Published June 15, 2012
The Golden Circle is certainly the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland. When begged by their friends to describe some of the things that set the Icelandic landscape apart from that of other countries, foreigners must immediately think of the golden waters crashing from Gullfoss, the mystical feeling of stepping into history when one looks over the land at Þingvellir, or the childish delight that stirs in the stomach when watching Strokkur erupt, 50 metres from Geysir (the inspiration for the English word).
These combined qualities are probably the reason that every tour guiding service in Reykjavík provides a trip to this tremendous trio. But, while other tour providers offer a solely golden experience, Icelandic Mountain Guides take the experience to a platinum level.
When taking the tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides, you get the added bonus of visiting Europe’s second largest glacier, Langjökull. This addition sets the tour apart from the other Golden Circle tours available.
(Effectively) saving Iceland
The trip begins at Þingvellir, a geologically and historically important site. Þingvellir is the site of a rift valley that marks the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, separating the Eurasian tectonic plate from the North American one. It’s also where the world’s oldest democratic parliament first convened (from 930 to 1789). It’s an extraordinary place even to just walk around, absorbing the beauty and placing yourself in the time of those initial parliamentary meetings.
We then moved on to Gullfoss (or “Golden Falls” in English), which is one of the many spectacular waterfalls that can be found in Iceland (and you don’t seem to get bored of seeing any of them, either). At this stop we were treated to a fun story by our guide, concerning the history of the waterfall. Apparently, the falls were to be harnessed to generate electricity, but Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of the landowner about to sell the falls, claimed that she would throw herself into Gullfoss if the land were sold. Thus, her father pulled out of the deal, and the falls were turned into a reserve, escaping a lifetime of hydroelectric slavery.
At this point in the trip, we broke from the Golden Circle and drove out to a boat that would take us across a river in twenty minutes, where we would reach the glacier. On the other side, we put on some crampons and after a quick lesson on how to walk with them, made our way onto the glacier.
“I’m on a glacier”
The glacier has a lot of fascinating features. The most interesting was definitely what our guide referred to as a “cauldron”—a hole where collected sediment and ash is deposited by rainwater and glacial runoff, potentially reaching the bottom of the glacier. He stated that this was one of the most impressive cauldrons he has seen on any glacier. This wasn’t hard to believe, as the water was barrelling down into this hole in torrents, compared to those on Sólheimajökull where the water merely trickled down.
After touring this impressive glacier, we reconnected with the circle and took a forty-minute drive back to the Haukadalur valley, where Geysir and Strokkur lie. Geysir is the first geyser recorded in a printed source, thus how it became the nomenclature of the word geyser. The eruptions of Geysir are very rare. It last erupted in the year 2000, when its plume reached 122 metres. In 1981, eruptions were provoked on special occasions by throwing soap into the geyser, which was soon put to an end with the discovery that it was a harmful practice.
The main attraction there is now Strokkur, which erupts about every ten minutes, give or take. The eruptions can reach 40 metres, but average at about 15–20. Watching these eruptions is always exciting, often eliciting cries of “Again! Again!” from 40-year old men accompanied by clapping of the hands, which can be even more entertaining than the geyser itself.
Haukadalur valley was the last stop on the tour, after which our guide drove all the passengers on the tour back to their respective places of accommodation. After twelve hours of sightseeing, the only sound in the van was that of the intermittent snore (probably mine).
The Golden Circle tour is a trip worth going on, and you don’t have to take my word for it, as any tourist who comes to Iceland will probably recommend it to you, especially the forty year-old men (“…and the water! It just SHOOTS UP EVERYWHERE!”). But, to spice things up a bit, it’s worth it to add in the Langjökull portion of the trip to see a masterpiece of nature, as well as one of the biggest cauldrons you’ll ever see on a glacier. Not to mention the fact that the water flowing from the glacier is so pure that it would not be safe to drink as your source of water (because it lacks essential minerals found in the water that our bodies rely on, according to our guide). But it does taste delicious!
GOLDEN CIRCLE AND GLACIER WALK trip provided by Icelandic Mountain Guides, www.mountainguides.is. Price ranges from 29.900. Trip duration is 11–12 hours. Pack a lunch, warm clothing, rain gear and some hiking boots