“I’ve given all the good stuff to my believers a little closer to the biblical homelands” said the man with the fluffy white beard, “See what you can do with a few volcanoes, several prairies of lava fields, a basket load of geothermal activity and more rain than you can handle.”
His one concession to this unpromising cocktail of raw materials was to lump some of the more the interesting bits close together and not too far away from where Icelanders decided to set up their capital city here in Reykjavik.
As a result, a good day out is to drive round what is called in the brochures ‘The Golden Circle’. Now don’t be put off by the overactive imagination of whoever it was at the tourist board who came up with this particular misnomer; he was only doing his job. The route takes the vistor to the three main attractions to be found close to Reykjavik: Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. As I was travelling with my two young sons, we decided to forego the visit to Þingvellir and focus instead on the natural attractions.
The drive to Geysir takes just over an hour, most of it through some pretty unpromising country which becomes littered with summer houses the closer you get. Arriving at the site gives a sense of impending anti-climax for although the visitor centre is new and stuffed full of merchandise, and the hotel’s flagstaffs are fluttering with flags from several nations, a notice board tells us that we´ve come not to see The Geysir itself erupt. Apparently this only kicks into action during times of earthquakes, state visits and other natural calamities.We’ve come instead, we find out, to see its poorer relative, Strokkur.
Containing our disappointment, we plod our way up the path shrouded in sulphorous steam to the roped off area where Strokkur is building up for its next display. What happens next is utterly compelling.
You can see the water swelling up inside the hole and then feel that you are standing uncomfortably close to several thousand litres of superheated vapor which is about to be hurled into the air. You know that it’s about to blow, but you don´t know exactly when, and then, just when you think that nothing is going to happen, a huge blister of water forms over the entire opening which then is blasted into the sky. Your only reaction is to flinch and withdraw to safety. The children yelled with pure pleasure and excitement, as did their father. We stayed spellbound for at least another half hour´s worth of eruptions.
10 kilometers further on is Gullfoss and something equally worth seeing. Here the land cracked open and created these falls. These are not the highest in the world, but a huge volume of water flows over the precipices into a tight gorge. The effect is thundrous, spray-laden air which greets the visitor as he walks beside them. I recommend driving to the Visitor’s Centre and then walking down to the falls from above; it is slightly longer but it gives a more theatrical effect to the visit. We were particularly fortunate because the sun was shining as we walked over the brow of the hill forming rainbows in the spray.
The world can offer bigger falls and geysirs, but there is something wonderfully intimate about Iceland’s versions. More importantly, they aren’t yet overrun with tourists and you feel that real effort has been made to maintain their natural splendour.