Gullfoss («Golden Falls») is a popular tourist attraction and together with Þingvellir and the geysers of Haukadalur (which will be featured in my next post in the Iceland much? series), Gullfoss forms part of the «Golden Circle», a popular day excursion for tourists in Iceland.
Gullfoss is a waterfall in the river Hvítá (“white river”), which has its origin from the glacier lake Hvítávatn (“white river lake”) by Lángjökull glacier (second largest glacier in Iceland) about 40km north of Gullfoss. Now why would anyone name a fall in a white river “Golden” anything? Here’s a bit of Trivia for ya: Melting water from glaciers carries with it sediments and minerals from the ground it has been grinding on for years, and on a sunny day the brownish water in the waterfall appears to be truly golden.
They don’t call Iceland “the Saga Island” for nothing, and of course there is a myth connected to Gullfoss, we would expect nothing less:
Gudur, a farmer nearby the Gullfoss, was extremely stingy, and could not bear the thought of anyone getting hands on his money after his death. So he took all his money and valuables, put them in a box, and threw it into the falls. And that is what makes the falls golden.
I will leave it up to you to decide which explanation sounds more accurate.
When you approach the falls it appears that the river vanishes underground. In reality the crevice the water falls into runs perpendicular to the falls above, and it is totally awesome! In fact so awesome that I wonder who in their right mind could take one look at this fabulous place and see money?
An Englishman named Howells, that’s who! He leased the waterfalls in the early 20th century with the purpose of harnessing the falls to produce electricity. The owner’s daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, sought to have the lease voided and tried to stop Howells’ plan. She used her own savings to pay for lawyers in a trial that lasted for years. She even walked barefoot on bleeding feet to Reykjavik to follow up on her case. She also threatened to throw herself down the waterfalls if construction were to commence.
Sigriður lost the case in court, but before construction began, the contract was disposed due to the lack of payment of the lease. Sigriður’s fight brought people’s attention towards the importance of preserving nature, and she is recognized as Iceland’s first environmentalist. (And there is a much deserved plaque of Sigriður by the falls)
Next post will also be about water – boiling hot water in the Geysirs. Check back on Thursday!