Iceland’s Golden Circle and Northern Lights

Location: Northeast of Reykjavik

We awoke this morning after a very long nights sleep. We had a quick breakfast then got on a van for today´s tour. Our destination was to visit Iceland´s Golden Circle of parks and try to see the northern lights.

Our first stop was þingvellir National Park. The park itself features some part of the North American-European continental rift, some waterfalls, and the site of Iceland´s first parliament. We began atop a ridge and walked down into the park through a chasm down into the valley. We then walked down a trail where we got to see a small waterfall and braided streams. We also saw what archaeologists believe was the site of the first parliament.

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Our next stop took us for a snack at a tomato farm. We saw how tomatoes are grown in sustainable Icelandic greenhouses. While there, we were served fresh tomato soup and delicious bread.

Then we went to geysir park, home to several hot springs and geysers. There was one active geyser named Stokkur, which erupts every 5 minutes or so. It can reach heights of around 30 m, which is a little under the height Old Faithful regularly achieves. Nearby was     Geysir, the geyser for which all other geysers get its name. It´s not active now.

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Stokkur

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Geysir
Geysir

We then visited the impressive Gulfross Waterfall. A huge amount of glacial meltwater flows down this waterfall. It narrowly avoided becoming  a hydro-power station a few years ago. It was windy and cold up there, but it was well worth the effort. Gulfoss was also the northernmost point of the trip, and the northern most point either of us had ever ventured. We made it to 64°19´34″N.

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We had time for another snack, so this time the tour took us to an Iceland cow farm. We saw some cows, and then sampled skyr and yummy ice cream. Skyr is kinda like yogurt, but it´s fat free and nearly all protein. They served it with cream.

Our next stop took us to a thermal bath for a relaxing dip, because… Iceland. Our guide told us that all Icelanders know how to swim, but in Iceland swimming is defined as sitting in a warm body of water. We spent an hour here in the naturally heated pools. Ryan was brave (read: foolish) and went for a quick swim in the very cold, ice-covered lake nearby (along with our tour guide and a couple other people) …and then quickly went back into the hot pool!

We had dinner at a restaurant nearby. Ryan and the guide exchanged notes on the cloud and aurora forecasts. The aurora forecast was for a dissapointing kp=2. But luckily the weather was good by Icelandic standards so the guide made the decision to make the attempt to try to spot the northern lights. We are glad he did.

We got in the van and drove south hoping to find clearer skies. Once we started seeing a lot of stars he pulled over and asked everyone to take long exposures on their cameras. Often times, the camera can spot a budding aurora before a human. We spent a few minutes at this spot seemingly without success. But as everyone started to pack up, he asked Rachel to take a picture of a seemingly dim but empty part of the sky. His hunch was right, because her picture showed a dim green arc. This was our first sight of the aurora from the ground! We stayed around hoping it would get brighter, but soon the clouds moved in and blocked our view.

Our first aurora sighting!
Our first aurora sighting!

He drove us all to another spot not far from þingvellir park. We were going to aim for the same spot as before, but he saw something else in the sky. To us it sort of looked like the light from the moon behind the clouds. But the moon wasn´t out and he knew better. Rachel took another photo. Hidden behind the clouds was a bright arc of green and red northern lights. We spent about 30 min here waiting for the clouds to pass and to better enjoy the light show. We stayed until that arc started to diminish.

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We had one last stop this evening. Here we saw another dim arc of northern lights. But it wasn´t as active, and it was partially hidden by clouds. It was cold and very windy. It was worse than Elephant Island. So we spent less than 10 min and made our way back to town. Everyone was very happy for the opportunity to see the aurora!

Tomorrow we tour the south Iceland coast. Where we get to see more cool geology, waterfalls, glaciers, and the infamous Eyjafjatlajökull. In the evening, we make another attempt to see the northern lights.

Total steps: 11,461

Total aurora colors seen: 2 (red and green)

Farthest point north: Gullfoss Falls (64°19´34″N)

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