Yesterday, as we battled our way through the 50 – 60 mph winds between the airport and the cabin, Elaine and I had the discussion as to whether or not to cancel our excursions if weather conditions didn’t improve, but we’re glad to report that luck was in our favour. When we woke up this morning, we had clear skies and no wind, so it was the perfect day to explore the sights around the Golden Circle. We met our tour guide at 09:00 at the BSI Terminal in Reykjavik and at 09:00 we were on our way.

After about an hour’s drive, we made our first stop at the tectonic plates which I must admit is cooler than it sounds. As far as I’m aware, Iceland is the only country on the planet where the effects of two major tectonic plates that are drifting apart can be observed above sea level. If you’re not familiar with geography or don’t know why seeing tectonic plates on dry land is actually cool, then allow me a brief minute to give you a crash course on the topic.

A few hundred years ago, geologists came up with a theory that all the continents and landmasses of the world are actually moving around. As technology advanced over the years, the theory was proved to be true as the earth’s crust is broken up into fragments and that those different fragments, which we now call tectonic plates, are moving. The simple explanation as to why these plates are moving is because these plates are carried along with currents in the upper mantle – the slowly flowing layer of rock just below the earth’s crust. Converging currents drive plates into each other and diverging currents pull these plates apart. The strength and direction of these currents mostly rely on how quickly hot mantle rock rises from the earth’s core and how they move up along the crust before sinking back down to the core. There are about 12 major tectonic plates that constantly move around and when these plates start moving into, over or away from each other, the world around us starts shaking rapidly and as humans, we’ve label this phenomenon an “earthquake”.

Now that you’re all caught up, here in Iceland two major diverging plates are visible in plain sight – the North American plate and the European-Asian plate. These two plates are moving away from each other at a rate of about 5 cm per year, literally causing the island of Iceland to get bigger.

The plate on the left behind us is the North American plate and the one on the right, the European-Asian plate
A lookout point over the two tectonic plates in Iceland

After about 40 minutes of admiring the tectonic plates, we were back in the bus, cruising along the Golden Circle. Our second stop was the Strokkur Geysir, situated in the Bingvellir National Park. This particular geysir is one of the most active geysirs in the world and erupts roughly every 4 – 10 minutes. When it erupts, it shoots water 30 metres up into the sky that causes a beautiful smoke display in the freezing Icelandic air. The Strokkur geysir is the most visited geysir in the country,  is over a thousand years old and has water temperatures of between 80’C and 100’C with subsurface temperatures estimated to be 240’C to 260’C.

Active geysirs like Strokkur are extremely rare around the world because many conditions must be met for them to form naturally, but Iceland has all the right ingredients in their geothermal area. They have intense heat sources, the magma, that is close enough to the surface of the earth, making the rocks hot enough to boil water. It also has a source of flowing underground water which is supported by the complex underground plumbing system that allows a geysir to build up pressure with the heated water before it finally erupts.

The famous Strokkur geysir in Iceland

After lunch, we were back on the road for about 10 minutes before we stopped at Gullfoss, the waterfall the locals claim to be the ‘most beautiful waterfall in the country’. Gullfoss is 32 metres high and has a flow rate of roughly 140 cubic metres per second. As far waterfalls go, Elaine and I have been to Niagra Falls in Canada (that has an average flow rate of 2400 cubic metres per second) and Vic Falls in Zimbabwe (that has an average flow rate of over 4500 cubic metres per second) so when we judge these waterfalls on height, width and flowrate, sorry Icelandic friends, but Gullfoss takes third place on our rankings (1. Vic Falls, 2. Niagara, 3. Gullfoss). We will revisit these rankings after visiting Iguazu falls, so stay tuned.

Our final activity for the day was a snowmobile ride on the ice cap to the glacier – you can read it here.

Thanks for checking in.
Andre