The Golden Circle (Part 1) - A Power Station, A Crater, Some Greenhouses and A Church

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October 3rd 2009
Published: October 27th 2009
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The Golden Circle Taking Shape

1:00 PM

We were warned before we came that the weather in Iceland was changeable, and in our first three days we’ve seen pretty much every season. Today is by far the warmest it has been since we arrived, which sounds silly when the temperature boards on the roads out of Reykjavik are reading -1°C, but with the sun shining and the Atlantic (or possibly Arctic) winds having subsided, it feels relatively warm. It could be that it just feels warm because we are now used to the weather here, or it could be that we are comparing it to yesterday, which, at times, felt pretty extreme.

Reykjavik was pretty dull and miserable first thing yesterday morning when the bus for the Golden Circle arrived. The bus was a few minutes late picking us up from the hostel, and in the time we were waiting we started chatting to Tina, an Australian who is also staying in City Hostel, and who joined us at the bus stop after realising that hiding behind and advertising board and wearing a plastic bag probably wasn’t having the desired effect of sheltering her from the windy damp. My experience of organised tours is pretty limited; in fact I don’t think I have ever been on one before, usually liking the freedom of going where I like for however long I like. I imagined a tour like this would be on a large, smelly, cramped coach where we would spend six hours trying to look out of a dirty, steamed up window while some monotone tour guide told us about some rocks to the right without bothering to explain their significance. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when a clean minibus that was all but empty turned up. As we drove around Reykjavik, picking up more people from several hotels across the city, the minibus filled up slightly, but never felt overcrowded. Our driver jumped out at the last of the hotel and swapped with our tour guide for the day, a quirkily pleasant and entertaining man called Herman. Herman pointed out from the start that we had picked a good day for the tour, that there had been an almighty storm in the night, and although it was calm at the moment, there was more on the way. I had heard some pretty strong winds during the night, but the evidence of the storm didn’t really strike us until we were driving out of the city, where the grey wetness made way for miles of snow fields. Prepared as I’m sure most Icelandic folk are for this type of weather, there were a few cars in ditches even on the main roads, and Herman took it particularly carefully (apart from a slight road-rage incident in the city). I guess a ditched minibus full of dead tourists wouldn’t really do much for the reputation of his business, so I could understand his caution.

Although the Golden Circle is a route consisting of three famous Icelandic landmarks, this particular tour spread the travel over a six hour trip, stopping at a couple of other places along the way. Our first stop was the Hellisheiði Power Plant, one of Iceland’s several sources of geothermal energy, this particular one providing a significant proportion of the electricity and 40% of the hot water to Reykjavik. Herman gave us half an hour to look around, which started with a small presentation in the visitor centre showing us how the process of utilising the natural hot water works. It looked a pretty complicated process even if it was in a reasonably simplistic diagram, and it is a testament to Icelandic ingenuity that they can provide most of the country’s power using this. After the presentation, we were allowed up to another exhibition type area, which included a viewing gallery into the power station’s turbines, which look particularly clean and efficient compared to our own dirty, 1960’s styled fossil fuel power stations. The visitor centre was small but interesting, and kept us entertained for the half an hour allotted, after which we headed back to the minibus and I took my first opportunity to throw a snowball at John (which missed. Still, there is bound to be plenty more opportunities to improve my aim).

Our next stop took us to a volcanic crater, long since defunct (I think) and now holding a pool in the middle of the crater. We just spent a few minutes around here, enough time for everyone to take photographs, and for me to take aim at John with another snowball, again with appalling accuracy.

As we got closer to the first of the main attractions, Herman drove through a number of places and constantly kept us entertained with his quirky style and good historical and geographical knowledge. We drove through Hveragerði, which looked like a small village but is actually a decent sized town by Icelandic standards. The town is full of greenhouses, and the locals apparently use the hot springs that are in abundance in this area to keep their vegetables warm. The next stop was at a church which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There was a fair sized settlement here at some point, but a major earthquake destroyed all of the houses and only the church survived. The church was, at some point, much bigger, believed to be one of the biggest wooden buildings in Scandinavia. The crypt area doubled up as a small museum, showing off caskets and other artefacts found in archaeological excavations of the site, the findings of which had formed the basis of the idea that this had once been a much bigger church, presumably when it had served a bigger community. The morning had shown off some particularly good sights, Herman had changed my opinion of the stereotypical tour guide and we had covered a fair bit of Icelandic countryside. The next stop was the first main attraction on
Inside the ChurchInside the ChurchInside the Church

If you look carefully at the blue shapes on the wall, you can make out Jesus
the tour, the world famous Geysir.

Additional photos below
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24th January 2010

Iceland tour company
Hi there I'm off to Iceland next month for a few days and was wondering which company you used for your Golden Circle tour? I prefer the idea of a smaller minibus than a big coach. Plus there are loads of companies out there seemingly offering the same thing so a recommendation would be most appreciated. Your blogs are great to read by the way - I can't wait for my trip!! Cheers, Clare
21st February 2010

A bit late but...
I might be a bit late on this (had no internet for a month) but I thought I'd respond anyway. I can't remember exactly which company it was - we asked the guys on reception at City Hostel to book it for us, it was either Netbus or Iceland Excursions, but I can't remember which. Both of those companies seemed to do most of the main tours and everyone seemed pretty happy with them. There was also Reykjavik Excursions but they seemed more expensive and I think they had big coaches rather than a minibus.

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