Reykjavik: So That’s Why They Call it the Golden Circle

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Blue Lagoon is one of the most recommended activities in Iceland. Well, the Golden Circle tour is the number one activity. And, after taking the tour, I can see why.

Map of the route you take while on the tour

My day began very early, as this is an 8 hour loop around just a small part of the Southern coast of Iceland. While many of my fellow “hostel mates” took this tour with Reykjavik Excursions (a major tour group for all things Iceland), I opted for a more highly recommended and smaller operation of Iceland Horizons. I was lucky in that my tour was conducted by the owner of the company, David, who is a transplant to Iceland from the UK, but whose knowledge of this country is not to be doubted! Having moved to Iceland in 1988, it was quite impressive how well he seemed to know the geology, history, culture, and language of his secondary home. In conjunction with what I had learned the previous day on my walking tour, all the pieces of the puzzle that was Iceland began to come together!

Outside of my hostel were three other tour-goers from London, Ontario. They had arrived shortly after me to Reykjavik but we briefly exchanged itineraries and I learned a lot about what they had planned for their stay in the capital city. Having come to Reykjavik specifically with no intention of further travel, they had booked a lot of tours and had already been on a few, namely the Game of Thrones tour. This was a tour I had originally been interested in myself, but didn’t end up booking due to the expense. Though apparently this wasn’t a bad decision because they weren’t all that pleased themselves. My Canadian friends did the Golden Circle tour the day before me and told me that they passed by the filming location for The Wall in Game of Thrones, but their bus didn’t stop there so they warned me to be “camera ready” when it was mentioned on my tour. When I told this to my fellow tourees, they couldn’t believe that we would go to The Wall because they never went there on their Game of Thrones-specific tour. But I held out hope that I would see this epic spot!

The first stop on our tour was one that David deemed “extra” since we had rounded up all the guests and left town at a decent hour. It was a volcanic crater called Kertid (with the d making a “th” sound).

Very beautiful look down the grassy green slopes into the small lake below

Although you can walk along the entire crater down to the lake below, we only had a short few minutes to admire its beauty before heading to the next little stop on the way to Gullfoss waterfall.

Along the way, David gave us a very informational spiel about Iceland in the past century leading up to now. Because Iceland has only recently come out of the dark and into the green (due to its wealth), there are no historic palaces, cathedrals, etc. like those you might see scattered about in even the smallest of European nations. This is because their period of wealth and development is much different than their neighbors to the east. In fact, 85% of Reykjavik had just recently been built since the 1950s, which I found fascinating but also understandable as you really don’t see many historical buildings around town. What you do see a lot of however is fish! Fish is Iceland’s economy and it is how they came into wealth as they began allowing ships from other nations into their harbors during high fishing seasons. Nowadays, it is a tourism industry as well as career, as people can pay money to the local farmers to fish in rivers that run through their land.

Though small, there is a fisherman in this river who had to pay for a permit to fish here

While the cost of a permit can be expensive depending on where you go, it seems like peanuts compared to what Icelanders pay for fish in the store (about $100 for a whole salmon). So if you can catch even one fish, you’re often making your money back on the permit.

We took a short pitstop to pet the friendly Icelandic horses, which were already at the gate by the time we pulled the car off the road ready for love. Interestingly enough, the oldest law in Iceland is in regard to these horses. Due to the outbreak of the plague in Europe (which didn’t hit Iceland until much later), it was ruled that all horses in Iceland must stay there and no other horses were allowed to be brought from other countries around Europe. So, while we continue to breed our horses with other varieties of the same species, the Icelandic horse remains genetically pure; and rather small. But nonetheless very cute and cuddly! 
After the little waterfall you see above, we went to the major waterfall site of Gullfoss. Beautiful and sprawling, this waterfall is one of the major sites on the Golden Circle tour and a very popular attraction in all of Iceland.

A look at what I saw on my tour. not the most ideal weather but still a gorgeous sight to behold!

From Gullfoss, we trekked on to the Geysir geothermal area where we saw both Geysir (a geyser that hasn’t erupted since the last earthquake in Iceland), and Strokkur (a geyser that erupts every 4-8 minutes). Though Geysir is the more famous geyser, Strokkur is the subject of most people’s pictures since it is more dramatic. And timely.

Post eruption pic
Post eruption pic.

Being surrounded by a lot of geothermal activity, I learned gained a wealth of information on Iceland’s self-sufficient energy efficiency. As a volcanic island, Iceland is able to harness and utilize these geological features to be 98% energy independent. The remaining 2% is linked to their dependency on fuel for their cars. Though, fear not, they are currently investigating green fuel alternatives, such as hydrogen fuel. In addition to having “green energy”, Iceland also has way more of it than they can use at this point. David told us that they already have five times the energy they need and they’re only using about 5% of their energy potential. Impressive? Hell yeah! Especially coming from a household that keeps the thermostat firmly at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Hearing that David turns his thermostat on and also opens the windows of his house while not paying anything for energy was a jaw-dropping moment for me. But I digress.

The last major stop on our tour was Pingvellir National Park (pronounced more like “thingbetlier” with the Icelandic alphabet). This is regarded as the meeting place of two continental tectonic plates and for this reason, allows both snorkeling and scuba diving in the resulting crevasse. Had I known this beforehand, I might have booked this activity but it is highly expensive (snorkeling is around €160, diving €290!). It is also said that here is where you can stand and be in two different continents at once. Of course this is a gross estimation, but I took the picture anyway!

Close enough counts for me!

Finally the moment came when David mentioned that this national park was the filming location for The Wall in Game of Thrones! While my Ontario friends lamented that they had not seen this on their first tour, I reminded them of the power of the bad review and the fact that we were seeing it now! Eagerly, all of us “thronies” (similar to Trekkies) ran to the wall in hopes of touching a spot blessed by the presence of the cast. As we got on top of it, I swung under the railing and took a quick snapshot from what I am referring to as Castle Black!  
And that was my tour. It was AMAZING and I highly recommend it!

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