Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Golden Circle Tour, Iceland

The most popular tour in Iceland is the Golden Circle.  This eight hour tour covers about a 300 km (~186 mile) loop from Reykjavík.

The pole marks the Alþingi

Þingvellir National Park, in Bláskógabyggð, is the first stop.  Alþingi, the world's oldest parliament, was established in 930 AD.  The national park, Iceland's first, was founded in 1930.

On 17 July 1944, this is where Icelanders celebrated their independence from Denmark.  In 2004, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Þingvellir lays on the mid-Atlantic ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates separate about 2.5 cm (~1 inch) per year.  The valley is quite beautiful.

Gullfoss, the Golden Falls, are in southwest Iceland.  Glacier water from the Hvítá River falls in two spots before making its way into a 32 m (105 feet) gorge.  The first fall is 11 m (36 feet) and the second is 21 m (69 feet).

At one point there were plans to build a dam for a power station.  The story goes that Sigríður Tómasdóttir threatened to throw herself in to the waterfall and ended up saving the falls.  Today, the falls are owned by the state.  The view was great but it was so cold.  With the wind chill it was -16°C (3°F).  My camera lens was freezing up.  As were people's eyeglasses.  Brrrr!!!

Haukadalur Valley is home to Geysir.  The Great Geysir has been active for around 10,000 years and can hurl boiling water up to 70 meters but the eruptions are infrequent and in the past have stopped for years at a time.


Strokkur is the largest and most dynamic hot spring in Iceland today. 

It erupts every 5 to 10 minutes and eruptions can reach heights of 30 meters (98 feet).  There are over 30 other smaller hot springs and mud pots nearby.

The Faxi Waterfall is a small waterfall on the Tungufljót River.  Yeah, it's smaller than Gullfoss but it still seemed pretty big to me.

Skálholtdómkirkja - the Lutheran Cathedral

Skálholt was a major political and cultural center in Iceland throughout the Middle Ages.  It used to be the ancient seat of Icelandic bishops.  Skálholtdómkirkja is the Skálholt Cathedral which was built from 1956 to 1963.

In the distance we could see Eyjafjallajökull.  Many people simply call it E-15 since "E" plus the next 15 letters are so difficult to pronounce.  It's actually pronounced "EYE-ya-fyah-dla-YOE-kudl" and it means "island mountain glacier".  This is the Iceland volcano that erupted in 2010 and brought down air traffic across Europe.

Kerið is a volcanic crater lake in the Western Volcanic Zone.  The red volcanic rock is really colorful especially with the frozen water in the crater.  The crater is 55 m (180 feet) deep, 170 m (560 feet) wide and 270 m (890 feet) across.  Kerið is about 3,000 years old.

Hellisheiði is the second largest geothermal power station in the world.  It became operational in 2006.  It supplies 30% of the country's electricity and 1,100 liters (290 gallons) of hot water, 82-82°C (179-185°F), per second for Reykjavík's heating needs.  You will for sure never run out of hot water in Reykjavík but the water has a definite sulfur smell to it.

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