After a good nights’ sleep in the surprisingly comfy bed at Hotel Framnes, and after a little breakfast, it was time to head out.
My hopes of getting the iconic shot of Kirkjufell with the waterfalls in the foreground were dashed; the weather was still as terrible as the day before (in fact the receptionist warned me of warnings about strong winds as I left). I did take one picture from the roadside (you can make out the waves of horizontal rain in front of the mountain!), using the car as shelter, but I’ll just have to add this to my list of places to revisit when I come back!
I turned around and headed east to pick up Route 1 again, to head back down towards Reykjavik. I’d not done this section of road the previous day as I’d skirted along the southern edge of Snaefellsnes. The northern route is much more volcanic. The lava field you drive through apparently still has enough latent warmth so snow doesn’t settle in the winter.
Leaving the lava field I passed one of the weather info signs. 28M/sec is over 60mph. It wasn’t too bad, but my windscreen wipers were going down a *lot* slower than they went up!
Eventually I got back to Route 1 and the weather calmed down a bit. I stopped for a morning coffee at the bakery from yesterday, and continued on. Before reaching Reykjavik, I turned off east towards the sights of the “Golden Circle”. The Golden Circle is a popular day-trip for tourists, taking in Thingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss and usually the Blue Lagoon near the airport. I was visiting some of these today, cutting the corner as I headed towards the south coast.
It was instantly apparent these are popular sights- each sight was swarming in folk arriving in 4wd, mini-buses, large coaches and more! First stop was Thingvellir. This rift in the land is where the North American and European tectonic plates are slowly (7mm / year) being pulled apart. Thingvellir has also traditionally been a very important site for Iceland with many landmark moments occurring here. For hundreds of years the parliament met here and the site is now protected. The main rift in the rock you walk along is the edge of the North American plate.
From Thingvellir I continued east, the next stop being Geysir. The English word Geyser derives from this, and Geysir is the site of the first geyser noted in writing. The translation from Icelandic means “to gush”, apparently.
Geysir itself is less active these days, but lies in a park of hot springs, with steam everywhere. Signs warn the water is near boiling point, and there’s a noticeable smell of sulphur in the air.
The big attraction is now Strokkur, another geyser 50m or so away from Geysir, that erupts every few minutes. The eruption is preceded by the water bulging into a large blue bubble before exploding in a cloud of steam. The eruptions varied in height, with smaller ones drawing a disappointed groan from the waiting crowds.
After this, I headed a few more kilometers east to my final stop, Gullfoss. Iceland has lots of waterfalls (some more are on the schedule tomorrow) but this is one of the larger ones. The Hvita river, heading south from the central highlands, drops down 30 metres or so in two stages here. The clouds of spray are visible before you see the waterfall itself, and several viewpoints are on offer. From the lower car park you get a view back up the river of the whole falls, but walking along the path to the left allows you to get out onto a rocky outcrop near the high point, and also look back to see the narrow gorge the water disappears down.
From Gullfoss, the main roads are a dead end. The F35 route continues north through the centre of Iceland eventually ending up meeting Route 1 in the north – being an “F” road it’s only suitable for off-roaders though, and although I have one, it was late in the day so I wasn’t about to go trekking across country. I did drive a few km though (the first part is tarmac anyway).
You don’t have to go far from Gullfoss before you’re in the middle of nowhere. The landscape becomes rather lunar, with rocky shallow hills visible to the horizon in most directions. If the weather was clear, then the larger mountains in the distance and the huge ice cap of Langjokull would be visible, but today the clouds obscured the view.
Finally I headed to my hotel for the night, only a couple of km from Gullfoss. If the weather is ok in the morning I’ll probably pop back to the waterfall for some more pictures before heading down south to rejoin Route 1.