Our all day Golden Circle tour was a drive of around 350km – a long but, what turned out to be, a very interesting day. On this drive we only touched the bottom SE corner of the island of Iceland which has a total area of 103,000 square kilometres – that’s a bit under half the size of the State of Victoria.
The day began with not a lot to see. Much of the land we passed through was totally unproductive – weeds and not much more grow here in the short growing season.
My interest level changed quite dramatically when we stopped off to inspect some geysers. The Icelandic word ‘geysir’ has been adopted into English as the word used for ‘a hot spring in which the water intermittently boils, sending a column of water and steam into the air’.
The hot springs have been harnessed to provide inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity.
The Gullfoss waterfall is quite impressive. Some of the rivers and waterfalls are used to provide hydroelectric power. But this falls was designated a nature reserve in 1979 and so is now a protected the area allowing access to the public.
Harsh conditions make growing anything almost impossible. The soil is poor, the climate is unforgiving and volcanic eruptions have devastated the country on a number of occasions. Subsistence farming has been the only way this society has survived.
As if volcanic activity was not enough to put up with, the weather is a bit daunting as well. During the summer, temperatures can range between 10 to 13ºC. In the warmer south, a top temperature of 30.5ºC has been recorded. I don’t want to think about winter when the sun only just rises above the horizon for a matter of minutes during the shortest days. Temperatures of -25 to -30ºC are normal for winter in the north whilst the coldest temperature ever recorded is -39.7º – and this is in a country where the North Atlantic Current moderates the climate!
The Arctic fox was the only mammal on the island when humans first arrived. (The chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson arrived in AD874 and became the first permanent Norse settler.) Occasionally bats have been seen when they are blown off course by strong winds and polar bears sometimes arrive from Greenland. Neither have ever been known to breed on the island.
Both domestic and pest animals now inhabit the island. The sturdy Icelandic horse, Icelandic sheep and the Icelandic Sheepdog are welcome as are goats, chickens, and cattle. However, as in most countries, mice and rabbits are not so welcome.
Mink and reindeer are hunted and many seabirds make the island home. Puffins, skuas and kittiwakes are a very important part of the island’s wildlife.
We had much still to see on this long day of exploration – next musings for more. D