Iceland’s Golden Circle and South Coast
I recently returned from my travels in Europe and I am starting with the last place I visited as it’s the most memorable of all. Iceland was more than I expected, and my expectations were significant. It’s truly a unique country with vistas and panoramics that will take your breath away. If you drive highway 1 and stop every five minutes and you’ll get a postcard photo at every stop. Before I arrived in Iceland, I purchased a small group tour that would take me through the popular Golden Circle and the Ring Road and would take us around the island along Highway 1 in six days.
The term Golden Circle has no history or meaning. It was created purposely for tourism and to highlight the natural attractions in the area of Reykjavik. You can do the circle in a day if you’re staying in Reykjavik.
After being picked up by the tour bus we were quickly on our way to the Golden Circle. The first stop was Pingvellir, a site that has historical and geological significance. This was the site where Iceland’s parliament was founded in 930 AD. They assembled here each summer until the end of the old commonwealth in the 13th century. Multiple crucial events took place here including the adoption of Christianity in 1000 AD and the founding of the modern Icelandic Republic in 1944. It’s a special place for the Icelandic people and has been a national park since 1930. It was also added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2004. The location is also a geological point where two tectonic plates meet. Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which separates the Eurasian and North American plates. The tour map well lead you to a lookout point where you can see the valley with Pingvellir Lake dominating the area. The landscape here is incredible. Take the trail down through a gorge created by the movement of the plates down to the streams and take in the area first hand. It’s a wonderful experience that you won’t forget.
The next stop on the Golden Road was Gulfoss, a powerful waterfall that you can get up close to without being swept away. You can take a little trail to a ledge right up to the falls. Be warned, you will get wet by the mist created by the power of the falls and the rocks can get slippery. Get as close as you can and feel its full power. If you want a higher view, take the stairs to a higher cliff and get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful waterfall.
The third stop on the road was the geysers. Here you can find multiple geysers with most of them dormant now but there is one that still blows every 5 to 10 minutes. Strokkur is usually surrounded by people who have their cameras aimed at the geyser waiting to time there shot just as it blows. I was able to catch two such events within 8 minutes of each other.
After we finished the Golden road we continued along highway 1 and the Ring Road exploring the south of Iceland. On an island filled with seemingly millions of waterfalls we came to another one that is renowned to be one of the most beautiful of them all. We could see it in front of us as our driver, and tour guide, passed it and said we are going to start here at Gljufrabui Waterfall. A waterfall somewhat hidden as it is surrounded by cliff walls and only accessible through a narrow gorge cut by a creek which you must wade through to see it. Bring your waterproof hiking shoes as it is well worth the effort. This keeps out most of the other visitors along with a torrent of mist whipping around the base of the waterfall. It’s a special perspective as majority of the falls can’t be approached this close. It’s a hidden gem that became one of my favorites.
After taking this amazing photo with my GoPro, I trekked out of the small gorge and hiked toward the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, stopping several times to take photos of this amazing landscape. The waterfall is beautiful and you can take a trail behind the waterfall and take in a unique view from the back of the waterfall. These two waterfalls are truly beautiful along with the landscape surrounding it and I could have spent the whole day here just admiring the vistas.
But, the tour kept on rolling and our next stop was Skogafoss, another considered to be one of the top waterfalls. This one was a high waterfall surrounded by cliffs on each side, one accessible by a series of stairs. It also has a unique landscape as the water falls to and flows through black gravel created by volcanic lava.
The day wasn’t over as we pressed on to Reynisfjara black sand beach. The beautiful beach is backed by a stack of basalt columns that look like a magical church organ. Offshore are the towering Reynisdrangur sea stacks.
At the end of the day, I felt a feeling of sensory overload as this was the greatest day of expeditions I’ve had so far. I wondered what the next day would bring.