December 7, 2019

Golden Circle

We took a red eye flight from NYC to Reykjavik and landed about half an hour earlier. Getting through customs at the Keflavik airport was easy and fast. We picked up a few bottles of Brennivin at the duty free store while we waited for our suitcases. We purchased our sim cards at the deli after we had cleared customs and were ready to pick up our rental car. By the time we got done with all this, it was around 10 am and I was getting hungry. In case you haven’t noticed a theme, my life revolves around food. Pictures of food in Iceland.

Haukadalur Valley

Most places near the airport hadn’t opened yet. I guess people in Iceland don’t believe in breakfast. There might have been a few places open in Reykjavik city center but we wanted to start our Golden Circle drive ASAP. We didn’t want to drive into the city. We started driving towards Thingvellir National Park, our fist scheduled stop. We stopped at a few restaurants on the way but none of them opened before noon. My first meal in Iceland was at a gas station deli. The beef sandwich I got was actually much better than expected but a gas station sandwich cost almost $10. This is why people say food in Iceland is expensive.

Helgafell

On our way to the park, we saw a beautiful field of purple flowers. We pulled over at Helgafell and just walked around for a few minutes. These are purple nootka or Alaskan lupine. They were introduced to Iceland in 1945 to add nitrogen to the soil. It’s a beautiful place to stretch your legs and start to enjoy all that Iceland has to offer. After a short break we needed to continue our drive. Our next stop was Thingvellir NP visitor center where we got some information. They suggested a hike route that covered the most visited spots and took about 2 hours. The park entrance is technically free but parking costs 750 ISK or $6.

The Law Rock

Thingvellir NP is located at the rift between Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It is also an important place in Icelandic history from years 930 – 1262. Thingvellir actually means the place where “The Thing” happened. It’s like their parliament. The law council was responsible for making laws and resolving legal disputes. Laws were recited from memory to the assembly at Law Rock. That Law Rock is at Thingvellir NP. This reminded me of The Thing from Norsemen on Netflix. And it actually exists! I didn’t know “The Thing” from Norsemen was based on actual history.

Thingvellir National Park

At the start of the hike we saw a bunch of Harlequin ducks. We continued our hike towards Oxararfoss (I think. I kept getting very confused with all the Icelandic names). This waterfall reminded me of a miniature version of Taughannock Falls in Ithaca, New York. On our return hike we took a slightly different route. We ended up spending a little more than two hours at the park but it was time to move on. Click for more pics of Thingvellir NP.

Strokkur

We had lunch at Goodburger. I liked how I could pick my burger size. A small burger was enough for me. After a short break we continued our drive to Haukadalur Valley for the geysers. There are a lot of geysers in the area but Strokkur and Geysir are the main ones. Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes and reaches up to 100 feet high. We actually saw it erupt half a dozen times and and here’s a video of it. Geysir erupts after an earthquake. Here are more pictures of the geysers.

Gullfoss

There is a short trail that goes up a small hill so you can get a nice view of all the geysers. I would have gone on this hike but the red eye flight had left us tired and sleepy. Plus, we had a lot more to cover of Golden Circle before we called it a day and the hike would’ve taken about an hour. Our next stop was supposed to be Tindfjallajokull but given how tired and sleepy we felt, we decided to skip it. Tindfjallajokull is the smallest glacier in Iceland and we’ll see bigger glaciers in the next few days.

partial rainbow at Gullfoss

Our next stop was Gullfoss. It’s a beautiful and massive waterfall with two tiers. There are thousands of waterfalls in Iceland but this waterfall is huge and you get to look at it from the top, unlike a lot of other waterfalls where you are at the bottom of the falls. Also, expect to get a little spray from the fall every now and then. If the weather is sunny, you may be able to see a rainbow or two. We saw two different partial rainbows in the 30 mins we spent there.

Gullfoss

After such a long day, it was time to relax at Secret Lagoon. Ideally, I wanted to go to Blue Lagoon but they were full to capacity. Secret Lagoon, aka Gamla Lagoon, is Iceland’s oldest thermal pool and it’s less than half the price of Blue Lagoon. It’s also a lot smaller than Blue Lagoon. Secret Lagoon is surrounded by mini geysers that have small eruptions every now and then. Being in the thermal pool, watching mini geysers was a unique experience. The surprising thing for me was how the water temperature changed within the same pool just a few feet apart. Some parts of the pool were VERY hot and just a few steps away, the water was soothing.

Secret Lagoon

We stayed at Secret Lagoon for about an hour and half before we continue our Golden Circle drive. We had one more stop to make before dinner and checking into the Airbnb. Our next stop was Kerid crater formed about 6,500 years ago and 180 feet deep. The entrance fee is 400 ISk (about $3) per person. Personally, I think this crater was one of the most impressive sites on Golden Circle. The contrast of red volcanic rock, the green grass and the water at the bottom of the crater is pretty amazing.

Kerid Crater from above

There is a short trail that goes down to the water and encircles the crater lake. It took me barely 5 mins to go down so even if you are short on time, it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to go to the bottom of the crater. The colors at Kerid crater were so pretty. I don’t think you need to spend more than half an hour at Kerid crater. Gullfoss was magnificent but for me the geysers and Kerid crater were the highlights of Golden Circle. Suddenly at Kerid Crater, hunger and exhaustion hit us hard.

at the bottom of Kerid Crater

We had seafood pizza with cheese, prawns, tuna, and black pepper which was surprisingly delicious. We also had traditional Icelandic plokkfiskur which is fish, usually cod, mashed with potatoes and rye bread. Plokkfiskur, aka fish stew, was one of my favorite dishes in Iceland. After dinner we went to our Airbnb in Selfoss and tried to sleep but it was our first night and we were amazed at how bright it was at midnight. Eventually around 1 am we closed the curtain and made ourselves sleep because we had to be on a ferry to Westman Island the next morning.

Secret Lagoon

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