Searching for the Northern Lights in the Golden Circle

There are multiple writers and bloggers out ‘there’ that will tell you not to visit the Golden Circle in Iceland – It’s too touristy, too busy, there’s better sites elsewhere, etc. But here’s the thing: those sites are popular for a reason, and just because they are popular does not diminish their worth. And with the promise of sighting the northern lights in Thingvellir National Park, the home of ancient Icelandic parliament, we parked up at the campsite, threw some layers on our bodies and some whisky down our throats, and waited.

Because let’s be honest, if it was good enough for the vikings, it would be more than fine for us.

Luckily we did not have to wait too long, as an eerie green light rippled through the stars in the clear sky. A second bolder blast of light cut through the darkness, preceded by a series of wavelets of light that cast the entire night sky in a green glow. So absorbed in the light show playing out above our heads, we entirely forgot about the more mundane lights around us, until we checked our cameras the next morning.

Thingvellir National Park is a site of historic and geological importance. The area was where the Alping, or general assembly, would gather and pass laws as well as judicial hearings. The gatherings were held at Law Rock, which is also where the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge are situated. Wandering between the fault line, with hulking crusts of rock looming over your head, it is chilling to think this was also the location where numerous death penalties were also executed. The names of these sites still exist as a reminder if their grim history today, as I discovered at Gálgaklettur – Gallows Rock.

Soon after we packed up and headed east for more geological wonders in the form of Randomly-Erupting-Boiling-Hot-Water-of-Large-Volumes, otherwise known as Strokkur geysir. Admittedly we had not researched the site too much in order to maintain surprise, so it was a shock when I found myself panicking and laughing simultaneously to avoid the steamy water raining down on us.

Strokkur is the most popular of a collection of geysers in a small area, erupting every 6-10 minutes and shooting water around 15-20 metres in the air. Word of advice: bring a hat or raincoat, or a good set of running legs if you want a front-row seat to the show. The nearby smaller geysers are equally large and foul-smelling, but lack the theatrical displays of Strokkur.

 

Before hitting the final stop on the Golden Circle, Gulfoss, we made a slight detour and made our way to Kerid, or Crater Lake. This volcano was formed thousands of years ago, but for some reason or another its magma depleted itself elsewhere and the hollow chamber eventually collapsed, leaving a pristine blue lake in its place. The biggest draw however is the striking rust-red soil surrounding the lake’s slopes. We wandered for a while around the edge of Kerid, half admiring the scenery and half battling the wind from sending us tumbling into the lake.

With storm clouds looming on the horizon, we scrambled off the volcano and towards another geological wonder, Gulfoss waterfall. The last stop on the Golden Circle and certainly the best, Gulfoss (meaning Golden Waterfall) is awe-inspiring with its size and power. Photos fall short of capturing its might and wild beauty.

Later that night we tucked into our sleeping bags and lawn chairs, chatting away, when a streak of green light began to dance above our heads once more – it appeared we had come full circle.

 

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