21 Mar 2016

Iceland #10 - Day 2: Playing Tour Guide around the Golden Circle

After the fairly late and boozy night, we didn't manage to set off on our mammoth trip - from Reykjavík to Vík via the Golden Circle - very early. We had some granola, Skyr and milk for breakfast, but I didn't want to give the boys too much in case they didn't like it, so it wasn't the most substantial start to the day. My body was aching in various places, and I noticed that my forearm was massively swollen where I'd caught it during my fall. We cleared the place up (still baffled by the lack of water glasses), packed up the car and set off at 11am - not too bad, considering, but not as early as I'd hoped; I didn't want to be rushing us from place to place too quickly.

The drive up to Þingvellir was pretty easy, and the roads were more-or-less clear of snow. As it always seems to be when I visit the area, the sky was hazy, with streaky clouds and the sun desperately trying to break through. Bright, but overcast. As we headed uphill the hillsides turned white (I've never seen it anything other than white up there). We reached the place that everyone stops to look down over the Þingvallatn lake below. The parking areas were all very snowy, so I was a little worried about getting bogged down, but was fine. I love the view back up the road from this spot, so stood in the middle of the road for a while to get a shot. The lake down below was actually difficult to see, as - like Kleifarvatn - it was completely frozen over (at least at the surface).

We continued on, and as we didn't have much time I decided that we'd miss the visitor's centre where most people stop that overlooks the rift, but instead head down into the rift and have a little walk to the lovely Öxaráfoss waterfall. On my first lone winter trip I'd met one other person as I photographed a partly-frozen Öxaráfoss, but this time the falls were almost completely frozen and the place was buzzing with people. Previously there wasn't a path, and I'd had to just scramble up the hill and find my own way; now the path was marked, steps added, signs marking the areas off-limits. The boys climbed up the snowy bank at the side of the falls and slid down on their bums. We all climbed up on the left-hand bank to get a better look down into a small gap in the ice where you could see the bottom of the falls. You could also just about make out the falls hidden behind the ice above. It was a shame it was quite so frozen, but there were some cool ice formations.

We decided to give the church a miss and we drove quickly on towards Geysir. The drive was again easy, with the roads mostly clear from any snow or ice. We stopped along the way to pet some Icelandic horses; I'd stopped at the same spot once before, and many other people seemed to do the same. The horses were very friendly and approached us immediately, but actually then tried to eat our hands; they were obviously now so used to being fed by the tourists that they instantly opened their mouths to see what we had to give them. We had no food, but one of them managed to give Scott a bit of a nip. It was getting pretty cold, so we took a few snaps before heading back to the warm car and off up to Geysir.

We pulled into the car-park at Geysir, which was as packed as it had been the previous February when I last visited. We nipped in to use the loo, then headed up the path towards the Strokkur geyser, which like last time was treacherous in part with extremely slippery ice.

We stood and waited for the geyser to erupt, and eventually it did, slightly drenching a whole bunch of people who were standing on one side.

Scott and I headed up the hill to look at a couple of the other pools while Bryon stayed back to try and get a good shot of the eruption the next time it happened (and he got a great shot of it with the blue pool erupting - my favourite bit).

We didn't hang around too long as it was packed, cold, starting to snow, and we were all a bit hungry.

We ate burgers at the café and had a quick look around the gift-shop before heading onwards to Gullfoss, which I hadn't visited for a few years.

Like Öxaráfoss, Gullfoss was also pretty frozen, but way more packed. I couldn't actually believe how many people were there. But yes, it's massive and impressive, so of course everyone visits. While we were there the tourists were all sticking to the right paths and not crossing the barriers (which had been put up to stop people walking along dangerously slippery paths just above the falls).

Although a lot of the falls were frozen you could still get a sense of the enormous volume of water that flows down the canyon. The snow had got heavier since we'd left Geysir and was a little unpleasant, although it provided some grip on the ice beneath our feet. As I pointed out to Bryon as we walked along the overlook, normally at this point I'd have got my tripod out and a few filters and would be playing around with long exposures; it was actually quite freeing to be with friends and not feel the need to. Just taking a few snaps was actually quite enjoyable. And besides, the light was dreadful!

We didn't stay long, and made our way back to the car to head onwards. We still had a fair way to go, and still had a few stops that I wanted to make - another waterfall and then one of the beaches near Vík. We drove along the route that passes Fluðir, so that I could show that the Ethiopian restaurant really does exist. The drive was beautiful, passing the lines of birch trees that protect the farmhouses and a couple of picturesque rivers. The boys all nodded off and I struggled to stay awake as we approached the ringroad. In spite of having a way of playing music, my hubby had chosen some rather Euro-trashy music that I didn't particularly like, but at least it was keeping me awake.

We reached the ring-road and turned east towards Vík. We soon reached Seljalandsfoss and parked there and had a quick look around. It was pretty frozen, and the pathway up to the viewing platform and the pathway behind the falls were cordoned off, as they were both too frozen and slippery.

We didn't stay long, as I wanted to reach Dyrholaey for sunset (although it was so cloudy now that any decent light was unlikely). We drove straight on past Skogáfoss, which looked fairly unimpressive in the flat light, and didn't stop again until I decided to show the boys the crashed DC3. The road had been marked the previous couple of times I'd visited, but it was difficult to find the posts (many had been knocked over) and the surface of the sand was potholed and covered in thick snow. It was a very bumpy ride, and I was a little worried that I might have damaged the tyres or underside of the car. We arrived at the plane to find a hoard of people there - not surprising since Justin Bieber had featured it in a video a few months earlier. It can be such a haunting place when you're all alone, with this fragile metallic skeleton perched on the black sand, looking towards the mountains and glaciers to the north. But with a bunch of people clambering all over it taking selfies it just didn't have that eerie atmosphere. I think the boys enjoyed seeing it anyway, although they probably could've done without the bumpy journey and the crowds.

Next - and last - stop was Dyrholaey, which I decided was a good place for sunset/dusk. There are lots of choices of places to see in the area, but I thought this one would be a great introduction for them to the black sandy beach and cool stack combination. I drove across the spit to the end of the promontory and we headed up the small hill past a line of tripods (there were photography tour groups everywhere!) to see the big stack down below. Again, had I been there on my own I would've got the tripod out and taken some long exposures, but just did a couple of handheld shots with the ISO yanked up. Scott was very impressed by the stark contrast of the white snow on the hillside, the white froth of the breaking waves and the blackness of the sand and cliffs below. We then wandered down onto one of the beaches, crossing the barrier that's been put up in the last couple of years. The tide was out, so I felt comfortable enough venturing down onto the beach a short way. Since a man had been drowned on Reynisfjara a few weeks earlier I made sure I warned my companions about the dangers. A couple of guys still stood right at the water's edge; one deservedly got wet feet.

We were staying in a newish guesthouse (the Farmhouse Lodge), not far from the turn-off to Dyrholaey, so we drove back there and checked in, before driving down into Vík for dinner. The skies were forecast to be clear and the northern lights were also forecast to show up, after earlier CME activity that would take about three days to reach earth. The skies were anything but clear, with what we realised was a low sea-fog hanging above the town, illuminated by the town's lights. It was quite stunning driving around the headland and down into the little brightly-lit town. After a selection of pizzas and a couple of beers in the upstairs of the Suður-Vík restaurant, we headed east a little way to see if we could escape the lights, but the fog lingered. We drove back around the headland (on that wonderful road!) and onwards to our lodge, and as we parked realised that the fog had lifted and the sky was full of stars. Excitedly I checked the northern lights forecast again, only to find that all the short-term forecasts showed a Kp of 0! I have never seen it this bad - there's usually something coming up (even Kp 0.33) but never nothing! It was also our last opportunity to see them, as rain was forecast the following night for Reykjavík, where the boys would be. We had a couple of beers in our room and then an early night, as the day had been pretty exhausting (especially for me, without the benefit of a little snooze in the car). The lack of northern lights was really disappointing, but as I've learned on numerous trips to Iceland, sadly predictable.

Click here for Blog from Day 1: Tour Guide on the Reykjanes Peninsula
Click here for Blog from Day 3: Tour Guide on a Snowmobile

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