Iceland and its Islands
A summer journey around Iceland with visits to offshore islands
Iceland's amazing landscape provides a wonderful backdrop for a natural history holiday. We visit at an excellent time to see the breeding birds, discover the wonderful wild flowers and encounter cetaceans offshore. The vigorous volcanic geology is incredibly interesting and we'll learn about the eruptions which have created and sculpted this dramatic north Atlantic island.
Breeding waders and wildfowl abound and we'll get great views of many different species including Harlequin Duck and Barrow's Goldeneye. We'll see Red-necked Phalaropes, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Slavonian Grebes, Ptarmigan and, with luck, the magnificent Gyr Falcon. Of course it's the seabirds which often steal the show and we shall visit seabird colonies including the world's largest concentration of breeding Puffins on the Westman Islands.
We'll search for cetaceans from the land and hope to see Minke and Humpback whales, White-beaked Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises. Of course, there's always a chance of other species as well. It's also possible that we'll arrange an evening boat trip when we're in Snaefellness for those who want to try to see more whales.
Iceland's wild flowers are at their best and botanists will enjoy seeing species such as northern green and small white orchid, arctic river beauty, various saxifrages and other arctic species.
We shall not ignore Iceland's cultural history and will learn about the first Viking settlers, the parliament they established and the literature they created as we travel around this lovely country.
Our tour starts in southern Iceland and includes a visit to the Westman islands, progressing northwards with a visit to Lake Mývatn and its wildfowl before ending on the magnificent Snaefellsnes peninsula in west Iceland and a visit to the lovely island of Flatey. We'll establish three bases and take relaxing day trips from them - no swapping hotels each day.
Your Tour Leader
Andy Jones began his career in conservation and wildlife in the UK. He was a warden on Skomer Island, a ranger with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the RSPB's senior investigations officer and a Wildlife Trust director. He studied geology and is an enthusiastic bird and whale-watcher. He has been leading wildlife holidays and field trips for 25 years.
Our lunch time flight from London Heathrow to Keflavik arrives in the mid afternoon giving us time to drive to the village of Skálholt, the ancient seat of the Icelandic bishops in the south of the island. If time allows we'll stop along the way for a bit of birdwatching, aiming to arrive at our guesthouse in plenty of time to settle in before having a brief introduction to the holiday followed by dinner.
No visit to Iceland would be complete without a visit to the old Viking parliament at Þingvellir where history, geology, ornithology and botany all come together as we take a leisurely stroll around the area. In the afternoon we'll explore the volcanic landscapes of Þjósádalur, including Stöng and Mount Hekla, Iceland's most active volcano which erupted as recently as 2000. We should see Great Northern Divers, Harlequin Ducks and experience the waders for which Iceland is famous. We return to Skálholt for dinner and overnight.
Today we head down to the coast to take the ferry from Landeyjahöfn to the Westman Islands. Heimaey, the largest and only inhabited island, is home to the world's largest Puffin colony and the bird cliffs are also full of auks and Kittiwakes. Returning to the mainland in the afternoon there will be time to visit some waterfalls and see areas affected by the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 before returning to Skálholt.
It's a travel day today, crossing Iceland's interior towards Eyjafjördur with several stops along the way including the spouting geysers at Geysir and the glacial falls of Gullfoss. We'll have the chance to bathe in a volcanic hotspring at Hveravellir and experience the remote and rugged interior of the island. We'll spend the next three nights at Guesthouse Öngulsstað near Iceland's second city, Akureyri.
A busy day enjoying the wildlife of arguably Iceland's best known bird watching site. Lake Mývatn is home to countless thousands of breeding ducks including Barrow's Goldeneye and we expect great views of this special species. Harlequin Ducks may well be 'surfing' in the nearby rivers as well. The volcanic geology here is amazing and we shall see at first hand the geothermal energy of the area. We'll also spend time looking for Gyr Falcon, Merlin and Short-eared Owl all of which breed in the area. The orchids and other wildflowers which carpet the lakeside are also very special and it's usually mountain avens which draws the most appreciation from visitors at this time of year.
On the menu today is a visit to the island of Hrísey in Eyjafjörður famous for its high density of breeding Ptarmigans. We'll stroll around the island and expect to see our usual wader friends as well as Black-tailed Godwit and Snow Bunting. We often see Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale offshore and there'll doubtless be Black Guillemots as well. Later we'll have time for a quick visit to Akureyri. The botanic gardens are highly regarded not only for the display of native Icelandic flora but also for the good views of the Icelandic race of Common Redpoll that are frequently seen here. We return to our guesthouse for dinner and overnight.
On our second travelling day we'll be crossing northern Iceland where we should see Pink-footed Geese on the northern extremity of their breeding range in Iceland's remote interior. Oysterplant excites the botanists and we'll all be transfixed by the scenery as we make our way towards Snæfellsnes, arguably the most beautiful part of Iceland. We'll be staying at either Hotel Framnes or Hotel Stykkishólmer at Grundarfjör for the last three nights of our holiday.
Often described as Iceland in miniature, the Snæfellsnes peninsula has something for everyone. We visit bird cliffs for Brunnich's Guillemots, sandy shores for waders and wildflowers, rivers for Harlequin Ducks and there's always the chance of a whale or two offshore. We'll travel right around the peninsula, the end of which is dominated by the gorgeous ice cap of Snæfellsjökull, before returning to our hotel.
Our visit to the island of Flatey in Breiðafjörður is often considered a highlight of the trip. As we sail we'll be looking out for White-tailed Eagles and the thousands of seabirds we shall see on the way. The island, as its name suggests, is easy to walk around and we know we'll get great views of waders, Black Guillemots, Puffins and Snow Buntings. We'll also look out for the rare Grey Phalarope on the island before returning to Grundarfjör for the last night.
We head for Reykjavík via the historic settlement of Borgarnes and the magnificent scenery of Hvalfjörður or Whale Fjord with several birdwatching and botanising stops on the way before transferring to the airport at Keflavik for our afternoon return flight.
Please note that this itinerary can be changed without notice at the sole discretion of Island Holidays or their representatives.