Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Golden Circle

Perhaps the most popular excursion in Iceland is the Golden Circle. It's easy to hire a tour operator, they are offered daily, but for us it was more interesting to rent a car and do it on our own. The Golden Circle consists of the sites of Geysir, Gullfoss and Þingvellir. Since we had already visited Þingvellir we decided to do more of a half Golden Circle and add in a little side trip to the nearby coast.

Being that we had taken part (a very small part) in the Saturday night runtur, we slept in and asked the nice folks at Budget Rent a Car to pick us up from the hotel at about 12:30. They took us to the rental office, which is at the bus station making it very easy to get a cab after drop off, and after a hearty brunch of eggs and bacon at The Grey Cat we were on the road around 2pm. Since sunset wasn't until almost 10pm this gave us plenty of time to do our drive.  

Although there are networks of small roads throughout Iceland there is really just one main ring road around the country. The car rental agent even advised us against spending money on a GPS and just use the free map. It couldn't have been easier.

Our first stop was the Kerid Crater. This small volcanic crater is sitting just off the main road without any fencing to keep unsuspecting but curious tourists from sliding into it. Quite a site with the bright red dirt, green moss and dark blue water.
The landscape was dotted with small houses or clusters of houses but no real towns to speak of. We were driving along the back side of the mountains we had been on the day before and they were gorgeous. We are practically the only car on the road, very relaxing!

Next up we came to Geysir which is an area with an abundance of geothermal activity. There are small bubbling hot springs all over and some now spent, including the namesake Geysir, which are still very interesting to check out. Looking into this large one felt like you were looking down into the center of the earth!

But the show here is all about Strokkur which erupts about every 8 to 10 minutes, wowing the waiting crowds. We first glimpsed it from the parking area, it having just gone off. The second time we saw it the breeze pushed the mist towards us and we were rained on by the warm water. The third time we saw it we took this:
video
Check out that crazy water bubble at the very beginning and the exposed pit where the water is sucked in at the end! What you don't see is that right after Dayne turned off the camera Stokkur did a second smaller eruption. All very cool and not as stinky as you might expect.

After a bit of shopping at the Geysir Shop right across the road we were off again, next stop Gullfoss. These double falls are truly impressive and the largest falls in Europe. The rainbow just an added bonus.

It's hard to get a full prospective shot but this is taken quite close (again no barriers stopping anyone from going over!) and is of the first level. From here the water continues on to a steep ledge where it disappears to the river below.
After leaving the Gullfoss area we headed back the way we had come, instead of continuing on to Þingvellir, but turned off the main road onto a dirt road, heading towards the coast. Even though we had read that even major roads in Iceland were dirt we were still a bit surprised by it, visions of driving in Costa Rica entered our minds. We stopped to pet some of the Icelandic horses, known for their unique gait called tolt. At one point on our drive we passed 3 riders, one doing tolt! It is so interesting looking (and supposedly if you carry a champagne glass while at a tolt not a drop will spill, cheers!)
We finally made it to the town of Stokkseyri where the largest lava flow in Iceland reaches the sea. It's a tiny little town best known for the restaurant Fjöruborðið and the delicious bisque and peal and eat lobsters they serve. It was the perfect stop for dinner.

As we drove home we were rewarded with this stunning sunset. Golden Circle indeed.

Iceland photos