MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Never Far from the Madding Crowd

I had read that Iceland’s tourism numbers were fast exceeding its capacity to cope. Amongst these articles I read worrying reports about some tourists lack of respect at sites leading to erosion and flora damage by crossing barriers and straying off walkways. I’ve visited places before where natural beauty has been marred by over-commercialisation for the tourist buck (Niagara Falls in Canada being one example) or lack of crowd control affecting the experience (Macchu Picchu in Peru and parts of New Zealand being some examples), so I was intrigued to see how Iceland fared in this matter. Whilst some people like to wax lyrical about the difference between a tourist and a traveller, and what makes a person one or the other, the affect of global tourism opening up the world to more and more foot traffic, irregardless of the owner of that foot, inevitably has an impact on more and more places.

Having left the crowds of Þingvellir National Park behind, I made the drive to the second of the 3 main attractions of the Golden Circle: Haukadalur. There were people everywhere, on both sides of the road and wandering across at will when I arrived at the very large visitor’s centre. There were buses pulled up and all the car parks were full. I went round a couple of them before I was lucky enough to nab a space as someone was leaving. There were cars and people everywhere as I headed into the visitor’s centre for a look around. There were no free tables at the eateries, so I resigned myself to surviving on the cookies and hot chocolate I’d had earlier, and once again kicked myself for not taking the time the day before to visit a supermarket.

HaudakalurBut my goal was to visit one of Iceland’s (and the world’s) most famous geysers, Strokkur. Strokkur geyser at restThe ‘original’ geyser, Geysir, is in this area also, but Strokkur erupts so regularly, that its predictability has made it a large draw. A marked path leads to Strokkur past a bubbling stream and some small bubbling pools. Despite the signs warning about the risks of burns and not to cross the barrier, I saw several people stick a shoe or finger into various parts of the stream as they walked along.

 

 

 

Strokkur starting to eruptSince moving to New Zealand, I’ve discovered that I love geothermal areas. It fascinates me to see steam billowing out the ground and I enjoy watching mud bubble. I joined the large crowd round the perimeter fence of Strokkur and joyously watched as it erupted and soaked some people across from me. Averaging an eruption every 6-10 minutes, it was easy to watch this happen over and over whilst wandering around the region. It was also amusing watching people trying to pose and take selfies right at the point of eruption.

Lupins behind StrokkurBehind Strokkur was a lupin-covered hillside where a path lead up to the summit. Lupin riverI love lupins, and the purple contrasted against the Martian red landscape on one side of the hill and the lush green valley on the other side. View from the hill summitIn the distance, snow-speckled mountains donned the horizon and from my perch I watched Strokkur go through its eruption cycle as the crowds milled around. Snow-speckled mountainAfter coming back down, I had a look around a few other pools of note before retracing my steps back to my car.Looking down over Haukadalur

Mineral pool at Haukadalur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight of my day was what lay to the north-east. Following the road to the end of the tarmac, I turned in at another packed car park, and found the only place to park was at the end of the drive, right by the road. GullfossI hustled my way past a myriad of slow walkers and came out at the top of a cliff, hurried down some steps and raced over to the barrier at the top of the gorge. In front of me was the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen: Gullfoss. The third icon of the Golden Circle, this staircase waterfall has an average summer water flow of 140 cubic metres per second and with the sun out overhead, a glorious rainbow arced over the cascade.

Rainbow over GullfossFollowing a lower walkway down towards the top of the waterfall, the roar of the water accompanies the changing vista as the river disappears into a deep crevice. Disappearing into the deepI couldn’t stop looking at it, and clearly neither could anyone else that was there. Lower Gullfoss panoramaIt was hard not to get carried away with taking photos, there was just so much to take in. Upper tier of GullfossI enjoyed wandering along side the river on the lower walkway and then headed back up the stairs to get a viewpoint from above. Gullfoss from aboveI couldn’t get enough of it, and even if I turned my back on the falls and looked across the plains, I was gobsmacked to see an expansive glacier on the horizon. Lower tier from aboveIt was surreal. Upper Gullfoss panoramaAfter doing my best to fill the memory card on my camera, I finally filled my stomach at the cafe before making a point of wandering along the lower path again, this time keeping my camera firmly hidden away.

When I returned to my car, parked as it was near the road, my vision was drawn to a hitchhiker trying to grab my attention. Normally I wouldn’t do this as a solo traveller, but I was going where he needed to get to, and it was hard to ignore him when he was right there, so I agreed to take him with me to Selfoss, my destination for the night. His English was broken, and I found it difficult to concentrate on both driving on the opposite side of the road as well as trying to interpret what he was saying. We managed to muddle through some reasonable conversation whilst I negotiated people on the road and my first experience of driving an unsealed Icelandic road until we parted ways on arriving in Selfoss.

Many of the accommodation places I stayed in in Iceland had a curfew time for checking in, and I was eager to get to Selfoss in time to get my key, so I didn’t stop anywhere on route. Kerid volcanic craterHowever, having checked in, and with hours of daylight still ahead, I backtracked to Kerið, a volcanic crater next to route 35. Curlew at KeridIt has a small entrance fee to give access to a perimeter walk around the top of the crater and then down to the lakeside within. Crater wallAlthough it was still daylight, the sun was low enough to put the lake into shadow, but it was a lovely spot to walk around. Back in Selfoss, I was lucky to get the last table at a busy little cafe for a late dinner. My body clock was confused with the long hours of daylight and eating dinner at 10pm became the norm on my trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kirk in SelfossThe next morning I again realised that Icelanders don’t really do breakfast out. River at SelfossNowhere was open to get a meal, and the cafe I had eaten at the night before only served coffee and cake when it finally opened. Route 1 crosses the river into SelfossI took a brief wander along the river bank under the bridge where highway 1 enters the town, but then, like every day of my trip, I had so much to see and it was time to continue east.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SeljalandsfossSeljalandsfoss is a 60 metre tall waterfall not far off Route 1, and once again, it was a mission finding a place to park. Buses, camper vans and rental cars littered every spare piece of grass or gravel, and people were tripping over each other to get a selfie or a group photo. Walking behind SeljalandsfossThe sun wasn’t yet high enough to illuminate the falls so the area was in shadow. The path that goes behind the falls was muddy, and it was impossible to walk this route without getting quite wet.Seljalandsfoss from the little knoll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small waterfall along the cliff faceAlong from here, a path leads along the bottom of the cliff past a little stream and wildflowers to another waterfall, Gljúfrafoss which is hidden behind some rocks. GljufrafossOnly a handful of people ventured this far and although it was still impossible to get the place to yourself, it was an altogether more intimate experience here and it was beautiful. Top of GljufrafossI had noticed a couple of paths eroded into the cliff face, and assumed that this was evidence of people wandering out of bounds. Bottom of GljufrafossI was quietly annoyed about people’s disregard for the flora here, but a sign at this second waterfall stated that they were in fact recognised paths but ones to be taken at your own risk due to the steepness of them. One led up to a rickety ladder which gave a precarious view down over Gljúfrafoss. The other led up the cliff face to the top of the cliff.

 

 

 

 

Gljufrafoss from the cliff topAssuming you have no fear of heights, this is a must-do here. Seljalandsfoss from the cliff topThe whole time I was at the summit, I saw only 2 other people and a path leads along the cliff in both directions. Fulmar flying near the top of SeljalandsfossIn fact it is possible to stand right at the top of Seljalandsfoss and look down over the falls itself and the tiny people below. It felt utterly peaceful up there and I watched the bus loads of people move on for the day knowing full well they’d missed out on this gem. Some fulmars nested on the cliff edge and I watched them for a while before picking my way back down the slippery path to the bottom. By now the sun had risen high enough to cast the falls into sunshine and I admired them some more before pushing east.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember when I lived in Aberdeen in 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted, sending an ash cloud into the sky that disrupted flights in Europe for several days. I remember walking out my flat a few days later and smelling rotten eggs, the sulphuric smell drifting on the wind. I couldn’t believe that 6 years later I was driving across the land that had been affected by this eruption. Past here, I pulled in at Skógar, and followed the signs to Skógafoss, yet another of Iceland’s famous waterfalls. Despite the sun having been left behind and the skies thick with grey clouds, once more I played the car park game, driving round and round in an effort to find the slightest piece of unused gravel or grass to abandon my car on.

SkogafossThis waterfall falls down over what used to be coastal cliffs, but now sits around 5km from the sea following coastal retreat. SkogafossA similar height to Seljalandsfoss, only much broader, the spray from the curtain whipped quite some distance from the falls, so anyone walking along the river bed was keeping their distance as they posed for their photos. SkogafossI decided to risk my camera by marching past them all and skirting the edge of the rocks to not only get closer to the falls but to get out the way of those hanging back whilst managing some photos without other people in them. Then I headed up the cliff to a viewpoint overlooking the falls where there was a queue for the best vantage spot. Higher still, a platform has been erected at the top of the falls and beyond that, a stile leads to the start of a long distance walk up the river.

 

At the top of SkogafossLike many people, I followed the river for a while past more waterfalls and round a few bends above the gorge. Up river from SkogafossThe further upstream I went, the more the crowds thinned out, and it was possible to again feel some peace away from the cacophany of voices. Another waterfall far upriver from SkogafossThere was the occasional drizzle and a cloud hung low over the nearby mountain top. It was a beautiful and dramatic landscape even with the grey overhead. Back at the bottom of the falls, I noticed a lot of people were staying in the local campsite. There was certainly plenty of people coming and going, but still with an afternoon of exploring to do, I was hoping to leave the crowds behind as I forged my way eastwards towards the coast.

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6 thoughts on “Never Far from the Madding Crowd

  1. Pingback: Right to the Golden Circle | MistyNites

  2. Gorgeous photos! I fell in love with Iceland when I went a few years back. It is a beautiful place!

  3. Pingback: Iceland’s Southern Coast | MistyNites

  4. I never understood the difference between tourist and traveller. If you travel are you not a tourist? I can see how the word tourist may have a negative feel to it and maybe it it more adventures being a traveller? 🙂

    But anyways – what a gorgeous spot on this earth! After Yellowstone I am also fascinated by geothermal areas and it is always exciting seeing a geyser erupt. And Seljalandsfoss – what a beauty!

    • There are so many beautiful waterfalls all over Iceland & this is the country to visit if you love all things geothermal!
      Supposedly, a traveller is someone who immerses themselves in all things local whereas a tourist turns up with a guidebook and buys postcards. I personally think the difference can be a bit arbitrary as in some countries I’ve visited the numbers of foreign visitors have impacted development & conservation irregardless of what label they give themselves.

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