You know you are getting close to the Haukadalur geothermal area when from a distance you see the eruption of the Strokkur (“the churn”) geyser. In this famous geyser field in Iceland, this is the only reliable geyser. However, that was not always the case. For some time, there was the great Geysir which was the rock star of this domain. At its heyday, this was the one that everyone came to see. But it has been quiet for a long time now. The last time it erupted was between 1981 and 1983 when it had its plumbing cleaned out. But that was only short-lived and since then the furrow has been dammed up so much that it no longer can be reopened.
I did not know this before, but pouring soap into the vent is a popular method to coaxing lazy geysers. And this was used on the great Geysir quite a bit. It did its magic but not always to plan as we read of the story where a group of people waited 8 hours after pouring soap in without any success. As soon as they gave up and left, Geysir erupted! Some weeks later, congress delegates decided to do the opposite, getting soap poured into the vent whilst they were on their way, hoping to be spared of the wait. And as you can expect, Geysir erupted before they arrived! It appears Geysir has a mischievous streak. But that trick eventually stopped working (maybe because of the copious amounts of soap) and now nothing can be done except maybe an earthquake might unblock it.
Fortunately for us, Strokkur is still merrily squirting its jets. It happens every five to ten minutes so you can easily wait and watch for it. But it too is not perfect. It had its moments when it stopped erupting over the years like Geysir. One day in 1920 it stopped completely. It was not until 1963 when a Geysir committee got together and recommended for a hole to be drilled to the bottom of its basin. How they worked this out, I can only guess! But it worked a treat and since then, Strokkur has been happy as Larry.
If you get up close, you can actually observe the cycle. After every eruption, the vent is emptied but quickly it fills up again. Once full, not much appears to be going on and the pool appears dormant. But as the eruption nears, the pool of water breathes up and down like it is taking deep breaths. Then a large bubble appears with steam inside of it, building up quickly before it bursts, releasing the steam and Strokkur erupts with a powerful blast. It is pretty fun and spectacular at the same time.
Walking along the wooden planks from the visitor centre, one can hardly imagine what to expect of Gulfoss. Some have called this Europe’s answer to the mighty waterfalls of the world from Niagara to Victoria Falls. Others simply see it as a natural wonder of which Iceland seem to be full of. As for us, coming into full view of Gulfoss, we can certainly say this is a monster of a waterfall. Born of the river Hvítá, which originates from the Lángjökull glacier, what made this waterfall interesting was it was multi-tiered. And not only that, it changes direction as it cascades down only to seemingly disappear into a deep ravine. Like it is being swallowed up by a rift in the earth!
There is a path that allows you to walk further along the edge of Gulfoss so that you can get a better view of the ravine. But at this time of the year, this path was fenced off (obviously for good reasons seeing how much snow and ice there was about). Of course, if you are well prepared, you can easily get round this, as we saw a technologically savvy visitor whip out his large drone, equipped with camera, ready for some awesome aerial views.
We were happy enough with our point and shoot. As for the name Gulfoss which means Golden Falls, we did wonder how that came about. We didn’t quite see the connection but it appears that the river carries sediments due to its glacial origins and on a very sunny day, it shimmers gold. That would have been very nice to see. But there is another more colourful story. It says once upon a time, there was a farmer named Gygur who lived at Gygjarholl. He had a lot of gold. So much that he could not think of anyone else having it after he dies. So he put it all into a coffer and threw it into the waterfall. Hence, the name Golden Falls!
Despite its great attraction, it is hard to fathom that this waterfall was once almost lost. This is where the story of Sigríður Tómasdóttir comes in. Near Gulfoss, we also came across her plaque. She is remembered as the woman who hired her own layer to defend the waterfall from being used to harness electricity when it was leased to foreign interests. Living in her father’s farm nearby who owned the waterfall, she sought to have the contract voided and traveled several times to Reykjavik (120 km’s away) on foot to follow up on her case. She even famously threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if they started construction. Although her attempts failed in court, she won in raising everyone’s awareness and fortuitously, the contract was nullified due to lack of rent payments. Years later when Gulfoss was sold to the government, her efforts were remembered and Gulfoss was preserved and the power plant never built.
That night we checked into Vatnsholt Farm which is owned by Johann “Joe” and his wife Margret. It appears we were the only ones there that night but we didn’t mind it one bit. Situated slightly out of Selfoss, it is a comfortable farm with all the amenities you need. More than that though, we found Joe to be extremely friendly and knowledgable. After dinner, he could have spent all night talking to us about everything Iceland from the geology of the island to puffin eggs. Some of it was pretty fascinating and we wished we could have spent more time with him. But we were tired from the day and was looking forward to turning in.
Another thing Vathnsholt Farm is ideal for is its location. You can see for miles around towards the horizon and so, it is perfect for aurora viewing. You won’t miss this in the dining room where there are plenty of aurora photos on the walls. On good days, there are even buses who make it out here to Joe’s farm. However that was not going to happen tonight. Although the sky was clear, the forecast was not meant to be good. But when we walked back to our rooms which was in a separate building, we encountered the halo moon instead. A complete ring around the moon. I have never seen it before and thought it was beautiful. I do not know the science to it very well but its meant to be caused by ice crystals in the air reflecting the moons rays. Peter hurried in to get his camera not knowing if it was going to disappear any minute. After taking a few shots, he turned around to look back at the main building where we had dinner and the aurora had appeared stretched across the sky! We could even see it from one of the rooms that had windows facing that way. It was not prominent and did not last for long but what a perfect end to our day at the Golden Circle.