We completed our tour of the three popular Golden Circle attractions. It was one of the most amazing experiences we had. The memories were priceless, to say the least. It’s not long past noon and we still have so much time on our hands. The sky is clear and the sun out – a great time to be outdoors. Our hunt for more top sights to see in Southern Iceland continues.
Please watch the video below of the Golden Circle sights and read our experiences here.
Video Credit: erikssc
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From Gullfoss we drove back a bit on Route 35 and turn left to Route 30 which is also part of the Golden Circle loop. Our next stop is the Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin in Icelandic), a bit over 30 kms and about half an hour drive.
Everything around us is rough and rugged terrains, wide and open swathes of farmlands. At a distance, snow-covered mountain ranges filled the sweeping landscape. A long stretch of the road to the lagoon was pothole-filled, bumpy and our SUV took a beating. We were like on an uninhabited planet but “Sly” was up to the challenge. After all, it wouldn’t be the beast of a machine it was for nothing.
We saw some Icelandic horses grazing with gusto in a barb-wire fenced farm. I stopped Sly, parked on the side of the road and we watched these hairy, short-legged creatures. Not contented, we alighted out of the vehicle and took photos. A lovely pair took notice and walked towards to meet us, curious onlookers. They even gamely posed for our camera.
We stroked their heads and hairy manes which they seemed to enjoy. Suddenly, we made new friends. But even the best of friends must part, sadly.
A greenhouse of tomatoes greeted us upon arrival at Gamla Laugin in the small village of Flúðir. It was the oldest pool and one of Iceland’s best-kept secrets. The lagoon was maintained in its natural state and less-commercialised, unlike the more popular Blue Lagoon.
Our reservation was booked thru its website without paying any fee before we flew to Reykjavik. We paid the full amount when we showed up at the site. I understand that now you have to pay the full amount upon booking online. Please check its website for more information. Towels and swimsuits can be rented but you can bring your own.
Everyone is required to shower naked before dipping in the pool. A long-standing tradition, it’s offensive to Icelanders without first showering and bathing when going into the geothermal baths or public pools. It’s for hygienic purposes as whatever dirt or bacteria present in human’s bodies are washed off or killed. There are separate showers and locker rooms for the ladies from the gentlemen.
The lagoon’s waters stay at 38 – 40° C all year round. Dipping in the spas or pools is a favourite pastime amongst Icelanders. It’s easily understandable because of the country’s cold climate. Also, the warm waters have many health benefits. Around the pool are walking platforms for guests to enjoy spouting hot springs.
We thoroughly enjoyed dipping into the lagoon with the steams rising up into the air. The sun’s rays reflecting on the waters and permeating through the steam produce a kaleidoscopic effect. A purely mystical feeling and rejuvenating Icelandic experience for us.
Seljalandsfoss and Eyjafjallajökull
We drove further south along Route 30 until we reached a T-junction. Turning left and we’re out of the Golden Route loop as we joined Route 1, Iceland’s ring road. Our destination is the small seaside town of Vik known for its black sand beach.
About an hour of a smooth drive, since we left the lagoon, a tall waterfall caught our attention. Curiosity got the better of us so we drove closer to get a better view. A short hike and we’re in front of its 60 metres drop. Seljalandsfoss is part of the Seljalands River and is being fed by the melting glacier from the volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
A faithful rainbow keeps the falls company. We saw other tourists walking behind the falls and we followed suit. The trail is wet and slippery so we take extra precaution as we make our way down. At the back and bottom of the falls is a small cave where we lingered for a while to admire the view. In front of us is the interminable cycle of dropping waters. The sun was obscured by the falls so it’s a bit dark where we are. The atmosphere was magical as we snapped photos of our silhouettes against the freefalling waters.
We came out on the other side of Seljalandsfoss – wet, to some extent but thrilled with the experience. The sun helped us dry a bit as we boarded Sly and continued our journey.
Driving along Route 1, a mountain range of several layers appeared on the left side. The back layer was easily noticeable as it was fully capped with the thick glacier. Somewhere along that ridge is Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in April 2010. This volcano was featured in the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Farther on, we can see road signs directing travellers to Skogafoss, another waterfall in Southern Iceland. We decided to proceed first to Vik and view this waterfall later on our way back to Reykjavik.
From Seljalandsfoss, we continue driving southeast along Route 1. Vik is about 60 kms away in about 50 minutes drive.
Vík í Mýrdal (or Vik) has a population of about 300 and is the southernmost town of Iceland. In addition, it is the warmest place but the wettest coastal town in the country. The town is known for Reynisfjara, its black sand beach. It was once considered as one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world.
Upon arrival, we immediately noticed a solitary, red-roofed white church sitting atop a hill. Situated north of Vik is Katla, a volcano which last erupted in 1918. Speculation abounds that an explosion may happen soon. The glacier covering the volcano has the possibility of flooding the whole town in case of an eruption. The hilltop church is generally believed to be the only structure that would not be affected by the flood.
Looking over the sea, we can see some strange rock formations. Known as Reynisdrangar, these are columns of basalt rocks formed over time by the forces of wind and water. It was high tide so we content ourselves admiring the sights from a safe distance. The whole place was a scene of utmost peace and serenity.
However, let this not lull you into a false sense of security. Without warning, sudden shifts in tide known as “sneaker waves” can occur with dangerous results. The beach’s rolling waves can cover great distance than expected. The currents are so powerful that they can snatch helpless people into the open ocean. Tourists are warned not to turn their backs on the waves nor chase after them. A safe distance of some 20-30 away from the waves are strongly advised. Lives have been lost in Reynisfjara, so extra precautions must always be exercised when visiting the area.
The Drive Back to Reykjavik
It was almost eight o’clock in the evening when we left Vik. The sun’s still out and it’s clear as day. Winter’s gone, it’s springtime and the days in Iceland are becoming longer. During summer, there are more than 20 hours of daylight in the country. On certain days, the sun sets just after midnight and rises before three o’clock in the morning.
The setting sun seemed to play games with us. Most of the times, it will hide behind the mountains only to emerge later as Sly negotiate each bend of the road. Sometimes, it stares directly and blinding us during long stretches of straight roads.
There is another waterfall, Skogafoss, which we want to check on the way back. However, it was already dusk when we drove near its location. So, we decided not to. Anyway, we had seen two waterfalls earlier in the day each with a different character. A tinge of regret but we’re not complaining. There’s always next time.
Moving farther on, a spectacular spectacle of lights of which we were clueless caught our attention. Now, it was pitch dark and this explosion of lights kept us guessing. It couldn’t be the Northern Lights as it was static and less hypnotic. Also, the days of its appearances were long gone.
We found out later that it was just a massive shelter for plants – a greenhouse. Due to its cold climate, Iceland cannot grow edible plants and vegetables in the open. As an alternative, the country resorted to building greenhouses just like the one we saw at the lagoon’s entrance. However, the produce from greenhouses are not sufficient and mostly for private consumption only. As a result, the island nation imports heavily from other countries. This partially explains as to why food prices in Iceland are expensive.
Approaching Reykjavik, the clouds descended so low we felt we’re driving in the heavens. I have to slow down because of the poor visibility. Several times, we have to run head-on through thick fogs. The low clouds enveloped us whilst the streetlights appeared like twinkling stars. I thought Sly was transformed into a spacecraft hovering over an unknown galaxy.
It had been a long day for us and we’d seen some of Iceland’s amazing sights. However, it was not only the attractions that made this road trip memorable. It also gave us the opportunity to learn about some things we discovered along the way. In addition, driving in Iceland for the first time gave us experiences of another dimension we’ll never forget. The more than 500 kilometres drive was one of the best adventures on the road we had.
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