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As a cruise tourist, you usually only have one, maximum two days and still want to see as much as possible of what Iceland stands for: Nature, culture, waterfalls, volcanoes and geysers. All this can be seen on Iceland's most famous round trip, the Golden Circle Tour (or Golden Circle). Due to the proximity to the capital ReykjavIk, this tour is very popular with cruise passengers and tourists.
Of course, all cruise lines offer guided excursions on this route, as did Hapag Lloyd when we docked with Columbus 2 in Reykjavik on our Nordland cruise. We decided against a bus tour in a big group and searched for a private guide via the internet. So we have an appointment in Reykjavik with Michael Kissane, with whom we will do an individual tour along the Golden Circle.
A day on Iceland's most famous round trip: the Golden Circle Tour
We will visit the following stops:
- the volcanic crater Kerið
- the church of Skalholt
- the Faxi waterfall
- the geothermal area Haukadalur (Geysir and Strokkur)
- the waterfall Gullfoss
- the national park Þingvellir
Already at 8 o'clock the Columbus 2 reaches Reykjavik. Michael is not to be seen at first, but a short phone call clarifies the situation: he is waiting for us at the other port of Reykjavik, where we were supposed to come ashore by tender. At short notice the Columbus 2 was assigned a berth at the pier, but in this second port ca. 5 km from the city center. A few minutes after our phone call, Michael drives up with the car and we can go.
The route over the ring road leads us out of the city and we pass huge lava fields. The lava is covered by a thick layer of moss, it looks like a carpet is spread over it and seems a bit unreal.
The volcanic crater Kerið
Our first destination on our individual Golden Circle tour is a crater lake, Kerið Crater Lake. The caldera is quite large and according to Michael's explanations it should have excellent acoustics. Among others Bjork is said to have given a concert here once. We have read up: the crater has a depth of 55 meters and a size of ca. 270×170 meters.
The church of Skalholt
The small church, where we stop after a short drive, used to be a bishop's seat. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the course of time and can no longer be visited in its original form. Interesting is the succession of bishops shown in the church; it was often the case that the office of bishop was held first by the father and then by the son.
Right next to the church the former bishop's house was reconstructed. Interesting is the grass roof in a construction that is supposed to withstand the frequent storms.
The Faxi waterfall
Iceland is known for its wonderful waterfalls – and a rather smaller but very beautiful one is the Faxi waterfall. It's not necessarily part of the Golden Circle tour, but it's not far from the former bishop's seat, so we stop here first on the way to the geysers. From the viewpoint we can see the waterfall itself and the fish ladder next to it very well. The fish ladder is for the salmon, of which there should be many in the river that forms the waterfall.
Michael tells us that the land around the waterfall is privately owned and the owner doesn't want the big buses to stop there – so we are here all alone.
The geothermal area Haukadalur (Geysers)
At the next stop it is not quite so lonely and quiet – when we arrive at the geothermal area Haukadalur, there are already some busses and many other vehicles on the parking lot. But the area is big and it gets a bit lost.
There are many places where steam rises from the ground. In addition, the water bubbles in various round holes.
Around the Strokkur a circle of people is forming, all waiting for the next eruption. At a distance of approx. 10 minutes water and steam shoots up, the height of the water column can vary between 10 and 30 meters. You should definitely pay attention to the wind direction to not get soaked by the water.
Taking pictures doesn't work right away, the water column is so surprising that I need a few tries to get a good picture. But I am especially happy that I manage to take a photo of the typical blue bubble that forms at the beginning of each eruption.
Unfortunately the weather is not really photo-friendly today; the sky is gray and cloudy and hardly forms a contrast to the column of steam and water. How beautiful this would look with a blue sky as background! Well, you can't have everything.
Impressions from Strokkur
The waterfall Gullfoss
At Gulfoss we meet even more tourists – here is always the point where the tour companies have lunch. We do not do this, but take our time to look at the waterfall from different points. The water falls spectacularly and thunderously over two steps at right angles to each other. The "golden waterfall" owes its name to the foaming spray, which is said to glow golden in the low sun. Well, today we have unfortunately no sun and can not follow this.
The National Park Þingvellir
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) is the last stop of our Golden Circle Tour. Here it is interesting from two different aspects: on the one hand this is the place where the old Vikings held their first parliament and on the other hand you can see here the drifting apart of the European and the North American continental plates. The opening trench is steadily increasing in size.
We first stop on the European side at a narrow path and climb over uneven terrain to the edge of the rift. Everything is covered here again with thick moss cushions. I have never seen such a soft and thick moss before.
Michael takes a book out of the car and explains us which plants and especially which flowers we see here. It is simply amazing, there are so many flowers here. The wildflowers are not large, but due to their multitude they form large colorful fields.
The edge of the North American side is higher and much more imposing. We first walk along the bottom of the trench.
At a small river we observe mama gray goose, which is obviously on an excursion with her young ones. Clumsily the chicks try to climb the embankment and after a few attempts they finally manage to do so. Finally, we go to the observation deck and look over the entire plain. The view is breathtaking. Quite picturesque there is also a small church there, which of course I have to take a picture of.
We would like to see the Icelandic horses up close and Michael stops at a pasture on his way back to the ship. The Icelandic horses are smaller than normal horses. Michael explains that the animals can be exported from Iceland, but cannot be brought back. When e.g. If horses are brought to shows in other countries, they must remain there. I guess it's to avoid bringing in diseases and also it's about keeping purebreds.
The animals are curious and come right up to the fence to be petted and fed. Surprisingly, they prefer to eat grass. Michael tells us that he once brought them apples, but the horses didn't like them at all.
More information about many places of interest in Iceland ? you can find on the blog Phototravellers.
After a long day and ca. 250 kilometers on the Golden Circle Tour, we saw an incredible amount and gained many interesting impressions. Iceland has impressed us so far, but the next day we have another land trip, then in the Westfjords. Our destination for tomorrow is called Isafjordur.