“No waterfall in Europe can match Gullfoss. In wildness and fury it outdoes the Niagra Falls in the United States” From the Travel Diary of two Danes in the retinue of Frederick VII of Denmark (1907).
The landscape was becoming increasingly mountainous now with deep black fissures with verdant green moss and clinging lichen and on account of the year’s first snowfall just a week previously the black mountains were capped with generous amounts of snow and below the frost line the ice was dripping down the side like white gloss dribbling messily down the side of a half empty paint pot.
After a short drive we arrived at the Gullfoss Falls and this was as far as a small Chevrolet hire car could go because there were signs for of an impassable road ahead and warnings that car hire insurance policies were invalid (surprise, surprise) beyond this point so taking heed of this we left the car in the waterfall car park.
It was a clear afternoon and about thirty kilometres to the north we could clearly see the massive ice cap of Langjökull, which is Icelandic for ‘long glacier’ and at almost one thousand square kilometres and nearly six hundred metres thick is the second largest ice cap in Iceland after Vatnajökull in the south-east.
We weren’t planning to go to the glacier anyway so the road with no access wasn’t a great disappointment and we made our way instead to the mighty Gullfoss Falls which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country and was therefore quite busy. The falls are where the wide Hvítá river, swollen with melt waters from the nearby glacier rush southward and about a kilometre above the falls turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three step staircase before abruptly plunging in two stages into a crevice thirty-two metres deep with a thunderous roar and unstoppable force.
The river was wild and untamed this afternoon dashing madly over rocks and advancing like a cavalry charge racing to the precipice and the final crevice which is about twenty metres wide, and is at right angles to the flow of the river which results in a dramatic water plunge and an atmosphere full of hanging mist and as we watched we were left in no doubt about the wonderful power of nature.
I haven’t seen any of the World’s major falls such as the Angel Falls in Venezuela (the highest, and thirty times taller than Gullfoss), the Victoria Falls (claimed to be the largest in the world by volume) or the Niagara Falls (the widest in the world), but these were nevertheless really most exciting and dramatic and even better because the river was swollen from weeks of heavy rain and the water thundered over the rocks adjacent to the paths and the spray gathered into a white mist that wrapped itself around us like a damp cloak.
As we followed the path from the car park to the falls we negotiated a muddy path, dangerous and slippery in places and providing a treacherous surface on the path that went down to the water’s edge. In the gorge there was a spectacular close up view of the wall of white water that was surging into the ravine and falling into a boiling cauldron in the crevice below. We were getting quite wet from the spray now so we renegotiated the tricky path back to the top and followed the high level path with viewing platforms at various points along the way.
After a short stop in the overpriced restaurant and souvenir shop we made our way back to Reykjavik and just like the previous day we avoided the gravel roads and choose the longer route back along the roads that we had used earlier that morning and we drove the sun began to come out and by the time that we were back in the city the sky was cloudless and blue so Mike and I went back out to the streets to take a walk to the port area of the city and left Kim and Margaret with the duty free wine.
At the city convention centre there was an Arctic Energy Summit with delegates from Scandinavia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland and the President of Iceland no less in attendance and suddenly it became clear why our hotel had been double booked and we had been booted out of our rooms at the Best Western.
The best thing about conferences like this one is that there are always free pens and key rings and such like so with nothing to stop us going inside I had a look around the exhibition stands and filled my pockets before leaving and going to the waterfront to see the ships and the boats.
We walked along the dockside past the fishing trawlers, coast guard vessels and tug boats but suddenly Mike lost all interest in the nautical activity and the ships because he had spotted a railway train and, this being his passion in life, he bolted from the boats and drooled over the engine.
It was only a small dock shunter that was no longer in use but this turned out to be the absolute highlight of his day, he liked this even more than the geysers and the waterfalls and we spent longer there than we had intended and when we finally returned to the hotel Kim and Margaret were already dressed and ready for evening meal so as we were now in a rush we took the easy option of just going across the road to ‘Harry’s Bar’ again.