Iceland 2014 Day 3 – Golden Circle

[Here is the photostream of Iceland 2014, for those who prefer pictures to tell a story. 🙂]

Cereals, porridge and soup

Cereals, porridge and soup

Wide spread of breakfast

Wide spread of breakfast

Woke up a little earlier to have breakfast because today we were going for the Golden Circle full day tour with Gray Line Iceland!

Actually there were 2 Gray Line Golden Circle tours available, with one starting at 7.30am, and the other at 9am. Needless to say, we took the later package 😛

The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in South Iceland, covering about 300 km looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back. The three primary stops on the route are Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss Waterfall (meaning “golden falls”), and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the Strokkur Geyser (it erupts every 4-8 minutes). Other stops include Skálholt Cathedral, and the Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal power plant.

First stop on our bus tour was Þingvellir National Park which is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance. This site is where the world’s oldest parliament started in the year 930, and its remains can still be seen today. It is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that separates the North American plate from the Eurasian Plate. One can literally walk between 2 continents here!

The magnificent rift valley

The magnificent rift valley

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Pardon the plumpness, it was really cold and we had 5 layers each!

Pardon the plumpness, it was really cold and we had 5 layers each!

Next stop on the Golden Circle is the Gullfoss Waterfall, or The Golden Waterfall which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. The wide Hvítá river rushes southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11m and 21m) into a crevice 32m deep. The crevice, about 20m wide, and 2.5km in length, extends perpendicular to the flow of the river. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140m³/s in the summertime and 80m³/s in the wintertime.

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Here’s a video of the waterfall, best viewed in full screen (pardon the black space around the video, due to a constraint on YouTube).

The trio of Golden Circle attractions led us to Strokkur Geyser (a periodically spouting hot spring), one of Iceland’s most famous geysers, erupting about every 4–8mins 15 – 20m high, sometimes up to 40m high.

Now it looks quiet...

Now it looks quiet…

The formation of geysers is due to particular hydrogeological conditions, which exist in only a few places on Earth, so they are a fairly rare phenomenon.

Now it erupts!

Now it erupts!

Generally all geyser field sites are located near active volcanic areas, and the geyser effect is due to the proximity of magma. Generally, surface water works its way down to an average depth of around 2,000m where it contacts hot rocks. The resultant boiling of the pressurized water results in the geyser effect of hot water and steam spraying out of the geyser’s surface vent (a hydrothermal explosion).

Here’s a slow-motion of the geyser in action!

The last leg of the tour brought us to Skálholt Cathedral (the last Catholic church in Iceland) and Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal power plant where we were given a short tour of the geothermal power generation used in Iceland.

Beautiful sunset at Skálholt

Beautiful sunset at Skálholt

Today was a rather good day for outing, as the weather was lovely! The Golden Circle was really beautiful, and we enjoyed the sights very much despite the very cold weather. We had a very good guide, Linda, who was a walking wealth of knowledge! We liked that she would give us an overview of what to expect while on the bus, with options to follow her, or if we preferred to walk on our own, what time to meet and where the meeting point was. Of course, we chose to walk with her, as she would provide further details during the walk, plus tell us the best spots for photo-taking and helped everyone take photos! A really friendly and helpful guide.

We were quite tired today, and it seemed that the aurora forecast was not good for tonight, so we decided to have some Domino’s pizza nearby and rest earlier tonight.

Useful Tips:

  • Golden Circle Tour – It is best, in our opinion to go for the tour early in the morning. The travelling with bus takes quite a while and you would want to maximise the time. Especially in autumn/winter when night fall around 4, 5pm and daylight is only limited to a few hours.
  • Sightseeing – The best way, in our opinion, is to go by bus tours. Given the vast area of Iceland, there are only 2 options, to drive or be driven. Driving in winter conditions is very challenging although we must say there is less likelihood of getting lost compared to other countries because roads in Iceland are straight and few in numbers. 🙂
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