In South-Iceland we have got the Golden Circle and the Silver Circle, but did you know that we have got the Diamond Circle up north? I went up north last summer and checked out the Diamond Circle with Saga Travel to compare it with the very popular Golden Circle tours in the south.
Now, let me show you the beautiful highlights:
Goðafoss waterfall - the Waterfall of the Gods
Our first stop on the Diamond Circle was by Goðafoss waterfall, which is a beautiful and historical waterfall, right by ring-road 1.
The name, Goðafoss - the Waterfall of the Gods, stems from when the conversion to Christianity was made in the year 1000. The Lawspeaker and ex Pagan Chieftain, Þorgeir ljósvetningagoði, threw his idols of the old pagan Nordic gods into this waterfall - right after returning from the Alþingi Parliament at Þingvellir where the conversion was made.
Thus the waterfall got its name Goðafoss - the Waterfall of the Gods. I always think about this Viking story when I visit this beautiful waterfall. On this tour we visited the west bank where you can get really close to the waterfall.
This historical waterfall has a drop of 12 meters and a width of 30 meters and it cascades with great force down into the white and green river Skjálfandafljót. I love the green colour of this 178 km long glacial river.
One can walk really close to the edge, but as always caution is of utmost importance here as these glacial rivers are dangerous and ice cold.
We made our second stop, a short photo stop, by Lake Mývatn, which was created in a basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago. There are so many freestanding lava formations in this area, including the lava pillars by and in Lake Mývatn.
Lake Mývatn is the 4th largest lake in Iceland, 36,5 km2 and is protected as a nature reserve. There is a very diverse bird-life on the lake and nowhere else on earth are there as many duck-species gathered in one place as at Lake Mývatn.
We also stopped at the supermarket at Mývatn to stock up on food and drinks for this long tour, as soon we would be leaving inhabited areas and entering a glacial canyon.
Mt. Námafjall and the boiling mud pools
We now headed out to Mt. Námafjall and the high-temperature area, Hverarönd. So our 3rd stop was made amongst bubbling mud pools in a part of Iceland which looks like you have landed on the moon.
This high-temperature geothermal area is bubbling and boiling with a very strong smell of sulphur filling the air. If you join the Mývatn tour offered by Saga Travel, then you will get a better view of this amazing area.
Jökulsárgljúfur canyon - Dettifoss waterfall
Dettifoss is Europe's most powerful waterfall and it blows my mind every time I visit it. Dettifoss is 45 meters high and 100 meters wide and has got a flow of 193 m3/s, making it thunderous when you stand close to it!
Dettifoss is situated in the glacial river, Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which is the second longest river in Iceland and on which I have written a separate travel blog. The river originates in Vatnajökull glacier, Europe's largest glacier. So you can see that this is a remarkable area - ruggedly beautiful and very impressive.
The water in glacial rivers is milky white and greyish - and ice cold. If you look closely at the photo above you will see how close the little people are to the edge of the waterfall on the east side! I have been standing right where these people are standing and it is so mesmerising that I would consider standing so close to be of some danger. So let's be careful here.
There is a 15 minute's (1 km) walk down to the waterfall on the west side. Our guide walked with us down to Dettifoss, where we stayed for 30 minutes. It started raining on this part of the tour, so I admired Dettifoss from the upper area and didn't walk down to the lower area. Some members of the groups did and were absolutely wet when they came back up, both due to the rain and also due to the huge mist/spray from this massive waterfall. But it is so worth it going to the lower area and stand almost next to such a powerful waterfall.
Seeing that the Diamond Circle is slow travel, then our guide let us choose which waterfall we would like to see next, Selfoss waterfall, which is above Dettifoss, or Hafragilsfoss waterfall, which is a couple of hundred meters below Dettifoss.
We opted for Hafragilsfoss waterfall as we could spot Selfoss waterfall in the distance, but Hafragilsfoss cannot be seen unless you drive for a short while on a bad road to have a look at it from above. Hafragilsfoss was our fifth stop on this tour. And the sun came out :)
Hafragilsfoss waterfall is also a beautiful waterfall with a huge mist/spray and a great view of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. To me it looks like a mini Dettifoss. This waterfall is 27 meters high and 91 meters wide and is much less visited than the massive Dettifoss.
The name Hafragilsfoss means Buck Canyon Fall. Legend has it that a giantess stole 2 bucks in Öxarfjörður fjord, which is north of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and where Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river ends its course and joins the ocean. The giantess had to act swiftly and tied the bucks together by their horns, threw them up on her shoulder and jumped over the glacial river in this spot.
This part of the canyon is called Hafragilsundirlendi and it is so beautiful. There are several fresh water springs here creating lovely small waterfalls which run into the glacial river. And where the fresh water meets the ice cold grey glacial water the most beautiful aquamarine colour appears.
I have seen somewhere that the basalt rock formations in my photo above has been called the church of the elves (Hidden people) - although I have not been able to find a story to match this - but it is so beautiful that I will refer to it as the church of the elves and add the story if I eventually find it. Don't you agree with me that this beautiful basalt rock looks like a location where the elves would choose to have their church?
Hljóðaklettar - Echo Rocks
Our sixth stop was at Hljóðaklettar - Echo rocks - which looks like fairy tale landscape.
Hljóðaklettar cliffs are a cluster of columnar rock formations creating all kinds of figures. These huge basalt rock formations, by and in Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river, are volcanic plugs.
The glacial river has eroded these volcanic plugs them over a period of many centuries - remember the sheer force of Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe - by that force the volcanic plugs have been sculptured through the ages.
There are several trails in Hljóðaklettar, but our guide took us to the beautiful formation called the Troll, which is 0.6 km away from the parking lot. You can see the Troll in my first photo of Hljóðaklettar. It looks so majestic - but wait until you walk behind it!
There the most beautiful basalt column formations appear! It is overwhelming really and no matter how often I visit Hljóðaklettar and see these beautiful basalt column formations I say "wow"!
I really love coming here to have a look at nature's work of art. And for sure walking amongst the basalt rock formations in Hljóðaklettar is like walking in an art gallery.
Ásbyrgi - the Shelter of the Gods
Now we had reached the northern end of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and made our seventh stop at my favourite place in Iceland - my beloved Ásbyrgi - the Shelter of the Gods.
Ásbyrgi is one of the most magical places I have visited in Iceland and I am in awe during my visit. I can understand why the elves chose Ásbyrgi as their capital city.
Psychic people have seen many homes, public buildings and concert halls belonging to the elves in the cliffs.
Do greet the elves and let's be respectful and refrain from making loud noises in their city. If we respect the dwellings of the elves and thank them for allowing us to pay them a visit they will respect us in return - but woe to those who show disrespect and make a racket!
Ásbyrgi is 3.5 km in length and 1.1 km across with up to 100 meters high walls! In Norse mythology Ásbyrgi is said to be the hoof-print of the 8th-legged horse of Óðinn, Slepnir.
In the very bottom of Ásbyrgi you will see the serene Botnstjörn. Our guide walked with us down the steps to the pond and never left our side. This is what I like about fully guided tours - you have your guide with you the whole time. Even though I know this area very well, then I am looking for tours where our foreign guests can feel totally safe in unknown areas, and the Diamond Circle tour by Saga Travel fully meets that criteria.
If you want to join a Diamond Circle tour make sure you choose a fully guided tour and not partly guided - I have tried out both variations and recommend the fully guided tour.
On the pond you will find some types of ducks, the most common one being the wigeon. After enjoying a moment by the pond our guide walked with us to a higher view-spot with an excellent view of the pond and the cliffs of Ásbyrgi. We then had a much appreciated coffee break at the cafè/restaurant at Ásbyrgi.
Tjörnes and the puffins
Our eighth stop was at Tjörnes peninsula where there are colonies of puffins during their nesting season in Iceland from April until mid-August. I joined this tour on the 4th of August so we managed to see a lot of puffins. I adore this beautiful bird with the colourful beak and seek it out on my travels in my country.
The puffin is so popular amongst our foreign visitors that it has almost become the symbol of Iceland :)
Tjörnes peninsula is also well known for its layers of fossil shells.
Húsavík - the Whale Watching Capital of Iceland
Our ninth and last stop was a half an hour's stop at Húsavik, the whale-watching capital of Iceland. Húsavík is the birthplace of my grandmother and her 14 siblings and I grew up with stories from Húsavík, so I am very fond of this lovely little town. You can see my grandmother's former home next to the church.
The church is sublime, in my opinion the most beautiful church in Iceland. It is very distinctive and there are only 2 other churches in Iceland built in the same style. I will be writing about these 3 lovely churches in another article. Húsavíkurkirkja church, which was built in 1907, was being painted on the day of my visit.
The church was open and I had time to visit it and walk down to the busy harbour on this last stop of our Diamond Circle tour.
Remember Ármann, who guided me through Lofthellir cave - he was our guide on the Diamond Circle as well - a very knowledgeable and reliable guide, who was a member of the rescue team in Iceland before he became a guide - having a trained member of the rescue team as your guide is always reassuring, so I love travelling with Ármann :)
I joined this tour in Akureyri, where I was staying for a week with a friend, but you can also fly from Reykjavík in the morning at 7:10 am and the bus will pick you up at 8 am from the airport in Akureyri and leave you at the airport by the end of the day.
I found it fitting to write this article on the Diamond Circle up north straight after my article on the Diamond Beach in the south :) Both these extraordinary places are not to be missed during a visit to my country.