Saturday, October 7, 2017

Iceland Golden Circle - what we did and how we did it

I'm not sure why it's called Golden Circle, because you kind of loop around all over the joint. I guess if you want to know why...that's what the internets is for, but  circle or no circle - what a spectacular part of the world.

I'd highly recommend hiring a car and basing yourself outside of Reykjavik. And my first hot tip: grab as many tourist brochures as possible at the airport - they will help with planning. And if I were to do this all again, I'd pick a beautiful remote lakeside location around Pingvallavatn. As we drove through there on our third day, we came across some magical places off the tourist trail.....spent much time on that drive daydreaming of relocating to Iceland just to live in a minimalist cabin overlooking that spectacular lake, spending my days collecting volcanic rock and baking cinnamon buns.

As it was, we stayed in an Airbnb near a little place called Borg, which is about 20 minutes from Selfoss and just over an hour from the airport. It was close enough to all the attractions whilst having an away from it all vibe and three or four days is plenty of time to see all of the incredible natural attractions. A bit of planning will mean that you can cover a lot of distance but break the drive with waterfalls, beautiful beaches and incredible landscapes.

On the first day we arrived we went to the volcanic crater at Kerio followed by a drive up to Geysir, which we did in one afternoon. To make the most of the drive, head on further to Gullfoss, the most magnificent of waterfalls. Better than Niagara they said and I'd believe it.

On day two we drove all the way to Vik, stopping off at some beautiful waterfalls along the way. They are well signposted and it is a bit of a tourist trail so you won't miss them. If you make it to Vik at lunch time, stop by the cafe adjoining the tourist information centre and order the lamb burger. The cakes looked amazing too. We walked off the lamb burger with a stroll on the black sandy beach. The sun poked out and the reflection on the water with the contrast of the black beach and green cliffs surrounding...I've never seen anything like it. 

On the drive back there was plenty of time to stop at the Reynisfjara which is an incredible black beach with spectacular sneaker waves and black basalt columns. See if you can spot a puffin...

We also walked down to S√≥lheimasandur black sand beach to see an abandoned DC plane. It takes around 40 minutes each way, and my advice on that is if the weather is turning wait it out.  Sleety rain and high winds makes for an unpleasant walk when you don't have the right wet weather gear. If you wait long enough, the rain will pass! Regardless of the weather this is an amazing site so worth the effort, even if you just end up staying for 5 minutes.

Day three brought with it sunshine which was perfect as we drove toward Pingvellir National Park. We went the long way around the lake which was one of the most beautiful drives you'll ever encounter. If the weather was warmer it would have been great to pack a picnic and while away a few hours by this lake. The clearest water, so still and divine.

The park itself is well marked, but I would stop off at the information centre on the way in to grab a map and some advice as to what to see. Besides the obvious attractions there are some beautiful walks which take you to more remote parts of the park. Again, the landscape was unlike anything else I'd seen - volcanic rock and gorges that show where the earth has moved (and moves at around 3mm a year) and beautiful lakes and waterfalls. No wonder it was added to UNESCO world heritage list.

For a late lunch, head to Efstidalur, which looks like a great place to stay -working dairy farm with a restaurant, cafe and ice creamery all rolled into one. Make sure you head upstairs to the restaurant which has a huge glass window overlooking the milking shed. They make their own butter and a small range of cheese there too. 

Then meander your way back past paddocks filled with ponies, tiny towns, winding streams and small lakes, with the glacier forever in the distance. Head back to your little cabin and marvel at all of the wonderful landscapes you've seen. All the rocks you wish you knew the name for, all the geological wonders, all the puffins, and all the sneaker waves. Pinch yourself and pour another gin and tonic and smile.

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