The ‘Golden circuit’, a triptych of Icelandic highlights in the Selfoss region that are on most travellers’ radar, and I can certainly confirm that it is a well-visited series of attractions for a very good reason.
Gullfoss is arguably Iceland’s best known waterfall, and certainly its most visited. Literally translating as ‘Golden Waterfall’, it’s a two-tiered fall that, when we visited, had a layer of ice perched upon the dramatic banks that alternated between grassy paths and parched, volcanic cliff faces. The twisting ribbons of water throw up plumes of dramatic spray, all witnessed from the two viewing points above.
It’s such an iconic sight today that it comes as a huge surprise that Gullfoss was threatened as recently as the early 20th century, when plans were made to use it to generate electricity. The story goes that the daughter of one of the waterfall’s then owners was so determined to preserve it that she threatened to throw herself in to it; she also, apparently, walked barefoot(!) all the way to Reykjavik to appeal against the motion. Whether this story is true or not, common sense thankfully prevailed, and the waterfall is now the property of the Icelandic people, ensuring it is a sight for all to enjoy for, hopefully, generations to come.
Next is the equally iconic Geysir, the geyser from which all others derive their name. The first of its kind known to Europeans, the Geysir erupts with plume of boiling water that stream some 70 metres in to the air, even higher than those found at Old Faithful in the USA.
Sadly, the eruptions have become scarcer in recent years, and can stop altogether for years at a time. Fortunately, the nearby Strokkur geyser is more reliable, and erupts at a more frequent rate of every 7-10 minutes, albeit with plumes that only scale up to about 20 metres in height, which still ain’t bad! Capturing the eruptions on camera is a tricky proposition, unless you are willing to stand and wait for lengthy spells of time between eruptions.
The last stop on the Golden Circuit is Thingvellir National Park, or more specifically the tectonic plates and that span the ‘Althing’, the National Parliament of Iceland from the 10th right through to the 19th century. With its steep, staggered, vertical rock faces hemming a fast-flowing river, the Vikings certainly couldn’t have picked much less of a dramatic spot!
The waterfall that splits the rock face, combined with the panoramic views of the landscape around and the dramatic splits caused by the tectonic movement, make this a truly beautiful spot. Little wonder, then, that they chose to film some of Game of Thrones here; and little wonder that this is not the only spot we visited on this trip that wasn’t some sort of filming location.