Touring the Icelandic Golden Circle

It was so nice to wake up and find ourselves still in Reykjavik, and still in this beautiful foreign city I was lucky enough to call my temporary home (for two days at least). I absolutely love it when a cruise ship docks overnight, especially when the port of choice is one that I’m head over heels for.

Today was going to be a long, long day. It wouldn’t be like our first day – no pampering and relaxation at a spa. No, today was all about sightseeing. We were headed to Iceland’s renowned Golden Circle for a full-day excursion with the ship. Today was about exploring, adventuring, admiring, and photographing.

The Golden Circle is a very popular tourist route in southern Iceland and it covers about 300 kilometres of distance. It loops from Reykjavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. The Golden Circle is the area that you’ll find most tours and travel-related activities in Iceland. It’s only a marketing term and the name doesn’t actually have any roots in Icelandic history. The three main spots and the spots you should definitely pay a visit to are the Thingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which is where you’ll get to see the two geysers, Geysir and Strokkur. Our tour was going to take us to all 3, plus Kerid.

Photo Courtesy of ‘The Culture Map’

So, to the Golden Circle we went. I was so excited but unfortunately, it was raining. Not just a tiny drizzle, but more of a shower. A hide-under-your-umbrella type of shower. But at this point, the weather – and all its ups and downs – was no longer something I was surprised about so we bundled up, put on a brave face, and headed out into the wet weather.

Our first stop was the Thingvellir National Park, perhaps one of the most famous tourist attractions in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley and what makes it so special is that it marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the divide between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate.

The site of the national park is also associated with the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland, which was at the site from 930 AD to 1798.

The rain really picked up during this spot and we had minimal time to explore (The one big downside to going with organized tours) so this adventure mostly consisted of trying to take the best pictures in the rain and walking as fast as we can to see as much of the park as we could.

Next up and following the trail of the Golden Circle, we visited the geothermal area in Haukadalur to see some geysers. The main ones to see, as said by our tour guide, was Strokkur and Geysir. Geysir, one of the largest ones there, has been dormant for many years, but Strokkur erupts about once every six to ten minutes.

Strokkur and its eruptions were so much fun to watch. You get some amazing pictures, too. Just a tip: Put your camera in Sport mode so that as long as your finger is pressing down on the button, your camera keeps capturing photos.

Look at her blow!

We got to see it erupt once and after the first time, our tour guide let us stay for just one more “show” before we had to go off to lunch. The timing of the eruptions is pretty consistent so the wait between each one is minimal.

Strokkur erupted once more and after that second and last “show”, we thought we were done. But then, it erupts once more just a few seconds after! We were all so stunned because rarely does it erupt twice in a row. Then, just barely after we recovered from the shock of the second eruption, Strokkur strikes again! A third one! It was amazing. We were all laughing and joking about how the geyser was very, very angry.

But then, it erupts once more just a few seconds after! We were all so stunned because rarely does it erupt twice in a row. Then, just barely after we recovered from the shock of the second eruption, Strokkur strikes again! A third one! It was amazing. We were all laughing and joking about how the geyser was very, very angry.

There are other smaller geysers in the area, too. Walk around and appreciate the landscape a bit — it’s stunning. The wispy smoke and the green and brown landscape make for a picture-perfect image.

After a traditional Icelandic lunch with the tour group, our bus drove over to the Gullfoss Waterfall. It’s located on the Hvita river which is fed by Iceland’s second largest glacier, the Langjokull. The water from Gullfoss plummets down 32 metres in two stages into a rugged canyon, which has walls that reach up to 70 metres in height.

This stop was the best part of my day, 100%.

As I stood on a rocky ledge and overlooked the greatness that was the Gullfoss Waterfall, I got that same feeling that I had gotten looking over Geirangerfjord that first day of my trip. It’s hard to describe in words, but it felt surreal. It’s that feeling we should all have a few times in our life, just to know we’re living rather than just existing.

The waters of Gullfoss Waterfall roar so loudly and the rapids rush past each other, almost as if in a race. The whole waterfall – all of Iceland’s nature for that fact – seems so invincible. It makes me think of greatness, but at the same time, it almost scares me to just watch it because of how overpowering it seems. We almost forget that nature and all these things – waterfalls, geysers, craters, mountains – have been here for so much longer than we have and that although they say nothing, they say so much. It screams with its greatness and with its enormity. It screams with all that it is. It was refreshing to watch and admire.

After Gullfoss came another smaller, more modest waterfall – Faxi Waterfall. This translates to Horse’s Mane in English. On the side, you can see a fish ladder which helps with navigation and migration.

Speaking of horses and their manes, our second-to-last stop of the day would be Fridheimar where tourists often go to for horse shows.

We took our seats in the stands and watched as different horses and different trainers paraded and rode their horses around the field for us to marvel at. Some had their horses trot, some had their horses gallop, some had their horses running. One of the trainers even held onto and sipped from a jug of beer while riding her horse around the circle (That’s the definition of skill if you ask me.)

It was great to see some of the horses up close and witness more of Iceland’s culture, life, and entertainment. After the show, you’re even allowed to visit the horses they have there in their stands and pet them. They were cute, but I couldn’t tell if they liked me or my camera more. I guess I need to work on my horse whispering skills.

We said our goodbyes to the horses. On the way back to our cruise ship was one last stop: Kerid. Kerid, which is anglicized as Kerith, is a volcanic crater. It’s about 55 metres deep, 170 metres wide and 270 metres across. The soil/rock is a prominent red colour and because of the minerals from the soil, the lake is a stunning aquamarine colour. (If only the sky wasn’t so gloomy.)

I stood on the edge of a rock at the top and spent a long time just overlooking the crater. Similar with Gullfoss, I was just admiring its beauty, its greatness. The idea that it’s been around for about 3,000 years but is considered to be young in comparison to the other craters.

Finally, we headed back to the ship after that long, but exciting excursion, just in time before the ship was scheduled to leave port. Onboard, sitting in our cabin balconies, we said our individual goodbyes to Reykjavik and Iceland. It was a tough goodbye to say, but I’m confident that I’ll be back in this stunning country very soon. It just can’t keep me away – I crave more adventure, more spas and lagoons, more waterfalls, and more life.

So, until next time, Iceland. This is certainly not our last rendezvous. I’ll be seeing you soon.

Next up? Our very last port for this 2017 European Getaway (it came too soon, I know!)

Keep your eye out for the next (and last) blog post in the series to spend some time in the lush landscape of the Faroe Islands. The Faroes surprised me with its beauty. They will surprise you too.

Happy summer and happy travels!

~Julia

 

 

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