The enchantment of Iceland grew tremendously as our days progressed and we traveled further from our home base in Borgarnes. This next section of our Icelandic Adventure Honeymoon will focus entirely on the South, a section of Iceland that most will be more familiar with, due to its relative close proximity to Reykjavík. Of this area there are incredibly dramatic changes in the landscape that are unparalleled to any other place in the world. From our cabin, again we begin by looking out to the Northeast at Langjökull, the second largest glacier in Iceland. We have followed the Hvítá River West, down into Borgarfjörður, but now it is time to follow its main arterial vain South along the Golden Circle and down to the North Atlantic.
Langjökull is undeniably the main contributing factor to the wondrous sights of the Golden Circle. Gullfoss, Iceland’s most notable waterfall in the Southern region, would not be possible without the continual melt from the glacier. It is a beacon of an ever-changing environment; it is a reminder of the causal effect of man in Nature and the inevitability of its fate. The sheer magnitude of this waterfall, cascading in two stages equivalent of 105 feet, was so great that we felt fixed, frozen in time while staring out at its majestic beauty. The roar of the water deafening. Eyes glazed, jackets drenched with mist. Pushing through the throngs of people glued behind cellphone and camera lights to get a more apt vantage.
So much emotion constantly pouring over, Man and Nature weeping and rejoicing at the same moment. An awe inspiring spectacle. How many more generations will see this thunderous event? It makes one feel small, irrelevant and yet at the same time larger than life, this interpreted perspective we cling to. Constantly flowing from mountain to river, river to Sea. All life stemming from this crisp and pure glacier water, flowing, flowing, seemingly inexhaustible.
Under our feet it continues, mixing through porous lava rock and surfaces between two continents in Þingvellir National Park. The silfra as pure as anything comes, gently rests between two separating, destructive worlds. As the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates diverge, the rift grows wider and deeper. The water so crystal clear that one can see its vast, incredible depth from the surface. Together we walked along the edges of the Silfra staring down into the rift with wonder. Just a mile from the underwater rift we walked directly between the diverging plates. These diverging plates span the entire length of the Atlantic Ocean. Iceland is the only place in the world that neatly rests along its precarious course. Without sea floor spreading and the ensuing volcanic eruptions, Iceland would never have existed.
An eerily romantic setting: moss covering splintered rock walls that continually carve deeper into the Earth. The ground below jagged and broken. How long will it take before these footprints line the walls, fossilized over time like the dinosaur footprints in Glen Canyon? Every year these plates separate by another inch, slowly but steadily the rift rips Iceland apart at the seams; the diverging plates create deeper rifts and antagonize inevitable volcanic eruptions all along the Mid Atlantic Ocean. Planet Earth constantly reshaping itself while the world ignores its restless being. Most carry on as if not apart of it, but how could we not feel emotionally and physically attached to this incredibly dynamic planet? In the time that we stood here, the Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates separated 1/4 mm. Did our bodies feel this wondrous event? As we walk along the largest geological feature on the planet I become overwhelmed by our infinitely small presence, an atom in perspective to our universe. It makes me cling to the threshold of this life all-the-more; hold steadfast to my love and continually recalibrate my sense of purpose.
These diverging plates are a prime example of the artistry of Nature. As it reshapes our world we experience its earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and imagery from our fiery, molten core. The effects of these dramatic events show themselves in a time lapse as we observe the conditions of the Golden Circle. We see the melting glaciers of Langjökull present themselves as magnificent waterfalls and crystal clear water in the Silfra. We watch the Earth tear itself apart as boundaries diverge, exposing new plates like the layers of our skin. The casual effects show us another spectacular event as rifts provoke our molten core : the Hvítá river’s underground seeping glacial waters meet magma.
The Golden Circle would not be complete without the impressive geothermal activity at Strokkur geyser. Like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, Strokkur is a reliable geyser that constantly sends violent eruptions upwards of 60 feet every 6-10 minutes. Surrounding this geothermal wonder are multiple other boiling pots ranging in size, color, and heat. From mud pits to hot-springs, and fumaroles this territory is precarious, demanding visitors to be careful in its unpredictable landscape and unforgiving waters. Iron, copper and sulphur stain this geothermal site in deep red, pale green and yellow hues.
We followed the Langjökull retreat out to the sea and then cruised East along the black sanded, sloping coastline. We came upon Seljalandsfoss, a triumphant waterfall plummeting 200 feet over a mossy cliffside seen for many miles from the Ring Road. Getting closer we are taken aback by the incredible immensity of it. The forceful drop is deafening upon approach.
At the base of the waterfall the cliffside is ripped away allowing visitors to walk directly behind the waterfall for an intriguing perspective. The entire landscape shrouded in mist. Moss and thick, lush grass blanket the volcanic landscape.
Every waterfall and every river have their own story to tell us if we are willing to listen. The Seljalands River, like most all rivers in Iceland, began as a glacier retreats. In particular this one begins on the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, an icecap that rests on an active stratovolcano with the most recent eruption in 2010. Seljalandsfoss, as well as Skógafoss, are both very intriguing waterfalls that only became accessible a few thousand years ago. The mountains used to extend all the way to the Ocean, but slowly over time the sea has retreated three miles. The cliff edges, as well as the vast sloping plains are apart of the wondrous history of Iceland and show us a glimpse of this constantly changing landscape.
After the final dramatic scene of the Seljalands River, it slowly trickles, meandering through the lowlands making its inevitable journey to the Atlantic. Continuing along the Ring Road we made another stop at a majestic waterfall, Skógafoss. As one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, it creates an awe-inspiring impression. Dropping 200 feet and 50 feet wide it is sure to take one’s breath away. We walked along the edges of the stream that trickles out from the base of the fall to get a closer look. Rainbows shimmered through the mist. A magical delight, the eyes spellbound viewing Nature’s tapestry.
Our last stop on our Southern Iceland tour was a delight unsurpassed by any. Throughout our travels we have seen white sands, coral pink sands, gray, orange, tan and purple, from beach to dune, but never coal black. Reynisfjara Beach yet another eye opening, spell-bounding spectacle of Nature. As we walked out to the Atlantic, overwhelmed by excitement and adoration, again I was taken aback with immense joy. For as much as we see I will never get used to the magic of this Earth; it will always suprise and captivate me.
Similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northwest Ireland, Southeast Iceland is adorned with hexagonal basalt columns that decorate the cliff edges next to Reynisfjara beach. Rising and falling, so much beauty in the chaos of cooling lava. Smooth stepping stones to climb up, sit upon and ponder this ingenious creation. A small cave rests just beside the basalt columns that appear inverted. Looking up is a maze of hexagonal shapes of all different sizes glistening in the light.
Looking out to the Atlantic we see the Reynisdrangar Column Sea Stacks, black as the sand beneath our feet. These crumbing, eroding basalt stacks are jetting up out of the ocean but in time will succumb to the strength of wind and water. They once belonged to the Reynisfjall Mountain but in Icelandic legend are said to be trolls who turned to stone in the daylight while dragging a ship to shore. They erode so fast that no two visits are the same. The power of this beach is so incredibly strong that everything in its wake will constantly be shaped, broken, or pulled out to sea. Be wary of the sneaker waves!