The Wonders of Iceland: Part 1 - Lava Caves and the Golden Circle
Lava Caves, þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir), Haukadalur and Gullfoss
Thanks to our 2 day delay in New York, we are late to the beginning of our G Adventures Iceland Northern Lights and Golden Circle tour. We were supposed to check into our hotel and meet up with the rest of the group for dinner, but we only manage to get a flight in the next morning at 6am so we had to rush fmor the airport to the hotel to meet up with our group before commencing our tour.
To fly into Iceland, you need to fly into Keflavik International Airport, which is actually about 45mins away from Reykjavik. It would be very easy and costly to make the mistake of taking a taxi to your hotel in Reykjavik, but we managed to avoid that. Even so, some of the bus tickets were quite expensive, ranging from $40 - $80 NZD per person.
We arrive at Fosshotel Baron to some confusion, as we werren't sure what time the group was leaving, or who to contact, but after ringing the main G Adventures UK office, we managed to sort it out and found our group.
G Adventures specialises in small group travel with a focus on local experiences, and sustainable travel. Their tour guides or CEO's (Chief Experience Officers) are generally very experienced and knowledgeable locals who will do everything they can to make sure you have a good time.
Our tour guide, Linas, is from Lithuania but has been in Iceland for many years. He entertains us with a wealth of information about the history, landscape and current events of Iceland. The tour group is small, 14 people (the maximum) - mostly from the US with a couple of Canadians and one Australian and a Frenchwoman thrown in.
Our first item on the itinerary is lava caving in the Leiðarendi Cave in the Bláfjöll Mountains.
We drive out to a beautiful frozen mountain mountain range and put on our gear to go caving. We are given special crampons to attach to our shoes to help us grip the ice.
The lava caves were formed over a thousand years ago when the lava solidified on the surface but continued to flow below, creating a network of tunnels. The caves are beautiful and still in much of their natural state, with no man made paths. Linas stresses that we should take care not to damage any of the formations, as in recent years with so many tourists coming through, many of the unique formations have actually been broken off and stolen.
After the lava caves, we begin our exploration of the Golden Circle by driving out to the þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir), which is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is also where the first parliament of Iceland was established.
On a much less (or more) important note, it was also the location for some of HBO's Game of Thrones TV series, in fact, much of the later seasons are filmed in Iceland. We didn't really get a chance to visit many of the locations though, but there were several GOT themed tours for the superfans.
We stop for lunch at a local farmhouse - the other tourists are very excited by the sight of cows? Maurizio and I give them a wide berth as we see farm too many at home already.
Linas tells us the ice cream here is excellent, so we try some of the chocolate, but it's got nothing on Kapiti Ice Cream.
After lunch we continue on to the second part of the Golden Circle tour, Haukadalur.
Haukadalur is home to 2 of the biggest geysers, Strokkur and Geysir. Geysir is what gave us the name geyser. We were unable to see Geysir as it was no longer erupting due to a recent earthquake apparently.
Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes so we stand there for ages watching it bubble until it goes off. The pressure creates very cool patterns and swirls as it builds up and prepares to erupt.
Our last stop for the day is Gullfoss waterfall, or the Golden Falls
The sheer size of the waterfall is awe inspiring, and the blue colour of the glacial water is just so beautiful.
Years ago there was talk of using Gullfoss to generate electricity, but it was rented by foreign investors. Sigríður Tómasdóttir, was determined to protect the waterfalls and even threatened to throw herself off if they did. Later on, the waterfall was sold to the state of Iceland and is now protected for everyone to enjoy.
We are pretty tired after all those so we head to the guesthouse owned by a local Icelandic lady.
After settling into our rooms, we gather in the kitchen to help Linas prepare a dinner of Fish stew and salads, while snacking and chatting.
The cloud cover was pretty high, so our chances of seeing the aurora was not high. Maurizio and I went outside to give it a go and we could see the green peeping out behind some clouds but it was mostly covered, so it was a bit disappointing. I give up around midnight and head to bed.
Tomorrow is a long day with a glacier hike but I am looking forward to that very much!