It sounds like the subtitle of a Kingsmen movie: The Golden Circle. However, it is obviously also a roundtrip to the most important and accessible sights in South Iceland. And today, I was going to see a couple of the golden circle highlights: The Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss and Kerið were on my list. With hundreds of buses on the roads, access to them would turn out to be not as easy as I thought.
On the road to the Golden Circle
It was another beautiful morning for Iceland standards considering that it was still March. Spectacular layers of clouds and again streaks of sun called for an early start. However, when leaving the hotel I could not resist taking another shot of my 4×4 on a steel/wooden bridge connecting the access road to the hotel with the farmland south of it.
The Golden Circle was my goal for the day. Strokkur in the Geysir Geothermal Area would be the start of my list I would be heading to that day.
But first I tried to buy some sandwiches for a picnic later. And I also had to get some fuel for my rental.
While I was filling up my car at the next best and admittedly modern looking gas station, I figured that buying sandwiches here would take forever. The reason was simply that coach after coach was stopping and unloading masses of passengers for quick restroom breaks. And those passengers now queued up everywhere – in front of the toilets, in the aisles of the grocery store which was part of the gas station, at the counter for coffee and pastry, and of course at the cash desks. Only the gas pumps were left alone. Luckily for me – since in Iceland you usually pay at the pump.
So I decided to head to the other side of the road. That somewhat outdated looking mini-market and gas station combination over there seemed not crowded at all. And it wasn’t indeed. Rather, it was more a surprise for the sales assistant to have me as a (foreign) customer.
Paying attention to the coach density later at other gas stations it dawned to me that the tour companies in Reykjavik may have contracts with certain gas station or grocery store chains…
The Geysir Geothermal Area – Golden Circle Sight
A geyser is that geothermal phenomenon which describes a hot spring which is able to periodically erupt and send boiling water high into the air. I have never thought about the origin of that word until I came to this place. Geysir was the first geyser known to the Europeans. Fun fact, the German and Norwegian word for geyser is Geysir. Apparently its Icelandic name stems from the old Norse and kind of describes what is happening.
In that geothermal area, there are more geysers than only Geysir. The most famous one nowadays – or at least most photographed one – is Strokkur. The reason is simple. Strokkur erupts roughly every four to eight minutes. The original Geysir takes a little more time. In the past it had also been many years between eruptions.
When entering the geothermal area you should listen to the sounds created by the many host spring, the boiling water and the little creeks flowing downhill. The whole area seems to be alive. Hissing noises, gurgling, burbling, splashing, … that is the audio-scenery you have yourself submitted to.
Although it seems that I was alone at Strokkur, I can assure you, I was not. Besides the sounds familiar to that place, you could hear so many tourists from all over the world a little annoyingly chatting and commenting every phase of the Strokkur eruptions.
The Gullfoss waterfall – Golden Circle Sight
Another must-see attraction is certainly the Gullfoss waterfall. Conveniently located only about 20 minutes from the Geysir area I arrived there to find the main parking already – as you may expect – quite crowded to say the least.
The main parking, visitor’s center and restaurant are located on a kind of high plateau (people from the South-Western US would call it mesa) on the North-Western side of the Ölfusá river and its Gullfoss waterfall. From the rim you have a spectacular view of the different steps of the fall. And if you queue up long enough you can even set up a tripod and take photos (without people on it!)
As you can see in the photos above, the river cascades down into a fault or canyon at its lowest level. When doing a little research on cool perspectives of the fall on 500px, I found one intriguing spot. However, also here, on location, I had to find out that the path allowing to access that particular spot was closed due to icy conditions . And of course it began to rain shortly after I took the last of the above photos.
Brúarhlöð – Golden Circle Detour Sight
It was raining and it did not look like it was going to stop anytime soon. Googling for interesting sights (4G coverage also in this area of Iceland!) I found a bakery in Flúðir which had good rating. But driving there directly seemed boring to me. So I decided a little detour. Well, I took the route 30 which actually is the shortest way in distance. But the first 10km are gravel road. So google maps decided that the route 35 would have been the shorter routing in time, instead.
Taking that time-wise longer route 30 turned out to be a very good idea. The map showed that I had to cross the Ölfusá river on a narrow bridge. That might be a good spot to take photos even in bad weather I thought. And it actually was incredible. Lava is kind of blocking the way of the Ölfusá river here at Brúarhlöð. So it flows majestically through a canyon-like landscape again.
I stopped at a little picnic area next to the route 30 and close to the bridge. And the magic happened. Trying to decide if I should leave the car and get wet while taking photos or leaving the car to get wet while trying to put my rain-gear on, it suddenly almost completely stopped raining for the first time today. And the sun came out while I was slipping into my rain pants only moments later.
The sun completely changed my perception of the landscape. Rough and uninviting became warm and fairy-like.
However, the silence was forcibly disturbed. Medium sized buses which you also find on gravel roads pulled up and immediately released my favorite types of tourists – those ones who are too busy to savor moments of silence and unable to seek out the awe of nature.
There is not much to tell about my brief visit to Flúðir. I stopped at the Sindri Bakari Cafe. The little shop is located at the end of an industrial area close to route 30. Surprisingly, I was the only guest at that time – although for my taste it was just the right time (and weather, since it had started raining again) to savor a delicious cup-cake along with a good cup of coffee. However, the whole family seemed to be present at the cafe and quickly made me feel at home.
From there I continued through the rain towards Kerið. I only briefly stopped a couple of times along the road. However, worth mentioning is certainly the Faxafoss waterfall. Tiny compared to Gullfoss but definitely worth a look, as well. There is even a small restaurant (Vid Faxa?) with a porch overlooking the fall. It was closed, nevertheless.
Kerið or not Kerið – Golden Circle Sight
Kerið is supposed to be a beautiful volcanic crater lake. However, you need to get a parking spot if you want to climb its rim for a glimpse of the lake below. I did not get any – neither glimpse nor spot. The parking lot was full and those coaches from Reykjavik were even blocking cars from exiting. So I decided to continue south to the shore and have a look at villages there, take some photos, and slowly head back to my hotel.
And so I came to Eyrarbakki. There was supposed to be a little museum. But it was closed. If that was just for Sundays, for the season, or forever I could not find out.
But guess what, it completely stopped raining. So I walked a little through the village. For me it looked like a prototype of an Icelandic settlement…
Close-by I found little meadows with Icelandic horses grazing. I could not resist taking a couple of photos of those, too.
And then, there was that lighthouse, Knarrarósviti. Apparently, the lighthouse was Iceland’s first made of reinforced concrete. It as build 80 years ago from 1938 to 1939 in art-noveau style.
– Golden Circle Detour Sight
So I set up everything for a time lapse and waited. You can see the result below…
On my way to the hotel it started raining again. And a little later I got very wet while walking the roughly ten yards from my parked car to the entrance of the hotel. That called for a late night beer… even if you have to pay 1000kr (8€) for the bottle.