Rain spattered window with blurred landscape
Friendly Friday,  Iceland,  Landscape

Learning to dance in the rain: Iceland’s Golden Circle

Sign "Wisdom of the Icelandic Elves"
Sign in the Gullfoss gift shop

‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain’

What does a Golden Circle sound like to you? Something shiny for sure, and probably bright. And on a sunny day I am sure Iceland’s most popular tourist route is exactly that.

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But when I was there a few years ago with Virtual Tourist friends, it was anything but. If ever we needed to learn to dance in the rain, it was today!

It was difficult to see the scenery through the raindrops on the bus windows, and impossible to photograph it, although I tried (see my featured photo!). I felt bad for those VT friends who had never previously visited Iceland and seen its stark beauty; they weren’t seeing much of it today!

Thingvellir

Chris and I had driven some of this route on a previous visit to Iceland. But that had been in February, when not all the roads were open, and today’s first stop, Thingvellir, was new to me.

I have to confess that the rain lashing down dissuaded me from making the walk down to the fissure which marks the divide between the tectonic plates of Europe and America. But I managed to keep my camera dry for a short time in order to capture some photos of the bleak landscape and of the spray from a waterfall hidden beyond a ridge.

My friend Isa did however make the walk. She later kindly allowed me to share her photo, which gives a very good idea of the conditions!

People in wet ponchos
VT members at Thingvellir, taken by Isa

Geysir

Our next stop was at Geysir. This is a spectacular area where the landscape is dotted with hot springs and geysers; so much so that one of them, the Great Geysir (Icelandic name, Stori Geysir), gave its name to the phenomenon as a whole. Geysers all over the world are named for it (geysir is Icelandic for ‘gusher’). Sadly the Great Geysir is these days more or less inactive (although I have read that occasionally it can be coaxed back into life when artificially stimulated with carbolic soap powder). But luckily another nearby geyser, Strokkur, is much more obliging, and erupts at regular 5-10 minute intervals. It may not reach the heights that its neighbour once did; but at 30 or more metres it is still a pretty impressive sight.

I had seen Strokkur in action on my previous trip, when these photos were taken:

Strokkur in winter 2012

So on this occasion I contented myself with a few photos of the bubbling and steaming springs beside the path. This was an area that had struck me with its unearthly beauty on my previous visit, more so even than the drama of the erupting Strokkur. The path is lined with bubbling hot springs, hissing fumaroles, belching mud pots and so on; and all are surrounded by a rich green moss that seems to thrive in the steamy atmosphere. In today’s weather it looked even more eerie.

My friend Yvonne has kindly let me use a photo which she took here. It really shows the elements that our VT group had to battle to see the sights.

People in wet ponchos
VT friends at Geysir in the rain, taken by Yvonne

Gullfoss

Then it was on to our next stop, Gullfoss, the Golden Falls. These give the Golden Circle its name; Gullfoss means ‘Golden Waterfall’. This is in fact two separate waterfalls; the upper one has a drop of 11 metres and the lower one 21 metres.

Having seen the power of Gullfoss it is hard to imagine that it was ever threatened, but so it was. In the middle part of the last century such wonders were perhaps less appreciated than they are today; and for a while there was talk, and even some plans, of harnessing the power of the river here to generate electricity. The popular story is that these plans were overthrown due to the efforts of one woman, Sigrídur Tómasdóttir, who even threatened to throw herself over the falls. Whether it was her threat, or a simple lack of money, is not clear; but the falls were saved and today are protected as they should be, while a memorial to Sigrídur stands in the upper car park area. Iceland would certainly be the poorer, despite all its other magnificent scenery, without this dramatic sight.

Again, I had been here before. But I love waterfalls and was determined to see it again, so I braved the downpour to walk out along the path that leads to the upper falls. I grabbed a few photos but was too concerned about the effect of the heavy rain on my camera to linger long.

Here are some extra images from my 2012 visit, when despite a lot of ice I was able to get closer to the falls; also a short video I shot then.

Gullfoss, winter 2012

Kerid

Gullfoss was to have been our final stop, as it completes the Golden Circle trilogy. But as we had spent less time than planned at the other locations (owing to the weather) an extra brief halt was added, at the volcanic crater Kerid. This was a completely new sight for me. So although some stayed on the bus, having by now had more than enough of the rain, I decided to pay the 400 ISK ticket fee; this is privately owned so chargeable, unlike national park sites in Iceland.

Although I only had a short time here it was well worth seeing and paying for: a beautiful deep green lake lying in a crater streaked with vegetation of various hues. The crater was formed about 6,500 years ago, the result, geologists believe, of the collapse of a small magma chamber. The water here rises and falls according to the level of the water table, varying between 7 and 14 metres in depth.

I struggled to take photos though; each time I cleared my lens of rain drops more were blown on to it by the strong winds. These are the best I could manage.

So had we danced in the rain? Maybe not, but we did have a great time together. And thanks to the weather conditions this has become one of the most reminisced about of Virtual Tourist outings. I hope Sandy will agree that there is enough weather in this post to fit well with this week’s Friendly Friday Challenge!

I visited Iceland in 2012 and 2018

33 Comments

  • Forestwood

    I loved see the countryside that I visited in a different season when I did the Golden Circle tour in 2008, Sarah, so this was a perfect way to see what I missed under all the snow, as I visited in late Winter. And I did that deliberately. I was actually supposed to be visiting a Danish friend for a week, but when that was cancelled, I decide to go visit a friend in Iceland. The last day of my visit to the north of Iceland, I went on the Golden Circle tour and it was a gorgeous day at Thingvellir! So it does happen,even in winter. Blue skies everywhere! That created a good contrast against the snow white blanket. I went to the crater too, and some of the facts you mentioned was not told to us, like the lady that saves Gullfoss, which was almost totally frozen over when I was there, and the wind chill horrific despite the clear skies. It was the only time I think I have come close to getting frostbite! Did you swim in the blue lagoon too?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Amanda 😀 I think Iceland is beautiful whatever the weather! But blue skies certainly help. Gulfoss was partly frozen the first time I saw it, when I went to Iceland with Chris in February 2012, but it was quite a dull day. It still looked amazing however!

  • starship VT

    What a day that was!! I still get a cold, wet feeling just thinking about it! I feel like I missed some great photo opportunities and wish I had been better prepared. Great post and photos, Sarah.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sylvia 😊 I agree about being better prepared – I was wearing a waterproof jacket but not trousers, and I had nothing to cover my camera. If I’d had one of the poncho-style raincoats that some of the others had, I would have ventured further from the bus. Nevertheless I enjoyed the day – it’s always fun to be out exploring with VT friends 😀

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    This is such a stunning country Sarah, so many amazing features. We haven’t been yet, but it is a place of interest to us. I think I would have missed out on those walks too, I am a bit of a fine weather walker. Michaela 😊

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It is indeed stunning Michaela, but you have to accept the risk of bad weather and be willing to brave it if necessary, although it’s also possible to have glorious days – just a question of luck!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Sandy 🙂 I confess I did a bit of cowering, mainly in cafes and gift shops where available! Maybe if I hadn’t already seen some of these places I would have stayed out in the rain longer, certainly at Gullfoss. My main frustration wasn’t getting wet myself, but worrying about my camera. If I may continue to break the ‘weather where you live’ rule, I’ll share a much better weather day in Iceland for contrast next week?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh yes, a bit of rain can’t dim the glory of this landscape! And the weather, along with volcanic activity, has helped to shape Iceland and make it the beautiful country that it is 🙂

  • Anonymous

    your photo tour of Iceland’s lands and waters … Now I feel to have had a glimpse of Iceland. A rewarding evening side trip. Thanks !

  • Manja Maksimovič

    Oh my, that’s plenty of weather. I got wet just reading through. I have yet to visit Iceland. Having to pay for a crater because it’s on private property sounds quite incredible. Worthy shots though and the video is impressive too.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha, I didn’t mean to make you wet Manja 😆 I wouldn’t so much say that I paid for the crater, but I paid for access to it as I had to go on to private land. I didn’t mind, I guess it helps the farmer and was worth it to see the sight!

  • salsaworldtraveler

    Thanks for braving the Icelandic monsoon and sharing your photos that turned out great in spite of the weather. Iceland is a place I must visit one day. Gullfoss is spectacular especially in winter. The part of Iceland that is on the North American tectonic plate would seem to be part of North America. Arbitrarily, it seems, classifying Iceland and Greenland as part of Europe makes it easier to claim that Columbus “discovered” the New World.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for the kind words about the photos – but you should see the many that had to be discarded because of the raindrops on the lens! Nevertheless the landscapes here are awesome, whatever the weather! I have to say I’ve always found it odd that Greenland in particular is considered part of Europe, given how far away it is. At least Iceland has substantial parts on the European tectonic plate, and it feels European. But Greenland’s only claim to being to so is that it’s a Danish territory!

  • maristravels

    Great pictures to show what Iceland is really like. I’ve just been watching Alexander Armstrong’s series on TV about his trip through that country and between you I’ve got a much better picture now than I had before.

  • CliffClaven

    Dancing in the rain? Possible – okay, I fess up, definitely done in southeast Asia – but not something I fancy in Iceland. In spite of your disclaimers, the photos were as always impressive. Gullfoss, as I remember and as your photos definitely show, is a stunning spectacle.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Michael 🙂 I reckon you would have enjoyed this meet – and as I plan to show in an imminent future post, we didn’t always have wet weather. In fact, one day was glorious!

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