From Iceland — Iceland's South By Monster Wheels

Iceland’s South By Monster Wheels

Published December 2, 2011

Photo by
Jake Harris

At the Reykjavík bus station BSÍ bright and early, I shook hands with our tour guide for the day, a large Nordic-looking man (read: Viking), who introduced himself as Gústi. Gústi quickly ushered me into a monstrous vehicle waiting just outside. In typical Icelandic fashion, this vehicle seemed to have unnecessarily large wheels, but as I later found out, these wheels were in fact very necessary indeed.

The Mid-Atlantic ridge

We made our first stop at Þingvellir, where Iceland’s first parliament—allegedly the oldest one in Europe—was established in 930 AD. However, this site is not of mere historical relevance; stepping out of the vehicle I was met by my first view of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—jagged cliffs stretching out endlessly, flanking a no-man’s land where the plates have been moving away at a steady two centimetres a year for, well, a very long time… We took some quick snaps before jumping back into the cocoon-like monster, and escaping the punishingly horizontal rain.

Then we drove across the no-man’s land, unsupported by any tectonic plate, from North America to Europe. This was the first time that I was glad to have the massive tyres, as I imagined they reduced the chances of the land’s crust giving way, plunging us into a fiery oblivion.

A golden waterfall

Our second stop was the Gullfoss waterfall, a spectacular two-tiered waterfall where Gústi let us loose for an hour to wander about, take photos, and have some lunch. The waterfall is so powerful that a fine mist circulates well above the pool, surrounding the cliff paths around the site.

From one of the plaques, I read a story about a boy and a girl who lived on either side of the river, just upstream of the waterfall. One day, the girl beckons for the boy to join her on her side, and the absurdly brave boy wades across, somehow makes it, and they lived happily ever after. Having seen Gullfoss in all its glory, I can only conclude that the girl must have been really, really, ridiculously good looking (or at least well out of his league).

The waterfall flows at a rate of up to 2000 m3/s, which, being English, some quick calculations reveal, equates to roughly 2 billion cups of (very cold) tea per second!

An ash-bitten glacier

After eating some fortifying kjötsúpa, which imaginatively translates to ‘meat soup,’ we were off to take on the Langjökull glacier. After we put on our kindly provided snowsuits, shoes, gloves and helmets and Gústi let some air out of the tyres “for extra grip,” we descended the face of the glacier. Again I was glad to have the massive tyres, and probably for better reason. The very slow descent was extremely steep, and an intense rocking sensation was created in traverse of various unavoidable boulders.

After we got out of the vehicle and received some hand-waving instructions about how to use (and not use) our snowmobiles, we set off across the ash bitten ice. We drove for 25 minutes, in single file so as not to fall into any unseen crevasses, before stopping at the southern edge of the glacier. To the north, only the white-black expanse of glacier was visible, and to the south was the barren volcanic landscape of Iceland, which we photographed dutifully.

Jake Harris car

A geyser called Strokkur

Next up was the great Geysir, from where all geysers take their name. However, Gústi informed us that Geysir is currently a little “grumpy,” and no longer erupts. Eavesdropping on another tour, I learned that they used to dump gallons of soap into Geysir in order to encourage it to go off, a practice that is (sadly?) no longer used.

However, as Geysir’s reliability has decreased over time, its little brother, Strokkur’s, has increased, suggesting that they feed from the same thermal vent. Wandering over to Strokkur, which erupts every 10–15 minutes, there were many tourists with their cameras poised and ready. Fools, I thought, 10 minutes can be a long time to wait with your camera ready. But the impressionable eruption lasted for all of about 2 seconds, and I barely had time to unsheathe my camera before it was all over.

A volcanic crater

After driving through elf-inhabited rock land, we arrived at our last stop—a small, extinct volcano called Kerið (which last erupted 6.500 years ago). It was an exact scaled up model of a school science project volcano, being completely conical, with a vast crater in the centre. The crater was filled with crystal clear blue water that quite frankly looked almost too placid to be real.

After admiring it and taking some more necessary photos, we climbed back into the monster one last time and headed to Reykjavík. We had seen as many of nature’s great wonders as one can take in a day, and I was looking forward to having a hot shower and a relaxing cup of tea.

The Reykjavík Excursions ‘Gullfoss – Geysir & Langjökull’ tour can be booked at or by calling +354 580 5400.

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