After our days of nonstop, treacherous, incredible hiking and exploring throughout Iceland, Hannah and I took a much-needed Day of Rest in Reykjavik. We hanged out in coffee shops, walked around the city, went to the Penis Museum, ate some questionable food, and went to bed early. The next morning, we were ready to get up and at it again.
Iceland’s Golden Circle tour is extremely popular among tourists here, but we had absolutely no interest in sitting on a crowded bus with a hundred angsty foreigners all day, so we decided to do yet another self-guided tour with our little Kia, a grocery bag of snacks and our Camelbaks.
The Golden Circle is a big loop of highway that takes you around to several of Iceland’s most spectacular views and unique geological phenomena. The drive itself is incredibly beautiful, and we were enthralled by the weather throughout the day:
We were driving alongside Iceland’s largest lake on our right, with looming snow-capped mountains on our left, and massive expanses of flat field, gentle hills, or rocky landscape in between. Clouds were doing funny things because of this, and all day, we drove in and out of beautiful sunshine, sideways rain, high wind, and even hail and snow. The lighting was perfect for taking photos along most of the drive, and we counted a total of 8 – that’s EIGHT – rainbows (including at least one double).
The Golden Circle doesn’t have to take more than a few hours if you’re speedy, but we stopped all the time to take pictures of the views from the highway, so it took us all day. Just normal Iceland, being ridiculously, crazily, astonishingly gorgeous.
The first “formal” attraction we came to was in Þingvellir National Park (Þ is pronounced like something between “d” and “th”). Besides more amazing views, waterfalls, hiking trails, ancient churches, and streams, the Þingvellir area is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is one of only two places on earth (the other is the Great Rift Valley) where you can actually see how two tectonic plates have drifted apart (and continue to drift apart at 2 cm per year).
We were standing on the Eurasian plate, looking across at the North American plate, 7 km away. In between the rifts in the earth’s crust, a sprawling lowland of trees and rock and lake. We hiked around down there in between the two tectonic plates.
Along our walk we came upon Drekkingarhylur, the Drowning Pool, where, under Danish rule, women who were found guilty of various offenses were drowned up until 1838. Over 300 women were apparently drowned here, for crimes such as “witchcraft” or having children out of wedlock. Þingvellir is where the Icelandic parliament, Alþingi, was founded in 930.
This church is an historical structure in Þingvellir, built just shortly after Iceland’s “adoption” of Christianity around 1000 AD.
Anyway, enough history. Here is a waterfall:
We continued on around the Golden Circle, next coming to some geysers. I’d never seen a geyser in person before, and it was pretty awesome.
Strokkur, the main geyser we saw, goes off quite violently once every 4-8 minutes. I watched it, like, 4 times. It startled me every time.
It was really windy, and Hannah and I nearly got splashed with the boiling water one time, as it blew horizontally out of the geyser as opposed to its typical vertical spout. Icelandic safety standards are not on par with US standards. I guess they like their adrenaline rushes a bit more than us wimpy Americans (for more on this, see Leggjabrjótur).
Hannah and I walked around the geothermal area a bit more, checking out a variety of boiling water pits and old volcanos…
After we’d had our fill of the geyser area, we got back in the car and made our way to Gullfoss, which translates to “Golden Falls”. Gullfoss is massive, powerful, misty, and, obviously, breathtaking:
The last stop we made was a quick one, but it was still incredible: a HUGE volcanic crater!
Here is a picture for scale:
That was the end of the major points of interest along the Golden Circle. Of course, while these attractions were good, the drive itself was an incredible experience, what with the weather and landscape and 8 rainbows. Here are a few of my better rainbow pictures: