Getting There and Exploring South Iceland

Getting There

Our trip began with a flight from Phoenix to JFK in New York and then overnight to Keflavik Airport in Iceland. The layover in JFK extended from 4 ½ hours to nearly 6 ½ hours and yet the pilot must have put the pedal to the metal as we arrived in Iceland around 9:30 a.m. only ½ hour after the published arrival time.

We had arrived in Iceland and the adventure began!


Our tour package included 2 ½ hours at the famous Blue Lagoon, a (accidentally) manmade outdoor hot thermal baths. With a brisk chill in the air and with light rain, the soak was refreshing as we nestled down in the hot relaxing waters. After the long flight the soothing, very warm and comforting hot mineral bath was heaven. In the pools we had a complimentary drink and a silica mud mask treatment. A quick scramble indoors through the drizzle and cold air, a hot shower and a light lunch before meeting our driver, soon had us back on the road to our hotel in downtown Reykjavik. The combination of an overnight flight and nice warm soak prompted me to doze off for most of the drive into the city.

Reykjavik we found to be a vibrant city as we went out exploring the main street Laugavegur. 


Many tourists abounded and shops and restaurants were bustling. Our hotel in Reykjavik as all but one of them on our Iceland trip were exceptionally nice. We learned that nearly all homes and buildings in Iceland are heated geothermally, including this hotel. 

At 5 p.m. we met the rest of our tour group and our guide/driver, Reynir, in the hotel restaurant. We got acquainted over drinks with David and Fran from Eastern Canada, John and Kathy from Vancouver Island, Canada, Kay from Chandler, Arizona, Silvia from Bulgaria, Stewart from England, Susan B from Canada, Suzie S and Susie M from Australia. Reynir reviewed the next day’s itinerary and outline of our next 14 days. He informed us that he would arrive with his tour van the next morning at 9 a.m. Some more time was spent socializing but then it was time to have dinner. After a walk down the street for a nice meal, it was back to the room and off to bed as we looked forward to the start of our Iceland tour.

Exploring South Iceland

Tuesday, Sept 9 our actual trip around Iceland began. It was divided into sections, South Iceland, East Iceland, North Iceland, Westfjords, West Iceland, the Greater Reykjavik area and Reykjanes.

Although our first full day of travel was overcast and raining most of the day, it struck me how green were the surroundings there and throughout the island. Amidst all the green were scattered tidy farms many with plastic wrapped bales of grass dotting the fields appearing very much as giant marshmallows. Thus the farms became “marshmallow farms”. Black wrapped bales became “burnt” marshmallows and light green wrapped ones became “mint” bales. 


Of course, those green grasses were cut and baled to feed the livestock. Speaking of livestock, sheep are a staple and were abundant over the entire route we traveled. The Iceland horses are also included and to a lesser extent, cattle. But overall, sheep were the most prolific livestock we saw. As we drove along, gazing out the windows, sheep were seen grazing whether along the roadway, in fields or high upon the grassy mountainsides - peaceful pastoral images of quiet and contentment.

Our first day’s drive took us along the Famous Golden Circle which included Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site and location of the Vikings first Parliament held outdoors 2 weeks every year where grievances were heard and laws enacted. It is set in a picturesque vast lava field landscape and location of the continental rift splitting Iceland between North America and Europe.

One stop brought us to a thermal lake and some unusual little mounds of lava sand with rocks placed atop each. These we learned were little baking ovens, baking, of all things, bread. With the whole area being geothermal it has long been a traditional way of such baking. Quite intriquing!

Although not noticeable to novices, we passed over that North Atlantic Rift and further along, we joined others where the rift is visible as a long, narrow fissure in the earth. Beneath the rift at this location was a cave within which is a hot thermal pool of water. The water there, however, was much too hot in which to submerge oneself. And yes, I did crawl down inside and tested the water myself. HOT!

Our first major waterfall was the incredibly powerful two tiered Gullfoss. Several viewing locations gave different perspectives. The light rain and the mist of Gullfoss only damped the exterior of viewers, not their sense of wonder at the beauty and power of the falls. 

Reynir told us the story of a young woman who, in protest of a proposed hydroelectric plant being built using Gullfoss waterfall, actually did sacrifice herself to the mighty falls. The hydroelectric facility was never built. 

Further on we witnessed the eruption of a geyser before arriving at Fridheimar Farms a large greenhouse operation where they grow tomatoes under electric lights and heat is provided by thermal (geyser) water (as many buildings in Iceland are so heated). 

We learned about how they pollinate the tomato plants using bumble bees imported from Holland. Much of the vegetable crops are also grown in greenhouses throughout Iceland. 

Iceland horses are a pure breed and direct descendants of the Viking horses of more than a thousand years ago. No other breeds are allowed on the island and if an Iceland horse leaves the island they can never return. In this way the breed is kept pure and free of outside diseases. Iceland horses have a unique attribute, that being that they instinctively master 5 gaits, whereas most other horse breeds only manage 4. The gaits are: walk, trot, cantor or gallop, the flying wire and the tölt. All the gaits were demonstrated for us, the Tölt being such a smooth ride that the rider could carry a pint of beer around the track and never spill a drop. Impressive!

Over the course of our 14 day drive around Iceland, we were introduced to more history, sagas, traditions and folklore. © Donald E. Kline 2012