The Golden Circle in Iceland is a classic set of places to visit in the western region of the country. We had opted for a tour to take in the key sights but also to get us up on the Langjokull glacier which is only accessible via a powerful 4×4.
Our vehicle and guide picked us up at 8:30 and soon we were underway for the 1.5 hour drive to our first destination – the waterfall of Faxifoss.
This picturesque waterfall is an impressive 80 meter wide, 7 meter high powerful gush of blue water cutting across the green-brown scrub-land with the distant mountains beyond. Beside the waterfall was a series of concrete water terraces that allowed salmon to jump upwards as part of their breeding cycle.
Apart from it’s natural beauty, I liked the accessibility of this waterfall – being able to get up very close and feel the spray. We only had 15 minutes here but I would have liked to have spent longer exploring all the photo opportunities but I have to remember that not everyone has the same interest as me in this regards! 🙂
Geyser area near Haukadalur
Just 15 minutes drive from Faxifoss, we stopped beside the world famous geothermal area generally known as Geysir after its most famous geyser (and from which the word is derived).
Until about 2003, Geysir itself used to erupt spectacularly in a 70 meter high explosion of water and steam, but is currently in a dormant period. The nearby Strokkur geyser is not as high but erupts every few minutes reaching heights of about 30 meters.
Surrounding these two highlights is a steaming landscape with many smaller pools surrounded by the brown silica with the strong smell of sulphur giving the whole place a rather hell-some feeling!
We strolled through the area watching Strokkur erupt a few times before heading back down to the jeep to move on.
The jeep than took us beyond where the tarmac road finished and turned to gravel and took us further up into the mountains. Before long, the gravel road was also slowly fading as the snow covering thickened and we bounced around with increasingly rugged terrain. Finally, we were driving purely on snow and ice and our driver nonchalantly declared we would just drive us far as he could get up towards the Langjakull glacier!
Langjakull means ‘Long Glacier’ and it lives up to its name. It is about 50 km long and 15-20 km wide. Our guide pointed at what we at first thought were clouds behind the nearby mountains and we realised we were looking at the edge of the huge glacier.
Finally, our jeep stopped beside a rocky mound allowing us to scramble out and climb up to get a view. The snow was coming down thickly and the ice underfoot made it tricky going but the views were good from the top albeit mostly ‘white’ in every direction!
After a few pictures, the snow was coming down heavily and it was getting cold. We jumped back into the cars and headed back across the snow. We passed a group of snow-mobile riders on their own tour who had stopped since it looked like one of them had had an accident. Our driver had heard on his CB radio that one of the drivers had tipped over and broken his hand or arm so they were trying to extract him gently which can’t have been easy in this remote area.
Back on the tarmac road, it wasn’t far to the awesome waterfall of Gullfoss after which the ‘golden circle’ is named (‘gull’ meaning golden; ‘foss’ meaning waterfall).
It had changed a fair bit since my last visit the early 2000’s with more walkways to be able to see more of the waterfall. Gullfoss is a big waterfall – a two stage falls covering a drop of about 60 meters in total into a 20 meter wide crevice. Spray rises from the falls covering the nearby rocks which then turns to ice to add to the overall drama of the place. We explored all the walkways which all provided interesting angles at which to see different parts of the falls.
Thingvellir is a national park situated across the divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It is a dramatic landscape with a long row of cliffs on each side of a wide rift-valley. A large lake and picturesque scenery fills the gap, and towards the American cliffs, a flag pole marks the earliest known parliament first held there in 930 AD.
We were dropped off and took a lovely walk along the edge of the cliffs which allowed us to explore some of the views as it slowly wound its way up to the top for a final view across the whole park. The skies were still quite overcast but on a sunny day, I bet this would be an even more lovely site.
We were by now most of the way back to Reykjavik so it was only an hour or so back to the hotel arriving at 5pm in time to make good use of happy-hour to share memories of a fabulous day!