waterfall but later he leased it to him. The farmer´s daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir who grew up on his father´s sheep farm sought to have the rental contract voided. Sigriður using her own saving hired a lawyer in Reykjavik to defend her case. The trial lasted years and Sigriður went several times barefoot on traitorous terrain to Reykjavik to follow up on her case. She even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if the construction would begin. Her attempts failed in court but before any damage was done to the waterfall the contract was disposed due to the lack of payments of the rent fee. The struggles of Sigriður to preserve the waterfall brought to people´s attention the importance of preserving nature and therefore she is often called Iceland´s first environmentalist.
In 1940 the adopted son of Sigriður acquired the waterfall from Sigriður´s father and later sold it to the Icelandic government. Gullfoss and its environs was designated as nature reserve in 1979 to permanently protect the waterfall and allow the public to enjoy this unique area.
Our next stop is at Kerid, a volcanic crater lake in Grimsnes South Iceland.
It is believed that Kerid was originally a cone volcano that erupted and and emptied its magma reserve. Once the magma was depleted, the weight of the cone collapsed into an empty magma chamber, later to be filled with water.
The Kerid caldera is composed of red volcanic rock and is around 55 m deep, 170 m wide and 270 m across. There is little vegetation in the steep-walled crater, save for one wall with a gentler slope which is covered with deep moss.
There is an entrance fee here, but it is a must-see. I walk along the edge of the cone (which is very safe) to take that perfect picture.
Our final stop for the day is at Hvolsvöllur, a town with about 900 inhabitants. Our accommodation is at the Spoi Guesthouse. This delightful guesthouse is run by a husband and wife, Gunnhildur and Gusti. Although we didn’t see the Missus, Gunnhildur was the perfect host and we have long chats with him about Iceland, the local culture, the food and other interesting folklore.
Did I see an elf?
Many Icelanders believe in elves and superstitions centre on the earliest settlers’ as they struggled to endure their isolated existence in such a majestic but unpredictable landscape. The elves differ from the extremely tiny figures that we imagine to real human-like figures and they sway a lot of important decisions in Iceland. . There are many places that have little homes for these elves and this little house could very well be inhabited by them. “Yes I did see them” said my imaginative self.
Did I see the Northern Lights? NO. But I’m not giving up hope!