Day 5 turned out to be a long driving day from Grundarfjörður to Gullfoss, a distance of 250 miles. First stop was at Grábrók. We decided to take an unpaved Route 60 scenic road rather than the paved and faster Route 54. Grábrók is a volcanic crater about 20 miles northeast of Borgarnes on Route 1 (aka the Ring Road). The scenery along Route 60 stunning and the sun was continuing to play hide and seek. Soon it started to drizzle but the unpaved road was okay. Bala did a terrific job of driving in the rain and strong winds. Just before we reached Grábrók, the rain changed to snow due to increase in elevation.
Although it started to snow, we decided to climb up to the rim of the crater, a height about 500′. Was a good exercise but due to snow and super cloudy weather, visibility was poor and we couldn’t see the valley below. There was nobody to be seen anywhere between Grundarfjörður and Grábrók other than a dog near a church. The trio had a terrific time playing with the dog that hugged all.
We climbed down and checked into a cafe near the crater for a hot chocolate and Icelandic chocolates. Fed the car as well as the tank was half empty. Then we drove to Glanni (the only waterfall name without the “foss” (thanks to Kiana-Rvk at Tripadvisor.com for correcting me). We parked the car in front of the Glanni Golf-course clubhouse and did a short hike to checkout the waterfall.
From Glanni we headed to Hraunfossar, a series of spectacular (in Iceland, u can use the adjective “spectacular” to pretty much everything you see!!!) waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field (Hraun = Lava in Icelandic). Wow, it was an amazing site with a lot of photo opportunities. As this is a part of the “Golden Circle” tourist route, we started seeing hoards of tourist buses, huge and small. We had to deal with this challenge for the next 8 days until we reached the town of Höfn in the southeast corner of Iceland. I cant image the Golden Circle in the summer – definitely worth avoiding. By the time, we walked around the falls, it was past 1pm and so it was time for lunch. We ate a bagel and fruits as there were no restaurants nearby.
From Hraunfossar, the next stop was the famous town of Þingvellir. On the way, we came across a small but super cute church attached to a farm near Reykholt. The car automatically stops at any structure with a red roof. We got down and shot a few pictures.
The drive to Þingvellir via the 4 mile tunnel under the Hvalfjörður fjord took about 2 hours. It is one of the most popular tourist spot on the Golden Circle and a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is at the northern end of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Unfortunately, due to my poor planning, we did not have the time to explore some of the key spots like the The Alþingi (assembly) that was Iceland’s supreme legislative and judicial authority from its establishment in 930 until 1271. It was late afternoon when we hiked to the Öxarárfoss.
From Öxarárfoss, we drove to Gullfoss without stopping anywhere. It was super windy and drizzling when we reached the falls and decided not to venture out of the car. We then checked into the very good Hotel Gullfoss. We got rooms in the back of the hotel that had a terrific view of the Ölfusá river. Just like in the apartment at Grundarfjörður, we had to remove our shoes at the lobby before going into the rooms. The staff at the hotel were super friendly and the rooms were modern and comfortable. I highly recommend it. The Aurora Borealis (AB for short) forecast was rather good with the Kp index of 3. By 930pm, the sky had cleared a bit and we got a good AB darshan with our naked eyes for about 20 minutes. The pictures I took came out better than the ones at Grundarfjörður but the foreground (a dump truck) was unimpressive. We were also lazy to locate a better spot. In hindsight, we should have driven to Gullfoss as the AB was in the west of the hotel.
Finally saw a good AB on Day 5. The best is yet to come on Day 10 :-). All went to bed quite satisfied and thinking ahead to Day 6.