Golden circle tour filled our whole second day with the first stop at Selfoss, 30 miles southeast of the capital of Reykjavik where a 6.3 earthquake hit in 2008 opening a crack in the mountainside forming the hot springs that are there today. As Iceland is sat on a plate boundary where the North American and Eurasian plates drift apart earthquakes are common but not in large quantities such as this one. Driving through the snow covered landscapes we took a pit stop in Selfoss where the earthquake crack is clearly visible through sting glass floors, a truly eye opening and a marvel to see.
Iceland’s barren landscape is due to the lack of surface water and therefor lack of vegetation, with the majority of Icelanders settling in costal areas due to there fertility and milder climate with the remaining land is covered in glaciers and snowfields. The Gulf Stream allows the practice of agriculture in costal regions despite the high latitude with the largest agricultural industries consisting of potatoes and green vegetables whilst mutton, chicken, pork, beef, dairy products and fishing also contribute considerably to the economy, with other requirements being imported. Iceland’s main industries consist of fish processing, aluminum smelting, ferrosilicon production, geothermal power and hydropower with tourism growing in the recent years.Iceland is known globally as the land of fire and ice as it sits besides the mid-Atlantic ridge; a 10,000-mile crack in the ocean floor caused by the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Iceland has many constructive junctions, this is where the plates move away from each other, releasing pressure and exposing the lava sea between them, allowing for the lava to stream to surface, cool down and forms new land; with many volcanic eruptions every five years or so. Magma contains a variety of chemicals and metals and on many of the Volcano slopes they are made up of red rocks; this is the combination of the lava flow and oxidizing Iron. The quarry was used for the mining for aggregate; the material commonly used for foundations for roads creating a truly beautiful site in which we climbed into to capture the sheer beauty of the landscape, which was swarmed with JCBs and coated in fresh snow; a sight as a Brit is scary and unusual.Iceland has been isolated from the beginning consisting mainly of sea creatures, insects, and birds. Insects are scarce in numbers, typically carried by the winds or transport vessels whilst snakes and reptiles do not thrive outdoors with many imported illegally as pets. Importing more appealing wildlife such as snow hares have been experimented without success as the relationship between the human population and the animals attitude depends fully on the value of them; this was the case with the Mink Mustela Vison which was imported for fur farming with many escaping and breeding across the country. With hunting to decrease the population or exterminate all together have not been successful whilst the Arctic Fox Alopex Lagopus is believed to have occupied Iceland since the end of the last cold patch of the Ice Age it too is hunted and has been from the start of human inhabitancy but instead for its fur and the killing of livestock. The Polar Bear Ursus maritimus was rather a frequent visitor in Iceland during the late Middle Ages and into the 20th century, when the bays and fiords of the country were filled with pack ice for long periods, but in modern times only occasional bears that travel over on drift ice are spotted, with none surviving there time in Iceland. The scarce amount of wildlife in Iceland makes it all the more exciting for me when I find hare tracks in the snow or spotting of Rock Ptarmigan, but with sightings yet to happen I hold out positive.The most persistent geyser in the world and the one I visited lies in the Haukadalur valley at the base of Laugarfjall hill, first recorded in1789 after an earthquake, which most likely created or unblocked its conduit. Geysers require a heat source such as cooling magma, a water source, permeable rocks and a pressure-tight chamber or series of chambers where pressure can build up prior to eruption. Most geysers are found in highly silicic rhyolitic rocks, these superheated waters dissolve the silica and exsolves again and is deposited when the superheated waters boil or cool as pressure and temperature fall, this deposited “geyserite” seals the geysers plumbing system, allowing it to pressurise. The eruption commences when superheated waters rise into the geysers chambers, whilst cooler near-surface waters enter the chamber from above, as the chamber fills, the heated water transfers heat to the cooler water which eventually reaches boiling point, forming more vigorous water vapor may start to push water out of the vent. When a pulse of steam rises from below it pushes the water upwards forming a large bubble through which the steam bursts and expels much of the water in the pool skywards. Prior to the eruption, the pool is full and gently pulsates up and down whilst after regular eruptions the pool is empty but becomes rapidly refilled by flow back and water rising from underneath. Eruptions at Strokkur are very short, each involving a single or series of discrete thrusts of subsurface temperatures of about 240’C. The continuous eruptions were unpredictable and constantly missed when I got distracted but the sheer force when the water was thrusted into the air is incomparable, and the beautiful ice blue bubble before hand is beyond words. To our surprise we spontaneously stopped at a small ice waterfall; secluded and frozen, it was a spectacle of pure beauty with a variety of plant life coated in thick crystal clear ice from the spray of the surrounding falls. Aside this beauty was its deadly brother the extremely large hard droplets that coated the floor and rocks making walking virtually impossible and the falling all the more enjoyable, sadly with such harsh lighting and little time breaking out of our tour photography was limited but such a stunning spectacle that should defiantly be on Iceland’s top places if it is not already. One of the wonders of Iceland and the tour was Gullfoss; a glacier- fed waterfall, which occasionally glows an almost fluorescent light blue-green and creates rainbows through the mist it throws giving it its name which translated means “Golden Falls”. Gullfoss is in the river Hvítá meaning “white river” originating in the glacier lake Hvítávatn at Lángjökull glacier. Glacial water is slightly brown as it carries lots of sediments that the glacial ice has carved off the earth. Sigríður Tómasdóttir protested so intensely against plans to build a power plant by going as far as to threat that she would throw herself into Gullfoss and to make her threat believable she protested barefoot marching from Gullfoss to Reykjavik arriving with bleeding feet and in awful shape. Overlooking the falls your heart fills with the love of the world, even more so when the rainbow appears in front; leading down the treacherous iced path all aspects of the waterfall and river can be seen from gigantic icicles to the sense of danger of the drop below, all worth wile when the waters edge is reached. This was my favorite part of the tour; the scale of the waterfall is unbelievable and from the top it seems like the whole world can be seen and for a moment your worries seem as small as you are.
The majority of Iceland’s major events in its history have been held in Þingvellir national park or “Parliament Plains” which is held in high esteem by all Icelanders and protected as a national shrine. The continental drift can be seen in the cracks and faults with the largest being a vertical Canyon. Þingvellir is situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, the biggest lake of Iceland whilst the river Öxará runs through the national park forms a waterfall at the Almannagjá, called Öxaráfoss, together with the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysers of Haukadalur, Þingvellir is part of the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle. Peningagjá or “The Money Chasm” is a deep fissure filled with clear spring water, which is famous for people throw coins into it from the bridge lying across. The coins have been thrown in since it was used to determine the depth of the fissure, to this day they give off strange reflections as they drop through the water, with the belief that if you can follow the coin all the way down until it comes to rest on the bottom, your wish will come true. To me this was the highlight of the entire park, the vibrant turquoise shimmer from the bottom of the water is so mystical and beautiful whilst the stories behind it are even more eye opening, a beautiful end to a marvel of sites.
Overall the Golden Circle was a series of magnificent spectacles, which combined with the company of our guide truly made our trip amazing. Gaining the personal insight of each location and breaking away from the traditional route gave my peers and I a unique look at Iceland from the view of a true Icelander something I deeply recommend.