Monday, July 11, 2011
Iceland is wild. There are few other places on Earth with as many active volcanoes, bubbling hot springs, spouting geysers, and glistening glaciers as the small island nation in the Atlantic. The famous natural monuments of the Golden Circle in Iceland feature each of these phenomena.
When I planned my trip to Reykjavik, I knew I couldn’t miss out on the country’s stunning scenery and geothermal attractions. As such, I decided to take a day trip to the main destinations on the Golden Circle.
I’m not usually a bus tour person, but given that I didn’t want to rent a car in Iceland, I decided to chance it. I piled onto the coach on Saturday morning with fifty others and set off through rocky green landscapes in the bright arctic sunshine.
As we drove, the pristine mountain scenery reminded me of my trip to Mongolia last summer. Both countries had wide-open stretches of natural beauty, endless blue skies, and a quality of remoteness that is rare in an increasingly on-the-beaten-path world.
Our first stop on the Golden Circle in Iceland was at a greenhouse. The tour guide told us how enterprising Icelandic farmers used geothermal energy to heat large hothouses. Inside grew everything from bananas to bougainvillea.
This particular greenhouse was small and didn’t have much to see apart from some banana trees and a few flowers. In fact, the gift shop and adjacent restaurant were larger than the growing area itself. Still, it was interesting to see tropical plants thriving in such a cool climate.
Back on the bus, we headed north to a church in the middle of an archaeological site. After a quick stop there, we continued on to one of Iceland’s most famous aquatic features. No, it wasn’t the Blue Lagoon. It was a waterfall.
The Gullfoss Waterfall was a stunning natural cascade. Falling down in two stages, clear aquamarine water rushed through a canyon, spraying water on visitors as it took its course down the river.
From the waterfall, the tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland continued with a trip to one of the most famous geysers in the country. The Strokkur Geyser erupted every 8 to 9 minutes on average, wowing onlookers and soaking those unlucky enough to be downwind of the 20-meter column of water.
Around the geyser were thermal pools, boiling hot springs, and beautiful rocky hills covered in purple and yellow wildflowers. The scene reminded me of some of the geothermal areas I saw in New Zealand a few years back.
The final stop on the tour was Pinghvellir National Park. The area was not only naturally beautiful with its layers of streams and Iceland’s largest natural lake, but also an important place in the country’s history. For centuries it was the site of annual tribal meetings, law courts, and more recently, the location of the Icelandic declaration of independence in 1944.
But it wasn’t only people that met at Pinghvellir. The national park was also famous for being the meeting place of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. As such, the rocks were fissured and twisted, and featured large chasms that had formed over many centuries of shifting.
At the end of the tour, we arrived back in the capital via more beautiful scenery and wild terrain. I was happy to have survived the bus tour, and glad to have seen the natural highlights of the region.
But a tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland wasn’t the only thing to do there. No, the capital city of Reykjavik deserved exploring as well, and I was glad I had another day in the country to see the urban highlights after exploring the natural ones.