Iceland - the Golden Circle and south coast road trip
Iceland was expensive, out of the way and very cold (obviously), but totally worth it! I knew that I had to visit Iceland on my Europe trip this time around, even though it wasn't Aurora season and I'm so glad I made the journey up there.
I wasn't there for long, just a four day trip and really wanted to see some of the highlights, so I opted for the Golden Circle and some of the highlights of the south coast.
The Golden Circle (partial)
I decided to do the Golden Circle myself because the cost of tours was quite high and I heard it wasn't all that necessary to do one. Because I didn't organise much of my trip in advance (I was hoping to find someone else to travel there with but had no success), I didn't do a very good job with the car hire and had to cram a lot into one day. The Golden Circle takes around 5 hours return from Reykjavik, and I also wanted to do a lot of things on the southern coast, so my road trip lasted from 8am until about 7.30pm.
I posted my journey on a noticeboard in the hostel and Samferda, a carpooling website and found two people, one from each, to join me on the trip to split costs so I was very happy about that, it was not cheap for petrol and I did a lot of driving. They gave me 5000 Icelandic kroner towards petrol. It definitely helped so I would recommend it, even just asking around in the hostel to see who has a car or who needs a seat.
We headed along route 36 to our first stop, Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, where we just stopped briefly to take some photos of the stunning lake at a couple of different points. For the whole journey we had spectacular views but the clouds were moving so fast across the sky and a lot of the time it was very ominous. We didn't hang around at the National Park too long and didn't head down to the lake but I think there are a few waterfalls around there. After that we headed to Geysir, which was fun to wait for and try to time photos and videos for. But the area around it wasn't overly spectacular so once we'd all gotten a couple of successful shots we moved on to Gullfoss, which isn't far up the road.
Gullfoss did not disappoint. I think it was the highlight of the trip actually. It's the perfect example of the power of nature and it took my breath away. I think my eyes might've watered up a bit! I've got a few photos but none of them do it justice! Thousands of litres of water cascading down a wide "staircase" and then down two giant drops into a 32m/105ft crevice. The waterfalls so hard that the spray shoots up a few metres above the falls in a thin mist. There are a couple of paths that you can take and they're both fairly short and easy; one takes you down along the waterfall's side and the other goes along the top of the ridge that looks down over the waterfall. Both offer stunning views and are very easy walks, just make sure to watch your footing as the little rocks can be a bit treacherous.
Southern coast highlights - waterfalls and black sand beach
After that we started the detour that took us down to the southern coast. It was gravel road for a little while which made me nervous with the rental car but I pushed on and after about 20 mins of dodging potholes we were back on tarmac. The journey was windy and very much back country, I could see that you wouldn't want to go through there in winter with a small rental car like the one I had. The weather got worse and worse as we went south which was such a shame because the scenery would've been amazing. Just before we got to Seljalandsfoss there was this huge rock with some buildings at the bottom, it was such a neat little find.
There are actually a few waterfalls on the cliff side near Seljalandsfoss, the other prominent one being Gljúfrabúi. We parked near Gljúfrabúi because if you park at Seljalandsfoss you have to pay. We sat in the car for a bit and had some food in hopes that the weather would get better (they say in Iceland if you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes and it'll change), and when it was slightly better we headed to the falls, Gljúfrabúi first. I would've loved to go inside but it was just too cold and rainy to get my Nike's wet and I didn't have much in the way of rain protection and we still had a long way to go. So I got a shot from the outside and have sworn to return one day.
As we walked along to Seljalandsfoss, the rain didn't let off. It was pouring down by the time we arrived at the waterfall but we had to go inside. It was so incredible, the waterfall was crashing down and spraying us, but we still walked the whole way under; we were already soaked. It was just very hard to take photos because I could hardly feel my fingers.
By the time we drove to Skógafoss I was freezing and wet, and not all too keen to spend much time out of the car in the harsh winds, so our trip there was quite brief. It was so powerful and you could feel the spray of it from 50 metres away. I wish I'd gone for the walk up the top but I think I would've frozen up there and become Iceland's newest tourist attraction.
Our last stop for the day was the black sand beach at Vik. It was getting late and we were so cold so we didn't stay long. I'm not sure if we went to the best part of Vik but it was nice seeing some horses stroll across the beach while we were there, and the ocean was very impressive. After that it was time to return to Reykjavik! We arrived back around 7.30 which was my prediction. I had used about a whole tank of my little Opal rental car. Music and good company definitely made the 10 or so hours of driving much more manageable and it was a wonderful trip!