Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle

After a short flight from London to Reykjavik and one night’s sleep in a cozy AirBnb in the capital, we woke up ready to explore the crazy unique country that everybody has been raving about. We have been dreaming about a trip to Iceland, and when morning came we were more than ready to start our roadtrip by taking on the 300km loop that is the Golden Circle.

GETTING OUT OF THE CITY

Getting out of Reykjavik was so easy, and the transition from city to wilderness happened to suddenly that it seemed so surreal; It was hardly believable as the landscape changed from the grey concrete streets of Reykjavik to snowy hills, with patches of yellowy green moss and black, volcanic earth contrasting the white. And in less than 30 minutes the horizon had disappeared into the white of the cloudy sky, with bright blue frozen pools here-and-there becoming the only distinguishable feature between one stretch of land and the next.

Our first glimpse of the wilderness beyond the grey capital
Our first glimpse of the wilderness beyond the grey capital

Then it quickly changes to this

And then the nothingness of the white
And then all of a sudden the nothingness of the white, marked by bright blue frozen water

That is until the earth gradually dips down to reveal Iceland’s largest natural lake, the Thingvallavatn lake with its icy dark blue-grey waters reaching a depth of 114 meters. Our first stop lies at its northern shore, so we take some photos before we hop back in our rental and head over to Thingvellir National Park.

The road around Thingvallavatn lake
The road around Thingvallavatn lake
Snow on snow - Iceland in Spring
Snow on snow – Iceland in Spring

THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK

Iceland’s parliament (Althing) was established in 1930 (this is also the world’s first parliament), about fifty years after a Norwegian chieftain became the first permanent settler. Everyone who lived in Iceland came together for a few weeks during the summer and the laws were read from the Law Rock (Lögberg). Because Thingvellir is located in a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian Tectonic plates meet, it has been subject to enormous change over the past 1000 years (spreading around 2.5cm annually) and no one knows exactly where the law rock was, but the estimated location has been marked with an Icelandic flagpole.

Not only is it historically important and beautifully impressive, but you can get a clear sense of the geological significance if you take a walk next to a rock outcrop marking the Eastern edge of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Walking here means being able to see, for a few brief moments, what is only visible everywhere else deep underneath the ocean. It is witnessing the movement and breath of our earth, seeing oceanic crust being formed above sea level.

The easternmost edge of the mid-atlantic ridge shows its head above the earth's surface for a few brief miles.
The easternmost edge of the mid-atlantic ridge shows its head above the earth’s surface for a few brief miles.

Joel walking in between two tectonic plates!

The estimated site of Lögberg
The estimated site of Lögberg

GEYSERS

When we got out of car, we weren’t sure if we were still on this earth that we were familiar with. Amidst the dark earth and yellowy-green moss there were pockets of steam rising to the sky as far as we could see, and as we headed across the bubbling earth into the steaming landscape the feeling of otherworldliness intensified.

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When you see pockets of boiling water sputtering on the surface of deep vents and clouds of steam rising from the ground, the realness of this earth is hard to comprehend – it’s surreal. It almost feels like Iceland is the door that leads to the earth’s core, to its beating heart. You become aware of the movement and the activity of the earth, the fact that the countries and continents are fluid and is still developing, that the earth is constantly shifting and moving, laden with pressure, underneath the surface.

Then there’s also the squeals of joy every 3 to 5 minutes as Strokkur erupts, theatrically shooting boiling hot water 30 meters into the air, followed by a billowing cloud of steam.

Visiting the geysers means visiting a magical yet undeniably real place, that is made up of moments of wonder, joy, awe and the awareness of something much bigger than yourself.

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'Little Strokkur' ferociously and ceaselessly bubbling
‘Little Strokkur’ bubbles ferociously and ceaselessly

Strokkur geyser shoots boiling hot water 30 meters into the air every 5ish minutes

Strokkur geyser shoots boiling hot water 30 meters into the air every 5ish minutes
Strokkur geyser shoots boiling hot water 30 meters into the air every 5ish minutes

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GULLFOSS

If the awareness of something much bigger than yourself becomes apparent while traversing a boiling and steaming landscape, it culminates into an undeniable force when you encounter Gullfoss waterfall about 10 minutes’ drive later. Speechless, we edged closer and closer to this mighty waterfall, watching from multiple viewpoints as masses and masses of water cascade down its two tiers, framed by glacial ice formations, seemingly on the edge of breaking apart with a single, deep crack.

We watched the tumbling masses of water for as long as daylight allowed us, before we jumped back in our car (and frantically turned up the heating) and drove off to explore further – with hearts full of nature’s glory and minds fatigued with the newness of Iceland’s crazy and strange landscapes.

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