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Journeys : MNJ Aug Sep 2011
Reykjavik, the capital, similar in population size to Hobart, is the best centre from which to radiate through either full-day, half-day or over night dr ives to capture much of the essence that this isolated, seldom visited island has to offer. Reykjavik, famous for being the location of the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting in the 1980s, has an excellent road system that allows easy access to Route 1, the circular road that r uns round the island. One of the best day trips from the capital is a circuit that takes in three of Iceland’s significant tourist destinations. The Golden Circle route from Reykjav ik includes Thingvellir, Geysir and Gulfoss. Thirty-five kilometres from the city centre is Thingvellir, Iceland’s most histor ic site. The Icelandic parliament was established here in 930 A.D. and although not much evidence remains of this today, the site is awesome. Rocky protuberances, waterfalls and ancient lava-f lows all combine to create an over whelming presence. A short drive from here takes the motor ist to the thermal area Geysir – the original geyser after which all geysers in the world are so named. It only erupts occasionally but its next door neighbour Strokkur geyser erupts ever y ten minutes or so, testimony to Iceland’s fier y underbelly. Six kilometres from Geysir is Gulfoss, probably Iceland’s premier attraction. This waterfall fulfils all expectations due to its dramatic location, its over powering thundery descent and its attractive rainbow sprays, which ref lect the icy sur rounds. From here, Route 35 takes the dr iver back to Route 1, and an easy return to Reykjavik. A satisfying half-day excursion from the capital is a visit to Iceland’s favourite tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon. Less than 50 kilometres south-west of Reykjavik and set among the black lava-flows in the snow, this geother mal spa bubbles away at 38 degrees Celsius. The blue waters are rich in mineral salts and silica mud so the benefits of this visit are not just an afternoon of relaxation, but a chance to exfoliate the skin as well. There is a hot waterfall to stand under for a great massage, while all the comforts of home are provided, including excellent change-room facilities, towels, robes and of course the availability of something to eat and a glass of wine. For an overnight excursion from the capital, there is no better drive than to the ever-popular Skaftafell National Park. Taking Route 1 in an easterly direction, it is 330 kilometres by sealed road to this destination. On the way, a major highlight is visible from the ring road – the impressive and thundering Skogafoss. The waters here tumble dramatically and forcefully over 60 metres – it’s a mesmer ising sight. The nearby museum is also worth more than a few moments of time. But the goal of the journey is Skaftafell and the amazing views of glaciers. These rivers of ice descend from the ice-cap in Iceland’s south and virtually reach the coast. Excellent walking tracks within the park make the panoramas even more accessible and impressive. The area around here made world headlines in 1996 when a volcanic eruption took place and the resultant ice-melt filled a lake, which burst its banks a month later. The consequent flood-water destroyed several Route 1 bridges, remains of which can still be seen on the coast. Film footage of the dramatic 1996 events can be viewed at the Skaftafell National Park Visitor Centre, while evidence of that powerful time is still visible in the landscape. Iceland holds a fascination for glaciologists, vulcanologists and ordinary tourists alike, while Reykjavik is the convenient hub from which touring motorists can conveniently witness some of the spectacular examples of ‘fire and ice’ that this remarkable island country offers. Clockwise from top left: Strokkur geyser at Geysir, Skoga waterfall, Eyjafjallajokull erupting, Gulfoss Destinations August / September 2011 15
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Oct Nov 2011