Days Out Iceland Iceland Reykjavik Nature & Wildlife

Not your usual Golden Circle Tour

Written by Kirstie Pelling

Not your usual Golden Circle Tour

As part of our week in Reykjavik at the Children and Culture festival, we felt we should explore a little of the natural wonders beyond the city to understand a little more of this place. After all, they say culture is shaped by environment as well as people. So we booked ourselves onto the classic Golden Circle tour, to visit three of the top ‘must see’ wonders close to Reykjavik. We expected nature to dominate the day but didn’t take into account the mix of nationalities and age groups on the bus…

Cameron has turned into the white rabbit, popping his head out of a large hole in the ground in Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the first stop on our Iceland Excursions coach tour around the Golden Circle.

“I’m late, I’m late, from falling in between two tectonic plates.” he sings.

Matthew joins him in the zig-zagged crack in the earth and the two of them feel their way between the rocky teeth, chanting the song of the white rabbit.

“We’re late, we’re late, we’re stuck in a tectonic plate.”

Thingvellir National Park

“We’re stuck between tectonic plates”

The other tourists watch with interest. Then, as the boys climb out, three Japanese people climb in.

“This whole coach party is soon going to be trapped between two tectonic plates,” says Cameron joyfully.

Sure enough, as we make our way back to the bus, all we can see is a neat line of heads poking out of geological rift. “The tectonic plates have been pulling Iceland apart by up to two and a half centimetres per year,” says Cameron, repeating what our guide told us in the coach earlier. “But I think if all those people pushed, it could be even more.”

Everyone gets back on the bus. Eventually.

And so we head on to Gullfoss…

I am at the front of the coach, sitting next to Herbert from Hamburg, an eccentric pensioner dressed in blue dungarees, wearing John Lennon glasses topped off with a yellow sunhat. He is excited to hear he is in the company of an English woman.

“That is very good because it is The Queen’s birthday tomorrow. She is 86.”

I tell him I didn’t know that.

“It is also my birthday.” he says. “I have shared each of the Queen’s birthdays.”

I tell him he looks young for 86.

“I am not 86! Whatever makes you think that?” he shouts, clearly offended.

But after an hour sitting next to him on the bus I am used to him shouting. Every time the very knowledgeable tour guide says the word ’tectonic plate’ Herbert shouts “Danger!” When it first began, in Reykjavik, I thought perhaps the coach was about to crash. After the third cry, I realised it was probably just Herbert’s personal fear of geological rifts; when almost everyone else on the coach climbed into the rift for photographs, I noticed Herbert kept his distance.

The tour guide gives us fifty minutes at the next location; the Gulfoss Waterfall; another of Iceland’s iconic landmarks. Herbert takes out an alarm clock, shakes it, sets the time, and puts it back into his bag. What is it with white rabbits today?

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

The top section of the Gullfoss Waterfall

The clear blue sky, the glacial water and the uncustomary sunshine combine to produce an uncustomary rainbow over the waterfall. The water pummels down into the canyon spraying the procession of tourists heading up to the rocky promontory and viewpoint. The kids run ahead. “Keep an eye on them, they can get quite close to the edge up there,” one coach passenger advises us.

For a brief moment I rest my mantle of paranoid parent when I spot a ledge the kids can stand on to make it look like they are hanging over into the waterfall. In fact it just leads to a patch of rock that leads to another patch of rock that eventually leads to a precipice. There’s enough rock between them and the fall to stop me worrying. I direct the photo shoot and one by one the children have a go at pushing their fingers over the rock as though they are climbing out of the waterfall. But they soon tire of it, and wander off to find some real danger. This leaves a slot for the Japanese, who have been watching intently. A few seconds later, they launch themselves over the cliff and cling on for dear life. Luckily at the same spot.

The top section of the Gullfoss Waterfall

Clinging on for dear life at the psuedo cliff

“They’re going to wear out that rock and make the cliff steeper. That’s so awesome,” says Cameron.

Everyone gets back on the bus. Eventually.

And so we head on to Geysir…

As the driver starts the coach and the guide restarts her commentary, Herbert asks me how tall I am. When I reply he looks at me sympathetically. “You do understand that your daughter will be even shorter than you?” he states emphatically. “But never mind, some of the most formidable leaders in history have been lacking in height. Take Deng Xiaoping, or indeed Nelson.” At five foot six in my socks I am a bit puzzled by his obsession with my height. No one has ever made me feel like an elf before now.

“Where do you live in Hamburg,” I ask.

“Right in the city,” he replies. “I couldn’t live in Iceland. Too much space. I like to be crushed when I go into the outdoors.” I look back, hoping to catch one more glimpse of the rainbow reaching down to touch the icy wall of water. There could never be enough space for me; not when the space is this extraordinary.

Geysir, Iceland

At Geysir, the Strokkur geyser struts its stuff

We move on to the Geysir area; a famous geothermal field, where the kids pretend to be spouting geysers for the camera, and the Japanese follow. And then the tour guide announces that to reward good behaviour she is going to give everyone a treat. We will have a surprise 15 minutes at a crater. But only 15 minutes. We still have an hours drive before we have to drop everyone off at their hotels.

Getting tired, the kids are sluggish climbing out of the bus. But then they decide it would be great fun to walk around the whole of the Kerid crater. They stomp over grassy bank and volcanic lump, with Herbert from Hamburg following on their heels. 71 other people decide that the three children and pensioner with the same birthday as The Queen of England must know the way, and start circling the ring of the giant crater.

The Kerid crater, Iceland

The Kerid crater… the Pied Pipers take a breather

The guide can only watch on as the children play the Pied Piper leading the rats right around the geological relic and then down a steep volcanic slope to the ring of blue water that fills the crater.

Herbert’s alarm clock goes off in his pocket. No one notices. They are all following like lambs to a volcanic slaughter.

“I am having lamb for dinner tonight,” says Herbert. “I have it every night in the same restaurant.”

“Why the same one?” I ask.

“Why would I try another?” he asks in astonishment. We stop and look around, at the brilliant blue sky, the dark mystery of the crater lake and the shrouded silhouettes of the tourists moving in a ring around our heads. Perhaps he is reconsidering his comment about space in this glorious, natural, energy charged volcanic place.

“I once went around the world on a freight ship,” he says.

Everyone gets back on the bus. Eventually.


This post is part of our 2012 Iceland Season.  We visited Reykjavik in April for the Children’s Culture Festival, then spent a summer exploring the wilder parts of the country expedition style by car and bike.  We’re grateful to Visit ReykjavikIcelandair and Icelandair Hotels, Reykjavik Excursions and The Blue Lagoon for their support in helping bring you this season of posts from the Reykjavik Children’s Culture Festival. 

Read more from our Icelandic Spring 2012 Reykjavik Children’s Festival season:

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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