September 12 (Sunny, then downpour)
I had only secured accommodations for the first few days of our journey. I was checking road conditions and weather forecasts in almost hourly intervals since I had fantastic mobile coverage everywhere I went… I heard that the interior highlands were dumped with 6 meters of snow overnight (unexpected storm) so my initial plans to travel to the interior highlands (Askja) was in serious jeopardy (good thing I didn’t book anything because weather can be so wild! [Tip #2 – only during shoulder season, if you go during the summer season you WILL need to reserve everything… months in advance]).
This was the first “real” day of sightseeing and it is arguably around the most touristy portion of our 10 day itinerary known as the “Golden Circle”. The Icelandic standard for touristy meant we ran into 100-200 other tourists during the entire day… which highlights the exact reason why Iceland is such a desirable place to visit. Reykjavik was by no means a metropolis filled with maddening traffic jams, but as soon as we exited the city tranquility filled the air and Iceland’s natural beauty was in full display. This is an incredible praise coming from a Canadian who is familiar with clean air and beautiful landscapes.
There are three major attractions along the Golden Circle: Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, Gullfoss, and Geysir. The scenery was breathtaking on the way to Thingvellir National Park and we made our first pitstop at Oxararfoss (Öxarárfoss) which was a waterfall that was neither tall nor majestic but oddly photogenic (see photograph in the gallery below… Foss = waterfall in Icelandic). I believe Oxararfoss was the only waterfall I was able to photograph with blue skies above.
Thingvellir (The world’s first Parliament and a UNESCO heritage site) was quite unremarkable since it was only 4 white shacks but its cultural significance cannot be overlooked. Thingvellir National Park was also significant geographically because it is situated at the continental divide between the Eurasia and the North American tectonic plate (a fact I was well aware of prior to my visit… from Earth & Ocean Science elective courses in university haha).
About a 45-minute drive from Thingvellir was Geysir and its odor greeted my nose a good 5 minutes before its magnificence greeted my eyes. The entire place reeked of hard-boiled eggs on steroids (a smell which I got very used to during my trip). Geysir actually housed two main geysers: Geysir and Strokkur. The English word geyser was actually derived from “Geysir” but unfortunately it had been dormant for years… 50 meters away lied Strokkur which offered a serious but short-lived boiling water spectacle every 5 minutes or so. I spotted dark rain clouds in the distance and by the time we got back to our car the rain was coming down heavily. Originally I had also found an interesting waterfall on Flickr named “Bruarfoss” and I had its GPS coordinates, but after an hour of searching I had to give up.
Gullfoss was a short distance away and by the time we arrived most tourists had fled because of the heavy rain. Being from Vancouver rain was simply a part of life so we marched on to the waterfall. This multi-tiered waterfall was iconic to Iceland and was easily the biggest waterfall I had seen (until I experienced Dettifoss in northern Iceland later this trip) and its roar was so majestic I stayed for 10 minutes just listening to the nature sing (Let’s be honest 9 of those minutes were spent waterproofing my camera haha). I had the Kerid Crater on the itinerary as well but after being drenched all we wanted to do was to dry up. Off to our B&B at Hella!