The Golden Circle - Nesjavellir, Pingvallavatn, Gullfoss, Geysir, Strokkur, Skalholt Church
Reykjavik Travel Blog› entry 5 of 12 › view all entries
We got up at 0600. Got ready and headed downstairs for the breakfast buffet. Then it's out the front doors by 0800 and wait for our bus. Our first stop was Nesjavellir. It's a high temperature geothermal area located close to Lake Pingvallavatn. The bus stopped and we were able to get out and take a few pictures. You could see steam venting all around you. There was a geothermal powerplant here also. We did not visit this because they were not letting visitors in at this time. We got to visit another plant later in the tour. I'll talk more about it later.
Our next stop was Pingvellir - centre of Icelandic culture. Pingvellir by the Oxara river reflects the history of Iceland and the Icelandic people. After the settlement of Iceland, which commenced about 870 AD, plans were made for a formal goverment structure.
Straddling two continents - Pingvellir lies within a belt of volcanic activity and fissures which passes across Iceland, a part of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, the junction of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Pingvellir is located at the western end of a rift valley which extends from the mountains in the northeast down to Pingvallavatn. Over the past 10,000 years the earth's crust has been subsiding and diverging here.
Pingvallavatn (Pingvellir Lake) is Icelands's largest natural lake. 84km in area. It lies about 100m above sea level, and it's greatest depth in 114m; it's average depth is 34m.
Our next stop was to Gullfoss waterfall (Golden Waterfall).
Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. The wide Hvítá rushes southward. About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 m and 21 m) into a crevice 32 m (105 ft) deep. The crevice, about 20 m (60 ft) wide, and 2.5 km in length, is at right angles to the flow of the river. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood measured was 2000 m³/s.
As one first approaches the falls, the crevice is obscured from view, so that it appears that a mighty river simply vanishes into the earth.
During the first half of the 20th century and some years into the late 20th century, there was much speculation about utilizing Gullfoss to create electricity.
Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson was determined to save the waterfall from utilization and even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall. Although it is widely believed, the very popular story that Sigríður did save the waterfall from utilization is not true.
A stone memorial to Sigriður, located above the falls, depicts her profile.
Our next stop was the incredible spouting hot springs of Geysir and Strokkur.
The oldest accounts of a geyser at Haukadalur date back to 1294. Earthquakes in the area caused significant changes in local neighbouring landscape creating several new hot springs. Changes in the activity of the Geysir and the surrounding geysers are strongly related to earthquake activity. In records dated 1630 the geysers erupted so violently that the valley around them trembled.
In recent times earthquakes have tended to revive the activity of Geysir which then subsides again in the following years.
The nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more frequently than Geysir, erupting to heights of up to 20 metres every five minutes or so. Strokkur's activity has also been affected by earthquakes, although to a lesser extent than the Great Geysir. There are around thirty much smaller geysers and hot pools in the area, including one called Litli Geysir ('Little Geysir').
Our next stop was Skalholt church, the ancient seat of the Icelandic bishops.
Skálholt was, through eight centuries, one of the most important places in Iceland. From 1056 and until 1785, it was one of Iceland's two episcopal sees, along with Hólar, making it a cultural and political center. Iceland's first official school, Skálholtsskóli (now Reykjavík Gymnasium, MR), was founded at Skálholt in 1056 to educate clergy. In 1992 the seminary in Skálholt was re-instituted under the old name and now serves as the education and information center of The Church of Iceland.
Throughout the Middle Ages there was significant activity in Skálholt; along with the bishop's office, the cathedral, and the school ,there was extensive farming, a smithy, and a monastery (while Catholicism lasted).
Continuing as the episcopal see after the reformation to Lutheranism, the end of Catholicism in Iceland was marked in 1550 when the last Catholic bishop, Jón Arason of Hólar, was executed in Skálholt along with his two sons. Although no longer episcopal sees, Skálholt and Hólar are still the cathedra of the Church of Icelands' two suffragan bishops, and therefore the old cathedrals still serve as such. Skálholt also receives many visitors each year. Hospitality is a branch of Skálholtsskóli's work and visitors can stay in its dormitories, single rooms, and cottages.
The current cathedral at Skálholt is relatively large in comparison to most Icelandic churches; its span from door to apse is approximately 30 meters. Some of its predecessors were even longer, reaching up to 50 m in length. The new cathedral was built from 1956 to 1963 as a part of the millennial celebrations of the episcopal see. The other Scandinavian churches celebrated this along with the Icelandic church and many of the new cathedrals' items are gifts of theirs; for example, Gerður Helgadóttir's extensive stained glass windows are a gift from the Danes.
Our next stop it's on to EDEN, in the town of Hverageroi, a horticultural village.
Our last stop of the day was the Nesjavellir Power Plant. Nesjavellir is the largest geothermal power plant in Iceland. It is located 177 metres above sea level in the south-western part of the country, near Þingvellir and the Hengill volcano.
Plans for utilizing the Nesjavellir area for geothermal power and water heating began in 1947 -- some boreholes were drilled to evaluate the area's potential for power generation. Research continued from 1965 to 1986. In 1987, the construction of the plant began, and the cornerstone was laid in May 1990.
Because of the special geological situation in Iceland, the high concentration of volcanoes and geothermal energy are very often used for heating and production of electricity. The energy is so inexpensive that in the wintertime, some pavements in Reykjavík and Akureyri are heated.
In Iceland, there are five major geothermal power plants which produce about 26% (2006) of the country's electricity. In addition, geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements for around 87% of the nation's buildings.
In 2006, 26.5% of electricity generation in Iceland came from geothermal energy, 73.
Consumption of primary geothermal energy in 2004 was 79.7 PJ, or 53.4% of the total national consumption of primary energy, 149.1 PJ. The corresponding share for hydro power was 17.2%, petroleum 26.3% and coal 3%.
The first two of the following power plants produce both electricity and hot-water for heating purposes, whereas the other three produce only electricity.
- The Svartsengi Power-Plant, situated in the south-west of the country, near the International Airport at Keflavík on the Reykjanes peninsula. It currently 12/2007 produces 76.5 MW of electricity, and about 475 litres/second of 90 °C hot water (ca. 80 MW). Surplus mineral rich water from the plant fills up a nearby lake and popular tourist bathing resort Bláa Lónið (Blue Lagoon).
- The Nesjavellir Power-Plant, situated in the south of the country, near the lake Þingvallavatn and Hengill volcano. It currently produces 120 MW of electricity, and about 1800 litres/second of heating water (ca. 300 MW).
- The Krafla Power-Plant, situated in the north-east of Iceland near lake Mývatn and the volcano Krafla - hence the name. It produces 60 MW of electricity, with an expansion to 210 MW on the drawing boards.
- The Reykjanes Power-Plant, situated in the south-western tip of the country (to the west of Svartsengi), went on line end of 2006, two turbines are producing 100 MW. Further expansion is being planned.
- The Hellisheiði Power-Plant, to the south of the Hengill volcano is being built, two turbines with together 90 MW went on line end of 2006 and one 34 MW low pressure unit end of 2007.