“The Land of Fire and Ice” may seem like a phrase out of Game of Thrones, but that description truly encapsulates the island country of Iceland. If stripping into my skivvies in 10 degree temperature and then jumping into 100 degree water couldn’t convince me, then at least viewing the Gullfoss waterfall in a snowy wind and Geysir spitting boiling water out of the ground like a breaching whale certainly did. A land of extremes to be sure.
Continuing on the Golden Circle road, after visiting Pingvellier, my next stop was Geysir, a hot spring in Haukadalur Valley. As the name might imply, Geysir gives its name to hot springs around the globe. Dotted around the landscape, steam and gas hover like a never-ending fog. Strokkur, one of the few active geysers spouts water around 15-20 meters into the sky. Little baby geysers like the one pictured above gently bubbled, just daring a poor soul to stick in their hand. The smell of sulphur was thick but after a day or two showering in the hotel under sulfuric hot water, the stench becomes manageable.
If Geysir gave its name to other geysers, I was surprised that Gullfoss waterfall didn’t give its name to all other waterfalls. Translated “Golden Falls”, Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls. The water for the falls flows on the Hvita River that travels from the glacier Langjokull and cascades down Gullfoss in two dramatic stages displaying raw power on par with Niagra Falls.
The waterfall also represents the beginning of Icelandic environmentalism. In 1907, an English businessman wanted to use the water’s energy to fuel a hydroelectric plant but was thwarted by the land’s owner who would not sell his free flowing “friend”. His daughter also took up the cause and threatened to throw herself into the waterfall. All I know, if Gullfoss had been taken away, so would one of the most beautiful views in the world. I could sit there for hours, even in a snowstorm admiring its majesty.
A trip on the Golden Circle would not have been complete without a visit to Kerid, a volcanic crater lake in Grimsnes. The lake is fairly shallow but the opaque and aquamarine colors that vary in intensity contrasting with the volcanic red and black rock, occasionally pelted with white snow on a mossy green land offers a spectrum of colors rarely seen. Like Gullfoss, I could have admired the color-rich land until small comets of ice started pelting my face. Snow I didn’t mind, but after being smacked in the face with harsh wind and ice, it was time to move back down the crater.
Next on the agenda was the Blue Lagoon. Stay tuned. For more information on touring the Golden Circle and many other tours of Iceland, visit www.guidetoiceland.is.