Our second day in Iceland started off with our attempt to go to Bonus and get provisions…but somehow they are only open at 11 am most days, and on weekends they open at noon.
What I kind of convenience store isn’t so convenient? Luckily, the good thing about a Bonus is that it’s everywhere as far as “everywhere” can be in Iceland. This post is an exultation to Bonus — check it out.
We figured we’d run into one along the way, and we didn’t want to waste precious daylight, so off we went on our own Golden Circle tour.
Driving around Iceland is very easy and straightforward. The rules of the road are generally the same, except that you cannot make a right turn at a red light.
We opted to do the Golden Circle Tour on our own because we really hate being rushed. We both like to meander and discover on or own time and pace. (We are not, however, above trailing behind a tour guide to listen in on little anecdotes and such 🤷🏻♀️)
STOP 1: Random spot off of þingvallavegur (Hwy 36):
To be fair, we had no idea where we stopped. We saw a few cars pulled over, a picnic table and bench, and a cordoned off area that acted as a lookout point. So, naturally, like the tourists that we were, we also pulled over.
I. have. never. been. so. cold.
It was so incredibly windy. Like nearly-pick-my-whole-body-off-the-ground windy. And that wind was bone chilling cold. We (over)heard from one of the tour guides that Iceland was the 3rd windiest place on the planet. And that #s 1 and 2 were uninhabited. I was shivering from head to toe in Iceland, and I wondered if #s 1 and 2 were colder.
Luckily, the rest of the trip wasn’t half as chilly!
But that view though. It’s that first, “wow, this is amazing” feeling and it really gets you pumped for what’s next.
And boy, was there a lot of “Wow!” coming up!
STOP 2: þingvellir National Park
þingvellir is a special place in Icelandic history. The Alþing (Icelandic Parliament — considered the oldest Parliament in the world) used to convene here from 930 to 1798. The little church is also symbolic of the change from paganism to Christianity.
It is also a place where you can see the shifts in the tectonic plates evidence of the shifting of the earth’s crust. If I was smarter in geology, I’d explain it better. But why don’t you check it out for yourself?
STOP 3: Laugarvatn
We continued on the Golden Circle Route after a couple of hours at þingvellir, afraid that the looming clouds threatened rain (anyone blogging about Iceland can tell you just how quickly the weather can change).
We were also still on a look out for a Bonus, or any place we could grab lunch really, but as you will see, driving through Iceland can make you realize how remote some of the towns really are.
We ended up in Laugarvatn, where we bought some bread, cheeses and cured meats for lunch (and the rest of the day). No, it wasn’t a Bonus store. We also discovered Laugarvatn lake. It is a shallow lake midway between Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir. Under its floor there are hot springs heating the lake so it is warm and suitable for bathing all year round.
The bank of the lake was steaming (and also smelled sulfuric). The water was indeed warm, and in fact, at the far bank of the lake, there was a public bath with locals and other tourists enjoying the hot waters.
Had we more time, I would have wanted to try the hot baths. But off we went towards the rest of our day’s adventure!
STOP 4: Bruarfoss
This was probably one of our favorite stops along the way, and it’s not one of the more well-known ones. In fact, it was a little bit difficult to find.
We sort of just ended up pulling over at whatever dirt road off of Highway 37 that came as close to the red dot as possible.
We ended up parking in what we hoped was not private property, but it might have been. It was basically just between two bushes on the side of the dirt road that led up to someone’s very nice house.
Then we hiked in the general direction of the red dot.
Pretty soon, the sounds of water rewarded us. But only after we crawled under some barb wire. Yeahhhhh, we were probably somewhere we shouldn’t have been. *hangs head*
After about a half mile’s hike, you are greeted by this incredible sight.
The glacial river Brúará falls 2-3 meters, ending in a U-turn at the base of the waterfall, where the river is concentrated into a deep crevice that runs through the center of dark volcanic rock formations. This creates sky-blue rapids that almost defy the imagination.
We could have stared at that waterfall all day. I mean, the photos above have not been altered in any way. The falls really are that blue. Plus, it’s so remote and hard to find, there were no more than five other people there with us, and at some point, only the two of us were there for about a good 15 minutes before another small group of lost tourists stumbled into the area.
But, we still had a few more stops on our list, so off we went!
STOP 5: Geysir
The geyser for which all geysers are named after can technically be found at our Stop Number 5: Geysir.
However, we learned that it does not actually go off — not unless there was a high magnitude earthquake right before. So instead, at this stop, it was all about that sulfur smell and fields of smoking crevices, bubbling waters, boiling mud pits, and signs not to touch the boiling hot waters.
There was, however, one geyser that erupted every fifteen minutes or so. It’s called Strokkur, and we saw it erupt three times while we were in the area. It’s quite a sight because it happens with little to no warning, and suddenly, a huge gush of water spurts out 100 feet up in the air.
There’s also a brand new visitor center across the street, but we didn’t stop inside because it was packed with people. We hopped into our rented SUV and went off to our next stop.
STOP 6: Gullfoss
Considered one of Iceland’s most popular attractions, Gullfoss is an iconic waterfall. It’s also one of the landmarks that sort of sparked environmentalism in the hearts of Icelandic folks. Read up on Sigriður Tómasdóttir.
The waterfall itself is majestic and powerful. You will get soaked when you get close. It’s also kind of unique because it’s a staircase waterfall, and also kind of makes a 90 degree turn.
It’s a whole other kind of wow factor. I mean, really, Iceland. How many times does a girl have to say wow in one day? [Suddenly WOW Airlines’ name makes sense…]
STOP 7: ICELANDIC HORSES!!!
They’re so fluffy, I could dieeeeeeeeeeeeee! I mean, they might as well be unicorns, they’re so cute! There are Icelandic horses and sheep all over the countryside, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you see ones that are near enough the fence to be petted…and even better when the farm itself invites you to pet their cute horses.
Can I has one, please?
STOP 8: FAXIFOSS
One of the mind boggling and wonderful things about Iceland is the fact that normal, regular people can have waterfalls in their own backyard. In fact, Gullfoss used to be privately owned up until around 1940ish and didn’t become a national preserve til 1979.
Meanwhile, smaller, less-oh-whoa waterfalls, like Faxifoss…are still in someone’s backyard. Basically, some Icelanders have just become very tolerant of random people driving up their driveway snapping some photos and leaving.
Faxifoss is a mini-waterfall that still manages to be, ugh…so pretty. And to imagine that someone gets to wake up everyday to this view. Again, ugh, I’m officially jealous.
STOP 9: Kerið
Finally, as the sun started setting, we made it to the last little pin on our google map. Kerið is a volcanic crater lake with this unreal aquamarine blue waters (due to the minerals in the soil). It’s a cool little hike around the rim, then down towards the water.
The photos don’t really do justice about how big the crater is, but it’s huge and super cool.
This attraction charges about $4 because…again, it’s owned by some private landowners.
By the time we got done walking around and exploring around the crater, the sun was setting and it was time to wrap up our Golden Circle Tour.
It was a long, beautiful, soul-restoring, awe-inspiring day. Thanks, Iceland. Let’s do it again.