Iceland – Part Six of Six – Pingvellir And Beyond

It took us a day to drive from the Nordurland to Pingvellir located in the Suderland where we planned to walk along the Western Rift Zone.  Here, the giant tectonic plates of Europe and North America collide.  While most of this interaction lays under the ocean, the results of pressure and movement are present at the earth’s surface in Iceland. Again, we entered an area of great geothermal energy along with geysers and old lava fields that fall into the ocean. (click on pictures to enlarge, twice for real big)


In this area, near a waterfall, is where the first democracy was proclaimed.  “Allthings” was a version of our U.S. Congress and each year they would meet here to listen to one man recite the laws of Iceland from memory, facing a tall wall of split earth so that all the assembled could hear the amplified oration.

The place was busy when we arrived, but we waited for the small crowds to roam away, and on a cool evening, set out along the rim of the rift.  After walking a few hundred yards, the immensity of the fracture became more obvious, running for miles, interrupted once by another great waterfall.IMG_1816 copyScampering around tufts of moss, we were greeted by a cool mist and continued on, impressed by the feature.  We had thought we could exit via the trail below, but the maze of slots and slits would have to be solved another day.

IMG_1838 copy

The long evening hike ended at the site where the Icelandic men would holler the law. Today it is a cherished site for Icelanders and still used for special national assemblies and events. It was here that the country celebrated their independence and sovereignty as a nation from Denmark in 1944.

IMG_1840 copy

The American plate is on the left and the Eurasian plate is on the right.

The next morning we took off, heading to the south shore with a few hikes along the way. The Great Geyser is no more, someone plugged it up with rocks, but the remaining geyser was quite active, blowing steam 80-100 feet into the air every five minutes or so.

IMG_1865 copy

IMG_1852 copy

Arctic Fox and Rock Ptarmigan – Great Geyser

My partner for the trip had stumbled upon a set of sun-bleached fox jaws on a previous hike and we had them along for good luck to drop off in another part of Iceland before we left.  We hiked high above the main attraction to the Great Geyser where an old ladder allowed one to crawl over a barbed wire fence to the other side and on to the small knoll above.  As we approached the ladder Tabitha reached in to her pocket and placed the bones to the side of our route. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I spotted some movement next to small vent gurgling from the hillside that we had checked out a few moments ago.  I raised my binoculars and saw it was an Arctic Fox. We watched it hop over the ground, prancing on something, then it slowly moved away into the brush and we never saw the fox again. When I got back, I was going through my photo’s and lo and behold, the picture revealed that a ptarmigan popped up bravely standing tall in the foreground.

IMG_1868The small complex across from the Great Geyser is where a unique form of wrestling similar to greco-roman was developed in the 1940’s.  The style featured dynamic throws.  I spent quite a bit of time reading the fine display about a sport that consumed me as a wrestler and coach for half my life.  Each wrestler must maintain a grip on a strap attached to the top of each leg and  try to lift and throw the other to the ground.  Like greco, you can’t grab legs or trip.  If your opponent hits the ground first, preferably on his back, you score a win.  There is no clock.

The amazing part of this area is there is so much to see in a day right outside Reykjavik. And other people know that.  I can totally understand why people come so far to see Iceland.  Their growth in tourism in the past few years is staggering with 1.5 million visitors expected this year.  We parked the camper in the back of the parking lot and joined others heading to Gulfoss.  I had no idea what to expect so the first sight of such a large waterfall is simply hard to comprehend.  It was huge and loud and roared from the highlands, then fell into the largest chasm I have ever seen carrying water. The power simply overwhelmed us as we walked the trail which provided spectacular viewpoints into the heart of endless tumult.

IMG_1879 copy


Everyone seemed overwhelmed by the forces, some quickly glancing and leaving as a brisk wind blew cool off the oceans nearby.  To the right of the falls in the picture below is a patch of snow, laced with wind blown sediments.

IMG_1893 copy


One more stop before heading to the coast was Kurio, a tiny caldera filled with water and surrounded with brilliant colors.  The short hike around the rim is maintained by a local conservation group that asks for a small fee.

IMG_1922 copy

Kurio Lake Crater

Our trip ended with another day exploring and birding along the coast south of Reykjavik. We settled into a small campground near Strandarkirja, located in the middle of grazing land carved between old lava fields where Iceland bends to the North Atlantic.  The gentle lady who ran the small campground spoke no English, but somehow we checked in as birds soared above in every direction.  Offshore northerlies blew brisk all night and by morning produced a billowing line of clouds separating cold and warm air.

IMG_1944 copyOur last hike was to the sea cliffs near Reykjanes. After walking through another steamy scene, we followed a road to the ocean cliffs as the Island of Eldey glistened on the western horizon. We walked over a beach of boulders the size of small cars, but round as basketballs, smoothed and tumbled by the rhythm of waves. The Atlantic Ocean gently washed ashore while off to the north, poking through the clouds into a blue sky, was the snowy summit of Snaefellsjokull, where we began our trip.

IMG_1988 copy

Reykjanes Sea Cliffs

I hope you enjoyed the trip reports and encourage you to give Iceland a try.  I’m working on the video and should have it up within the week.  We think we got some amazing video of some of the places we visited.

Matt Kinney

June 2015