We spent our first full day in Iceland on a Super Jeep tour of the country’s “Golden Circle” with an additional loop up to the Langjöhull Glacier. It’s a remarkably efficient way to see a several of Iceland’s natural wonders in a day, but be warned…Super Jeep travel is not for the faint of heart.
First of all, the these vehicles are HUGE, as in tall and very challenging to climb in and out of…especially if you’re short like me. Seriously, I have sore muscles today from scaling the Super Jeep frame, and we were in and out of it at least 7 times.
Dr. Darling and I shared our tour with a young Norwegian foursome that had been picked up first and claimed the front and middle benches of our vehicle, relegating us to the far back bench. These seats were even more awkward to get in and out of since you had to slide the seat in front of them forward to gain access. They were also directly over the monster rear wheels, which made the terrain feel even rougher than it already was. And of course it didn’t help matters that I had awoken Friday morning with a slight headache that coffee hadn’t cured and have occasional issues with motion sickness. But hey, I love a challenge!
The Norwegians were nice enough, but it became clear very early in the trip that they had no idea what they had signed up for. Based on the questions they asked our guide, they didn’t know what we were going to see, no one in their party had a decent camera, and perhaps most telling of all, they were dressed for nothing more active than a trip to the mall. Dr. Darling observed that it seemed like they had ended up in Iceland by accident, and when they found out most of Reykjavik would be closed on Good Friday, they signed up for a Super Jeep trip at the last minute. I’ve got no problem with spontaneity, in fact I actually admire it…but it did seem a bit unfair that the people who had planned and researched and were carrying three different cameras had to spend the entire day sitting in the back of the jeep. I’m just saying…
Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park. The site is both historically and geographically interesting because it’s where Iceland’s original parliament was founded in 930, and it’s where the North American and Eurasian Plates meet – the fault line between them is clearly visible. While the Super Jeep is by all means an “all-terrain vehicle”, it can’t traverse the cracks at the fault line, one of which is so big it qualifies as a valley. So our guide “Johnny” explained how we’d have to hike a bit of distance through the park to the place where he would be parked. It was probably less than a kilometer, but he seemed almost apologetic about it…like he was concerned the walk would be a bit strenuous for us. Little did he know that Dr. Darling and I were actually relievedto be out of the Super Jeep and in the fresh air…but now that I think about it, perhaps he said that for the benefit of the lightly-dressed Norwegians.
Our 2nd stop was Haukadalur, site of several geysers and hot springs. Johnny advised us to stick to the marked brick paths becausedepending on the amount of geothermal activity at any given time, the ground can be hot enough to melt rubber-soled shoes. He also warned us to resist the urge to test the temperature of the water coming out of the host springs, because curious people are severely burned every year. Whatever respect I had for the Norwegians disappeared shortly afterward as they pranced off the path and directly up to one of the geysers. And while I didn’t actually see them do it, I’m pretty sure they dipped their hands in the water, too.
The next stop was Gullfoss, a spectacular waterfall on the HvítáRiver. This was also our lunch-break so we spent an hour and 15 minutes there. Dr. Darling and I used most of the time to experience the falls, which you can actually get quite close to if you’re willing to climb a bit. The nearby cafeteria-style restaurant was a complete zoo even though early April is still considered off-season. Johnny explained that it probably had something to do with the fact that most restaurants in Reykjavik were closed for the holiday. The line of people waiting to get something to eat extended out the door when we got in it, and for awhile it looked as though we wouldn’t be served before it was time to resume our tour. We were not entirely surprised to find the Norwegians long finished with their meals by the time we sat down with ours. We were surprised to beat them back to the jeep, however. It was the only time that happened all day.
So after a very quick lunch of traditional Icelandic meat soup, we headed for Langjökull Glacier. It was at this point in the trip that the Super Jeep was really put through it’s paces, because the road quickly turned to gravel and then to a barely discernable track with lots of ruts. And as we approached, the climate went from chilly spring to Arctic winter in less than an hour. It was really remarkable, but so windy that we did not spend a great deal of time out of the Super Jeep.
On the way back to Reykjavike we stopped at the Kerið volcanic crater lake and the village of Hveragerði, which is famous for both it’s earthquake activity and it’s geothermically-heated greenhouses. The Norwegians continued to rush through every stop and sight, which we took as further evidence that they just weren’t that into it.
Still, it was a fantastic day trip and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Reykjavik. You can see some of my photos here. (Though keep in mind that they were snapped with Sony Ericsson P1i mobile phone by a one-eyed photographer!) Images from my Canon point & shoot will be added after we get home.