We got an almost early start our third day in Iceland, having to stop briefly for fresh croissants to eat in the car. The intention was to begin the drive around the ring road and hit the sites that are highlighted along The Golden Circle. If you go for a tour, the buses do a loop out and back to Reykjavik that covers about 190 miles. We just went out and kept going.
Our first stop was premature, but we did finally locate Pingvellir National Park. The mass of cars and tour busses in the parking lot giving it away. This beautiful spot is where you can see a clear boundary between the North American and Eurasian Tectonic plates. Literally! There is a nice walking path but prior research had informed us that it’s also possible to skindive and see the break between the plates from underneath the very cold, very clear water. We chose the hike option. Lol.
It wasn’t too far to the next stop but before we got to the Geysers, we had to stop so I could pet some horses. We saw so many horses in our travels around Iceland and it’s hard to believe that most of them are for riding. One of our homestays, has a hand in the industry and they educated us that it’s just the foals that are eaten, and the rest are used for riding. The horse I met seemed unsocialized, and I well believed it could end up on a plate somewhere. No judgements here. About 10% of me wanted to try it but the majority said no and we didn’t actually see it on too many menu’s anyway.
The next spot featured two geysers. One of which, Geysir, seems to have stopped erupting after an earthquake years ago. The other one though, is quite active. Stokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes and it was fun to stand outside the rope barrier along with 100 other people all going, “oh! oh!” every time the water would heave upwards. It always seemed to fake us out too, which led to much laughter.
After enjoying the show, we ended up climbing the small mountain behind the geysers for a little exercise and a different perspective. Quite beautiful from up there and you could seriously see for miles.
Our last interest point of the day was Gullfoss waterfall. This natural wonder is just an amazing site for tourists and even from a good half miles away, you cold feel the power from the rushing water and a definite drop in temperature from the spray hanging in the air. I understand that Iceland considered using if to generate power, but settled on just maintaining in as a tourist attraction instead.
Marc and I found our accommodations for the night pretty easily, but had a bit more trouble figuring out what to buy at the local grocery store for dinner. It’s hard to do when everything is in Icelandic and pictures can sometimes be misleading. We ended up with some pork ribs (they may have been heavily preserved, tasted like it) and some potato salad. Our digs had a hot tub so we had a great lazy evening of soaking, reading, having cocktails and dinner. The best part of the day, I cannot show you though. Marc woke me up and hurried me outside to see the Aurora Borealis. I had read that the earliest it could be seen was August 20th and so I wasn’t trying to get my hopes up, but there it was! A faint green glimmer in the sky that moved very fast and was gone in less than 10 minutes. How cool is that??!!
I’d like to say we got an early start the next day, but who am I kidding? After a breakfast of leftover croissant, bread and tea, we gathered up the trash, packed the car and took off. The sun was brilliant and the roads were sparsely traveled. We got gas and then found our first interest point of the day. Seljalandsfoss waterfall was beautiful and is the location for a lot of wedding pictures. You can also hike up behind the falls and with our rain coats on, we were up to the challenge!
Does anyone remember that volcano that erupted in Iceland back in 2010? It disrupted air travel for weeks and really brought attention to the whole country as newscasters tried (and mostly failed) to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull. We found it! Seems the buildings at the base all needed to be rebuilt, but a truck rumbling over the cattle gate and scaring the hell out of me seemed to mean that life was pretty much back to normal there.
We motored on and stopped when I saw this cute little house in the side of a mountain. Turns out, this is one of about 200 man-made caves that can only be found in the south of Iceland. This one is pretty deep and was used to store hay. It’s so deep, that another cave runs perpendicular to it and was used as a forge. We didn’t go in, having too many miles to go, but it’s really picturesque, eh?
Tour buses led us to our next destination. The black sand beach called Reynisfjara is close to the southernmost tip of Iceland and we were totally surprised to round a corner on the beach to see the basalt sea stacks under the mountain. A small cave undercut the mountain and little sea birds called Puffins were constantly flying from the cliffs above out to the ocean.
A word about food…. by now, we had a goodly supply of interesting potato chip flavors and we were trying to stay stocked up on apples, but we hadn’t quite clued in yet to the whole you can drive for miles and hours and never see a restaurant or a gas station. So we had a lot of lunches featuring paprika or Mexican peppers and cream chips or Doritos cool American (read ranch flavor) chips. Dinners were usually much better! We were aiming for dinner in Hofn that night, as they are known as the best place for langoustines in the country. We just had to get there first.
After that pretty stream, we drove through some of the most monotonous countryside I’ve ever seen. Take rocks, cover them with moss, and then put that on both sides of the road for a couple of hours. Relieve the monotony by spotting the occasional big black bird perched on a rock but otherwise, that’s all there is. They even warn you somewhat on the maps. There is a big swath of green from the black sand beach all the way up to the Vatnajokull glacier. This is what it looks like in person:
We did finally drive out of it and our attention was distracted by the massive glacier that loomed ever closer. We got out to stretch our legs and take a closer look at the first turn off we came to. There are warnings posted to be careful and a plaque honoring two young Germans who went missing years ago and were never found. We picked our way over a rough path besides the glacier for some cool pictures.
From there, it was another good hour or so to Hofn and that wonderful dinner. Then, another two hours or so to get to our stopping place for the evening. Thank goodness it doesn’t get dark until 10:30 or so at night. We were able to check out the mountains and the scenery almost until we arrived. Marc had booked a unique/ nostalgic spot for us and our host was this wonderful 65+ woman who seems to make her living as a homestay. Anna was great and so were the digs! Especially after the drive we had that day!