The Golden Circle tour is a quintessential activity for most visitors to Iceland. You get to see a waterfall, geysers and Þingvellir national park, boasting another waterfall, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and historical significance as the meeting place of Alþingi, the oldest parliament in Europe. Some tour operators, like Arctic Adventures, think that’s not quite enough to sate adventure hungry tourists though. They’ve added the bonus of travelling by super-jeep and doing some caving in one of the hundreds of caves that dot the country.
We show up at the Arctic Adventure’s office early Sunday morning and meet our guide for the day and all round ‘cool dude’ Ingó Olsen before heading off to Bláfjöll Mountains, where the cave Leiðarendi (“Route End”) is located. Finding the cave doesn’t seem like an easy task. Almost everything is covered in snow and the cave entrance doesn’t exactly have a neon sign pointing it out, but Ingó proves to know exactly where it is.
INTO THE VOID
After gearing up with waterproofs, helmets, and lights, Ingó guides us through the snow covered lava field to the entrance of the cave. It is nearly engulfed with snow, which actually makes our descent a little easier as we can partially slide on our behinds into the mouth of it.
The next two hours are spent exploring whilst Ingó tells us about the cave we are in and caves in Iceland. It’s easy enough to make our way through the cave and there are some awesome sights. Some of the stalactites and stalagmites—rock that have melted down walls and then hardened—look decidedly like something from the mind of renowned Swiss surrealist artist HR Giger.
After seeing the volcanic innards of Iceland in all its glory, we emerge into the midday January sun. We enjoy a delicious lunch at the nearby café Litla Kaffistofan (“The Little Coffee Shop”) and then head back out into the wilderness. Our super-jeep speeds us towards Gullfoss, cutting along roads that a large coach simply wouldn’t be able to travel.
ALL THAT GLITTERS IS…
Gullfoss is an almighty, two-tiered beast that literally carved the gorge it plummets into. The flow of water is particularly large today due to the recent snowfall and the area is pretty icy. This means we can’t get as close to Gullfoss as you can in the summer, but it’s an impressive sight nonetheless.
Ice is also a problem at the geysers in Haukadalur. We shuffle like penguins across the ice to get closer to the most active geyser, Strokkur. Strokkur has its hissy fit every five to ten minutes, so witnessing it blow is guaranteed. Against Ingó’s advice, we choose a less icy path, and wind up downwind from Strokkur when it erupts and gives us a spectacular soaking! Oops!
From there we head to our final destination, Þingvellir. As we travel along a road that runs adjacent to Þingvallavatn, which is the largest natural lake in Iceland, the super-jeep hits a bad patch of ice. The jeep skitters and skids about before Ingó is able to regain control. Still, something doesn’t seem right. Ingó pulls over and discovers that the left-rear tyre has been punctured in the melee.
The puncture is worse than Ingó had first thought and we need help to repair it. So while he calls for back-up, we check out our surroundings. The gloomy grey sky blends in with lake Þingvallavatn, rendering the horizon invisible. It appears to us that the lake begins at our feet and stretches into infinity. There are definitely worse places to break down and we are not completely stranded.
Ingó goes with the temporary fix of inflating the tyre, driving until it deflates, and then repeating the process, until we make it to the Þingvellir information centre. Of course this means we are moving along ever so slowly. With each rotation of the wheel, a burst of air escapes and it’s a deadly countdown to deflation.
When we arrive, Ingó tells us all about Þingvellir park, and we head out to explore. After taking in the spectacular views and seeing the original site of Iceland’s parliament, which formed in 930 AD, we head back to the jeep. We wait a short while for help to arrive, peering expectantly any time lights appear on the road, until finally the cavalry appears in the form of another super-jeep.
The puncture is quickly patched up, and for one last bit of excitement, our super-jeep saviour decides to take advantage of the empty, ice-covered car-park and treat us to a graceful super-jeep ballet of donuts and handbrake turns. And with that, we head back in convoy to Reykjavík where the warmth of our hotels and homes await us.
The Winter Golden Circle and Lava Cave day tour is provided by Artic Adventures. For more information see www.adventures.is or call +354-562-7000