Island – Wasser und Licht

On the 31st we got off to another early start to see Iceland’s famous “Golden Circle”. Our first stop was Thingsvellir national park, where we saw the fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and the Öxarárfoss waterfall. Standing between two continents was quite humbling, and I’m glad we made this our first stop as we had beautiful early morning light and the site was completely empty. We took some time just to admire the silence and take in the sights. The Almannagjá fault formed the canyon we walked through to reach the falls. I realize this has been a recurring theme on this trip, but I couldn’t help but feel small again as I stood between two continents. It was great to see more of the geology responsible for Iceland up close.

Left – North American Continental Plate, Right – Eurasian Continental Plate
Oxarafoss in early morning light

We left the park and continued on to Geysir, a popular site to observe geysers and see more of the geologically active region. We were greeted with the smell of sulfur as Strokkur, one of the frequently erupting geysers, let off some steam. Geysir itself is the largest geyser in the area though it no longer erupts. Seeing the hot springs and anticipating each eruption was a fun way to spend our mid-morning. Unfortunately by the time we made it here it was already crowded with tourists, but it is not such a big site that we had trouble getting up-close to the action.

Strokkur letting off some steam

We went inside the visitor center to warm up and grab some lunch. We had a soup which reminded me of a curry and a simple sandwich. I’ve been noticing that Icelanders seem to like their soup, which is understandable given the desire to warm up.

After lunch we continued on towards Gulfoss, a huge two-tiered waterfall. Unfortunately a few of the walkways were closed off and there were large crowds of tourists there, but it was still impressive to hear the roar of the falls. Apparently the average flow in the summer can be almost twice what we had been seeing!

Two tiers of Gulfoss waterfalls

Not yet tired of waterfalls, we paid a visit to Faxi, a smaller wide waterfall that you can get quite close to. I really enjoyed seeing this one because it was almost completely deserted and you can get right up close to the water. There seemed to be a manmade structure next to the waterfalls that was allowing spillover. It seemed a little redundant given the waterfall right next to it – we aren’t sure what it is there for.

Up close with Faxi

We wrapped up our visit to the Golden Circle with a stop at Kerið, a volcanic crater. Experts initially thought the crater was the result of an explosive eruption but now believe it is tied to the collapse of a magma chamber, and need not have formed explosively. Based on pictures I had seen I had expected a small formation but it is quite substantial – the pond at the bottom is frozen and you could easily play a hockey game on it.

Kerid, iced over
Humans for scale

Daylight fading, we went into Selfoss for dinner. New Year’s Eve is a popular time to go out to eat in Iceland, so we had to wait at the restaurant we chose, “Surf and Turf”. Everything on their menu was pricey so we decided to be adventurous and try the horsemeat steak. Our server told us how it is similar to beef but healthier – the steak did have a similar taste to beef but a much tougher texture. I did not prefer it to a beef steak but I’m glad we got to try it.

After dinner we went outside and got our first glimpse of our New Year’s Eve lightshow – the Aurora Borealis! It wasn’t dark enough yet to see the lights properly and I was exhausted from all the driving and sightseeing we had done, so I begrudgingly took a nap for about an hour while the sky continued to darken. I woke up from the nap, put on extra clothing layers, and we headed back to Kerið (it was close by) to get away from the lights of Selfoss and observe the night sky. We were treated to a special sort of fireworks this New Year’s Eve, and I couldn’t be happier.

Faint green on the horizon – a great sign!

I had been trying to see the lights for quite some time now. While we weren’t banking on it for the sake of this trip, it really is icing on the cake and we couldn’t be more grateful. The pictures don’t capture the beauty and elegance you feel when you look up on a silent cold night and see them dance before you. I’m sure I will be making more trips to try and glimpse them again someday.

Happy New Year everyone!

Best wishes and safe travels,

– Ben


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