Seeing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights as they are most commonly known, was by far the most privileged and majestic sight I have ever had.
We started our day catching the shuttle from our hotel/apartment and travelled to Reykjavik to catch our tour bus to do the Golden Circle Tour. Leaving at 9am, we travel in darkness for an hour, kept awake and entertained by our guide Dee Dee, to Nesjavellir, a geothermal area next to Lake Pingvallavatn. Here we see the power plant from the inside and see how they harness nature to produce hot water and electricity, beyond their needs. We leave here, still in darkness, to visit the first Icelandic parliament, Alpingi, which was founded in 950 AD. Daylight had arrived at last and we were able to view the breath-taking scenery around this tectonic plate boundary.
Onward we go to the home of the very first Bishop of Iceland, founded in 1056, Skalholt Church, made from wood and grasses. Now a quite modern building, there is a rebuilt version of the church as it was back in the day. The graveyard is still in use, as there was a burial not a week before we arrived. Again, breath-taking views as far as the eye can see.
From here we travelled to Gullfoss, where we had the opportunity to taste the local lamb soup/stew, which was much needed in this cold region of the world, and it was very well worth waiting for, with free refills too I might add. The sheep here are all free range and live on wild berries and lava moss and wild grasses, giving them a distinctive flavour. After our fill we were able to walk down to the most amazing semi-frozen waterfalls of Gullfoss (Golden Falls) and get close enough to feel the glacial water mist on our faces. The falls travel down two steps of the Hvita, White River, and then 105ft into a crevice 60ft wide and 2.5km long, dropping 140 cubic meters of water per second. The sight and sounds here are just amazing.
Our next step of the journey was to Strokkur to see Geysir, which speaks for itself really. The hot spring fields are situated at the northern edge of the Southern Lowlands in Iceland. Everywhere you look there are inactive geysirs and active ones too and the surrounding scenery is amazing. The most active geyser spouts, on average, every five minutes to a height of around 66 feet. Unless you are just driving through, you will get to see this happen and it is worth seeing every time it erupts.
We head back to Reykjavik for much needed dinner and rest before heading off on the Northern Lights tour. Reaching what should be our only destination, an hour’s drive away from the city, we stop at what looks to be a farm house, offering tea coffee, chocolate and alcoholic drinks, whilst we await the lights. After an hour, our tour guide tells us to get back on the bus as we need to go to another destination (we will not be seeing them here as the Norwegian weather forcasters were wrong)
Thirty minutes later, we arrive at a café that we had stopped at for coffees earlier that day and within fifteen minutes we were watching feint green glows appear and disappear and then they came, dancing across the sky, as far as you could see. Around me all you could hear is ooohhhs and gasps and the sound of shutters. This went on for over an hour and it will be something I will never forget, the most awesome sight I have seen to date. Then back to Reykjavik we go, to catch our shuttle back to our hotel, 2am it now. The shuttle slows and everyone slides over to one side of the bus, as the lights are dancing again but so much sharper but only for five minutes, squeals of delight from the passengers who had not seen them earlier just added to the evening.
The following day was a relaxing day, wandering around the colourful city of Reykjavik and a visit to the Volcano House, which has its’ own cinema, showing the life and times of living in Iceland when eruptions occur. Very informative and amazing to watch as the locals get on with life as if it is nothing. Whilst we waited for the showing, we had an opportunity to see and touch volcanic rocks, lava and everything down to the fine dust and glass/rock that grounded many flights in 2010. After that we wandered not 100 yards to the Geysir Restaurant where I had the task of eating the local delicacy, Putrified Shark followed by a shot of Bennivin (Black Death) Icelandic Schnapps. Never have I seen food delivered to my table in a sealed container, but on this occasion I did. Upon opening, the smell takes over your whole body, hard to describe really but like being coated in smelling salts would be the politest way I think. Then comes the taste and yes, it is as bad as the smell! After managing to do what the cast of Jackass could not do, I followed it with the shot of schnapps. That was almost as bad but something that had to be done and never again will it be done by me.
Our last day was taking the morning bus to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa, for relaxation and cleansing of the body and mind. These natural hot pools of milky blue-green sea water, silica and minerals offers a unique experience with very hot water areas, hot water waterfalls for neck and shoulder massage, steam baths and spectacular lava field surroundings. Worth going back to Iceland just for a day here.
Overall experience of Iceland is that everyone we met was friendly and helpful, the tours and sights were amazing and the food was first class (except Shark) Wish I had stayed for longer but will be going back.
Text by Karl Tullett
Photographs by Karl Tullett and Maria Wolens