My Lonely Planet guide book was very disparaging of the Golden Circle Tour, saying you spent more time in expensive cafes than seeing the sights. However I figured you can’t really come to Iceland and not see its main attractions (such as Geysir and Gullfoss), and as far as I was concerned it was as good a way as any to see all this. The LP did say it was best to adopt a “mellow attitude”, which isn’t exactly something I find difficult to do so I reckoned I’d be ok.
I was picked up from the campsite at 8:20, and we were driven to a depot then got on our tour bus. I was initially surprised that our driver (Gúmmi) was doing all the talking, there wasn’t a seperate tour guide. He seemed to really know his stuff, and talked a lot about Reykjavik as we drove of the city through the outer suburbs. We drove past an industrial park Gúmmi said was built in the 70s outside of the city, by the 80s the building had caught up with it and now went far beyond it.
The first sight on the tour was Þingvellir national park (the Þ is pronounced ‘th’). We drove past a pipeline to a power station that provides about 50% of Reykjavik’s hot water – so well insulated it only loses about 1.8 degrees in the 20 miles or so it travels. We did a brief tour of the geothermal power plant, all seemed very modern. Then we moved on to the old parliament site, set on a picturesque valley on the fault line between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates (Iceland grows by about 2.5 metres a year due to these plates separating). Iceland is one of the oldest democracies in the world, and people used to gather at Þingvellir annually to discuss laws, then socialise (I suspect most just made the journey for this to be honest, politics isn’t everyone’s bag right?)
Then it was on to Gullfoss, a hugely impressive waterfall, although the million or so flies hovering around me tempered my enjoyment of it slightly. After this it was on to nearby Geysir, which is actually several geysirs spouting boiling water up in to the air every few minutes. Again, hugely impressive!
We also took in an explosion hole in the ground (whose name I forget), another nearby waterfall (again, the name escapes me) and finally Eden which seemed to be a garden centre-cum-tourist trap. Despite this final stop I have to say overall it was a fantastic tour, really made by our excellent driver.
Gúmmi also talked a little bit about Icelandic life which I found fascinating. In Iceland earnings up to 75000ISK are tax free, thereafter everyone pays a flat rate of 38.5%! VAT is also very high at 24.5%. It’s also an incredibly expensive country to live in and a lot of people work two or three jobs to make ends meet. [2012 edit – it’s interesting revisiting this and reading this, I wonder how this has changed since the economic crash? If things were tough in 2006 it must be fearsome now)
There was an interesting mix of people on my tour, a couple from Tennessee (with strong Southern US accents!), and a guy who was stationed at Keflavik in world war two. It was his first visit back to Iceland as part of an EU scheme for war veterans to go back to where they were stationed in the war. The biggest change he said was the number of roads, there were none when he was last he (at least, no tarmacked roads), but also less grass and vegetation he said.