I had absolutely NO EXPECTATIONS for Iceland except that it was a place daughter Helen and Dick picked for us to have a holiday together. After our first few days of touring around I was blown away by the scenery we saw in any one day. Generally, on previous trips, we get to see one major sight in a day, but here it’s at least three of four very impressive sights every day.
This holiday has been planned and organized by Helen who had visited Iceland earlier, in March. Helen met us at the apartment in Reykjavit and gave us a guided walk around the town. The first of many such “guided tours”. So nice to be with Helen as we hadn’t seen her for 15 months while she was living and travelling in Europe. After we stocked up with groceries the next day we drove off on the Golden Circle route. First stop was Pingvellan National Park (NP) a very historic and significant site for Icelanders – the site of the first parliament for the nation in 930 AD. The weather cleared so we had a walk around the area, saw a baby waterfall, scenic lake and an old wooden church.
In one memorable day on the Golden Circle we saw some of the top attractions in Iceland. Starting with a small walk to the Secret Waterfall (Bruarfoss), which was not easy to find but very worthwhile to see. Then we visited the Geyser and got some good pics of it erupting, before we drove to Gullfoss, a 32 m (100ft) high, very wide, double waterfall which they claim “outdoes Niagara Falls in wildness and fury”. Its waterflow can reach up to 2000 cubic meters (500,000 gallons) per second. On the way to lunch we stopped at another waterfall called Faxi. Considering we left our house at 10am that was quite a start to the day and already involved a few km’s of walking. Lunch was at the Fridheimer Cafe which is located within 5000 sq meters (1.2 acres) of greenhouses and powered/heated by geotherrmal energy devoted almost entirely to tomatoes. It was quite unique to see those rows of 3 m (10 foot) high tomato vines in a place that produces 1 ton of tomatoes per day and supplies 18% of Iceland’s needs. Our lunch was tomato soup followed by cheesecake with green tomato jam topping. In fact the whole menu had tomatoes in every dish. Apparently Iceland is ideal for greenhouse growing due to its northern location and isolation (few pests, diseases or weeds) amd lots of geothermal energy to heat and sterilize the greenhouses & soils, and to produce CO2 & electricity for illumination of the greenhouses. It was an interesting place. The day continued with a walk around the crater, Kerio – its 55 m (180 foot) deep with water 7-14 m (20 – 40 foot) deep at the bottom. Then we drove to the town of Selfoss before finishing off the day with a swim in the geothermo hot pools of the Secret Lagoon. That was a pleasant way to end a day of amazing sunshine & clear skies, lovely vistas & scenery, and some fabulous natural wonders. Our tour guide, Helen, did very well and we were home around 7:30pm.
The days continued in that full-on vein and with full sunshine most of the time. We did the occasional stop for pony or sheep photos and on another full day we visited Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where Helen and I walked behind this powerful 60 m (200 foot) drop waterfall. Then we had a lovely 2 km walk through a valley to Seljavallalaug, a 25 m (80 foot) outdoor geothermo pool built in 1923. We all went in the pool but it was way too cold for us (not enough geothermal springs feeding it). We even managed an outdoor picnic in the sunshine before moving on to Skogafoss, a 60 m (200 foot) waterfall which featured a beautiful rainbow when we were there. Next stop was to see a plane wreck, which was a 4 km one way walk on a flat black beach. In 1973 a US navy DC3 ran out of fuel and crashed on black beach near Vik. All survived. We got our exercise doing that walk! Then we drove to our AirBNB in Vik and went out for dinner – Another very full and interesting day.
Before we left Vik the next morning we stopped at Black Beach, aka Killer Beach, which features “Sneaker Waves” who have killed unwary tourists on the beach. All the signs warned not to turn your back to the waves. The area features a large cave, rock pillars (basalt columns), towering cliffs and black sand made from lava. We were moving along the south coast of Iceland and drove through a very large area of mossy rocks and mountains before arriving at Fjardargljufur Canyon, an immense canyon about 2 kms (1.25 miles) long and up to 100 m (300 feet) deep with a river flowing through it. We walked along the top to various lookout points. It was another glorious sunny day with more amazing snow capped mountains and glaciers along the way. It was a very scenic 300 km (185 mile) day and after our lunch stop we got to one of our absolute highlights of the trip – Jokulsarlon, a glacier lagoon and an amazing sight where the Vatnajokull Glacier continually calves into the lagoon. We saw ancient glacial fragments drifting very quickly out to sea and lots of stunning blue ice bergs floating in the lagoon. It was hard to take in the majesty of what we were seeing. The Vatnajokull Glacier is by some measures the biggest of all in Europe and it is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland. Glaciers cover 23% of the land mass of Iceland. The beautiful scenery continued along our drive to Hofn, where we finished the day with a sunset walk along a seaside golf course near our Air BNB.
In total we drove 2500 km’s (1550 miles) around Iceland and during that time we saw lots that piqued our curiosity, and so we put google to good use and found the following statistics that answered some of our questions: population of Iceland – 330,000, number of horses in Iceland – 80,000, number of sheep in Iceland – 800,000. Needless to say we saw lots of horses and sheep throughout Iceland. Apparently the horses are kept for companionship!
We saw so much on those first five days it was almost too much to take in, so I will stop this post here and cover the rest of the trip in another post.