A seven-day tour around Iceland [Part 1]
I don’t exactly know what to say. And it’s not that I’m wonderfully speechless over this experience, but rather holding mixed feelings towards it. I think as a whole, this past week has been fairly wonderful. But I can’t judge it as a whole, as a single step in my journey, only worthy of summary in one blog post. Simply because it wasn’t one week of wonder; it was seven separate days of varying exploits, emotions and enlightenment. I believe a summary (even if succinct) can’t be contained in one blog post, so I’ll split it in three parts and still attempt to keep the word count down – sorry in advance.
The Golden Circle is arguably Iceland’s biggest tourist trap. It’s a round trip contained in the south west region of Iceland, taking you to a few of the biggest attractions in the country. And this is where I began. Þingvellir National Park was the first stop, and whilst the view from the topmost walkway was vast and worth photographing, the park wasn’t the stunning scene I was expecting. Frankly, it was a disappointing start to the trip.
I moved on relatively quickly, and found myself wanting to clamp my nose when I arrived in Geysir. This geothermal area is full of geysers (as the town name suggests) which, aside from the spouts of boiling water and steam, primarily produce a stew of sulphur in the air – these natural springs are also the reason why the tap water in Iceland often has a sulphurous odour. If it wasn’t for the smell I might’ve stayed longer to watch more geyser eruptions, but I’m glad I moved on to the next attraction nonetheless.
Gullfoss may just be my favourite sight from the week – in retrospect this is partly due to it being the first major waterfall I visited. From my first glimpse of the waterfall I could see and hear its sheer power, and when up close I could properly gauge the strength of the water. It was quite amazing. Despite the amount of tourists (and selfie-sticks), the atmosphere of Gullfoss itself was all encompassing. It set a high standard for further waterfalls.
The day ended with a drive halfway down to my next destination, a fast-food burger and fries, and an awkward first night’s sleep in my compact rental car.
I realised two things on my second day: Iceland has an immense amount of rivers and waterfalls, and I don’t like the way I was travelling. The attractions I set out that morning to see included a natural pool, a beach and (of course) two waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss (first of the waterfalls) was an interesting experience. You are able to walk up to, beside and behind the main waterfall – something I should’ve thought would get me a little wet and then ended up getting me quite soaked. Laughter soon turned into worry for the safety of my camera, and I went to investigate a smaller waterfall there instead. A very short but steep clamber – the kind of hikes I’ve discovered I enjoy – rewarded me with a close but dry look and great photo opportunity.
Just as soon as I had completely dried off, it was time to get wet again in Seljavallalaug: a small pool filled with heated water from the river that runs beside it. It’s tucked away in a valley, a small hike away from the dirt road, and is popular with as many locals as tourists. Although the view was amazing and the water refreshing, my nice soak in the pool was sadly lessened by the (surprisingly) cold temperature and a sense of loneliness beginning to develop.
The last couple of attractions didn’t hold my attention for very long. Skógafoss (the second waterfall) felt too familiar a sight at this point in the day, so rather than inspect closely I opted to drive down to Vík and see the black beach of Reynisfjara. The dark colouring of the sand is an interesting sight, which can catch you a little off guard, but unfortunately couldn’t quite compensate for the lack of other interesting features of the beach. Tired legs and a deep hunger (for food) led me out of Vík and to a spot I could set up for the night.
Travelling by yourself can be difficult at times, because sometimes you can not only feel alone but also truly lonely. This night was one of those times. A combination of terrible wind, overcast skies, no new music, apparent solitude, and the inability to make dinner – the fact that my aluminium trays had holes the water would seep through was only a sad addition to the already sad circumstance I was in without anything to light my gas cooker – built to a great breakdown. For a moment I simply wanted to be back home, but I quickly pulled myself together having already gone through these motions before. I needed to eat something and get warm in my car.
A depressing dinner of plain hamburger buns and an old episode of my favourite podcast ‘If I Were You’ were comfort enough against the callous night. Luckily, things picked up the next day and my spirits were lifted in preparation for the rest of my journey.