Iceland’s Golden Circle: Gateway to the South

Ask anyone about the one thing you should do when visiting Iceland and chances are they will offer one of two replies; a visit to the Blue Lagoon or booking yourself on a Golden Circle tour. So what did I do? Well naturally I did both of course.

The Golden Circle is a selective region in the south-east, named as such because the highlights included are seen as must-see locations for any foreign visitor. The area is located within a rich seismic area, which means it’s an active area of volcanic activity. In turn this means that eruptions or earthquakes are often common place, but whilst this might sound scary the risk is very small with precautions. After all this live activity is what makes Iceland the destination, with few places in the world to view such wonders.

Travelling out of Reykjavik in the same direction we had the previous day for the Southern Iceland tour, we made off towards the Kerid volcanic crater. This rather beautiful hole in the ground is approximately 3000 years old and sits 180ft deep and 558ft wide. It’s thought to be the remainder of a cone-shaped volcano which fell in on itself after eruption. The surrounding region is largely stark lava fields, with some vegetation in small forested areas.

Today the crater is filled with water gleaming a vibrant aquamarine shade because of the rich minerals that seep through the red rock rich in iron supplements. This particular crater is thought to be almost half the age of others found across the country, which is why it has this uniquely beautiful red colour, as opposed to a volcanic black.

Leaving behind this extraordinary landscape, we journeyed on through the Kaukadahur Geothermal Area to reach the great Gullfoss waterfall; the 2nd most powerful in Europe, the most powerful also resides on the north coast of Iceland. Unfortunately the clear skies had deteriorated rapidly and a thick mist formed around the falls, which in many parts looked frozen amidst the plummeting temperatures. It was difficult to envision the full majesty of these falls whilst the rain was slanting down, but the scale of it was still something to behold.

Thankfully some of the cloud gave way as we ventured back toward the hot springs, home to the Great Geyser, currently dormant and Strokkur aka. the churn; which erupts approx. every 8 minutes, but it can be more or less, dependent on its mood. On approach we were immediately greeted by a wave of drifting smoke from the near by steam vents in the ground, with them the unavoidable sulfuric smell that naturally emits from the earth. 

Some geysers were bubbling azure pools, others were merely steaming earthen mounds, then of course the iconic Strokkur that bubbles before it spouts a heightened eruption of water for mere seconds; it certainly appeared frequent during our brief visit.

There was just enough time for a quick coffee and a bite to eat before travelling out to our final destination Pingvellir National Park. Otherwise known as the parliament fields, this most enchanting rural landscape was where the world’s first democratically elected parliament was formed; Alpingi in 930 AD. This beautiful space holds deep cultural importance to Icelanders, but is also a region of great geologic importance. Here you will also find the Silfra Fissure, an underwater crevasse formed between the gradual separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The sight is known to be one of the top diving spots in the world, with the plates, which run the whole way through Iceland, continuing to separate around 2cm every year.

The magnificent views encompassed from great height over the national park offered a fitting finale to the aptly named tour, as the late afternoon sun began to sink on the horizon. I made sure to enjoy the last views of the beguiling countryside on our journey home, knowing that tomorrow would be a fleeting opportunity to venture through the remainder of Reykjavik. However, there was just enough time for one last iconic sight.

The Blue Lagoon is a world-famous geothermal spa, located on the Reykjanes peninsula near Keflavik. The water is renowned for its healing and replenishing qualities with silica and sulphuric minerals. It’s so popular that you have to be sure to reserve your space early. We were so busy during the day that we opted to arrive as darkness fell, which was a most magical sight under the star-lit skies, wisps of steam and cloud blowing above the steaming azure waters. Other amenities include a sauna, facials and in-pool bar. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time, but I remained ever so grateful for the experience, it is certainly up there with my travel highlights.

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