Iceland’s Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in South Iceland, covering about 300 km. The three primary stops on the route are the national park Þingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss, and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. After about eight hours touring the Golden Circle the visitor gets a sense of how wild and rugged Iceland is. Remember that the last volcanic eruption was only in 2011.
We started by driving through lava fields that made your feel like you were on a different planet rather than a different country. As you drive you notice the lack of trees. Acres and acres of landscape with nothing better than a bush. And when occasionally you see trees they are quite short. Icelanders joke that if you get lost in a forest in Iceland… stand up!
Out in the lava fields we were taken to a geothermal power station where we began to get an appreciation of the extent of volcanic activity in Iceland. Our guide told that home heating in Reykjavic is via piped hot water and in fact even some foot paths had built in hot water pipes to keep them clear of snow and ice.
With our new appreciation of geothermal activity we were taken to Haukadalur to see Geysir. How eerie to see steam rising from the ground over a wide area! To see an actual geyser in action was a new experience for us Aussies. Geysir erupts every 6 to 8 minutes which translates to just when you have tired of pointing your camera, or when the power save shuts your camera down, or when your attention wanes and you look into the distance. The challenge is to click the shutter at exactly the right time!
We had a quick meal at Geysir – and it was certainly set up to handle coach loads efficiently with good hot food. From there it is a short journey to the very impressive Gulfoss Falls. In the first half of the 20th century, the government approved the damming of this river to support a hydro-electric power station. Thank goodness there was a local woman turned activist that fought tooth and nail to have that decision overturned and preserve what is definitely a sight of nature worth hanging on to!
The final stop on the Golden Circle was Thingvellir. This national park is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is also where the Icelandic Parliament began meeting starting back in 930 and meeting every year until 1798. The site was chosen because it was reachable by chieftains from all over Iceland, the cliffs created a windbreak and there was a ready supply of COLD water.
Fans of “Game of Thrones” will recognise the cliffs and rugged landscape as a location used in the television series.
After a long day and lots of kilometres it is obvious why The Golden Circle is a must do tour for all visitors to Iceland.