The Golden Circle, a self-drive discovery

If you have no idea what I mean by Golden Circle, I wouldn’t worry, I was also clueless before I landed in Reykjavik. In fact, I’m pretty sure I called it the Golden Triangle in the few weeks run up to my trip. But according to the Lonely Planet guide this doable-in-a-day venture is one of the most popular for tourists who visit the country. With the chance to visit the sight where the tectonic plates meet, to see an explosive Geyser and a roaring waterfall, why would there be any reason to turn my nose up? With the added bonus of a rental car and the option to avoid a tourist bus tour, me and my new travel friend headed off to see what all the fuss is about.
Thankfully we both share a passion for photography so within the first hour of our drive, we stopped to appreciate the ever changing sky. Can I just point out that the sun remained in this position the entire day – from sunrise at 10am to sunset at 3:30pm – it was as though a sunset had frozen in time whilst the clouds moved around it.

 

Here comes the sun, little darling
Upon entering the Thingviller National Park
The midday sun display

 

Within 20 minutes of driving, we left the built up city of Reykjavik and entered a vast, flat and dramatic landscape. Out of nowhere, rocky peaks (with 130 active volcanoes on the island I hoped we were looking at a few of them) protruded from the red soil that lacked lush trees and foliage.
The light brought out the many shades of browns and greens, creating a moody vista whichever direction I looked.

Our first stop found us in the Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park; a UNESCO world heritage site home to the largest natural lake in Iceland and the area where the two tectonic plates meet. A small waterfall and surrounding rock formations made this a picturesque area and held our attention for over an hour, regardless of the chilly morning. The evident land erosion through tourism was in the process of being avoided with newly laid wooden walkways and non-intrusive signs to keep people off the grass. It meant large amounts of people were fed close together but it didn’t ruin the visit – I was so in awe of the landscape around me that I barely even noticed them.

 

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Dramatic despite the man-made presence

 

Aware of the time and subsequent premature sunset, we headed off to the next instalment; the Geyser geothermal field and the infamous Strokkur Geysir. A quick explanation for you: Geyser is the name for a hot spring that intermittently discharges water and steam whilst the Strokkur Geysir was the first known to modern Europeans (the word Geyser was derived from this Geysir). I hope you are as confused as I am. If in doubt, google it.
Ignoring the ugly hotel and car park, we headed straight for the steam. I just couldn’t resist sticking my finger in the mini stream as I crossed its path. Note to self: listen to the signs that tell me the water hits between 80-100 degrees.

 

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An eerie approach to the Strokkur Geysir

 

And then the moment came. Standing patiently amongst other anxious tourists we watched as the Geyser erupted in a quick and powerful second, spraying boiling hot water up to around 15m high. Once I had captured a few photo’s I stood around to watch it for a second and third time, hearing nothing but the ‘whoosh’ followed by a few excited gasps. The sun, which had followed us perfectly so far, peeked its head above the clouds and created a stunning orange light over the area. The soil glowed red and the steam reflected the light with its haze.

 

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The Great Geyser seen here unfortunately ceased to spout after being blocked by stones in the 20th century.

 

It was hard to peel ourselves away from such natural beauty, but it wasn’t yet the end of it! Having visited Victoria Falls in 2013, I was unsure if the Gullfoss waterfall we were approaching would have that wow factor I was so hoping for. I felt a little ashamed of myself for doubting Iceland as once I set eyes on it I couldn’t help but let my jaw drop.
There was a sign that warned people of the dangerous path now that winter was approaching, but having spotted over 40 people down by the water, I happily jumped the chain. What a rebel I am! The waterfall provided everything you expect of a waterfall; a loud roar, beautiful patterns and a pleasant drizzle that lightly wets your hair. Surrounded by what resembled the Yorkshire dales, with one of five glaciers in the distance and a stunning canyon turned this into a pretty perfect (although not quite because nothing is perfect) day.

 

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Now you could return the same way you came, but the ‘official’ circle route takes you back on a lower road, which I highly recommend. I have to admit that no matter how hard I tried to keep my eyes open, I did have a tiny nap. BUT what I did see was beautiful because of course, this is the unique island of Iceland and it has nothing less to offer.
Next time I will be equipped with a bike and a tent.

 

 

 

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