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In the depths of the Arctic winter therugged Snaefellsnes Peninsula becomesthe stage for two of the natural world'smost spectacular performances. Over recentwinters large shoals of Herring have beengathering in sheltered fjords off thepeninsula's northern coastline. WhilstHerring are the favoured prey of manyspecies, by far their most formidablenemesis is the ocean's top predator, theKiller Whale or 'Orca'. Pods of Orca are nowbeing seen regularly in the Grundafjord area,feasting on the fish there between themonths of January and March. This timing ofthe Orcas is very fortuitous, for the wintermonths are also the best time to stepoutside after dark and look skyward in thehope of witnessing nature's mostbreathtaking light show, the Aurora Borealisor Northern Lights. Although most peopletend to head south in the winter, we hopethat the potential for both Killer Whales andNorthern Lights - set against some ofEurope's most dramatic landscapes - willtempt you to journey north instead and joinNaturetrek on this unusual, but exciting,short winter break. We begin our holiday with a short flight toKeflavik, Iceland's international gatewaywhere we spend our first night at thespectacularly positioned Northern Lights Inn.The following morning we drive north foraround three hours to the dramaticSnaefellsnes Peninsula and our next base inthe small attractive town of Stykkishólmur.Incidentally, the tip of the SnaefellsnesPeninsula is dominated by the wide glacial-capped slopes of the SnaefellsjokullVolcano, the entry point for the explorers inthe famous Jules Verne novel 'Journey to theCentre of the Earth'! As the road threads itsway through the wild and empty landscapeof west Iceland we will not only admire thescenery, but also keep an eye open for oneor two birds such as a lingering WhooperSwan or a party of wintering Snow Buntings.Although it is very possible to see Orcasfrom the shoreline, on two days we will wrapup warm against the Arctic chill and headout onto the waters of Grundafjordur for acloser look. The whale watches typically lastfor around one and a half to two hours, andduring this time the captain of our vessel willemploy his wealth of knowledge of the area,and the movement of the whales, to ensurethe very best chance of an encounter withthis sleek and powerful predator. Oncelocated, the whales themselves may beindifferent to our presence, or perhapsinquisitive depending on what otherdiversions they have. If we are fortunate, thepassing shoal of Herring may stimulate ademonstration of their impressive huntingprowess, sleek black and white bodiesbreaking the surface as these consummatepredators power after their hapless prey. It isa rare privilege indeed to watch these oceanwanderers at such close quarters amidwonderful scenery, but they are not the onlyinhabitants of this spectacular coast. Podsof White-beaked Dolphins are frequentlyseen speeding past, occasionally pausing toplay in the wake of the vessel. Flocks ofseabirds including Gannets, Kittiwakes andFulmars prey on the Herring from above,while the Orcas eat their fill from below.Other birds to look out for include BlackGuillemot, Common Guillemot, CommonEider, Red-throated and Great NorthernDivers and the occasional group ofHarlequin Ducks - all risking life and limb inthe shoreline surf.There will certainly be plenty to entertain usduring the hours of daylight, but once theweak Arctic sun drops below the horizon wewill turn our attention skyward for the secondof this region's winter attractions, theNorthern Lights. Whilst we will be wellplaced for the light show, only 'mothernature' will decide whether or not a displaywill take place, with such factors as cloudcover and solar activity being out ofNaturetrek's control! We hope, however, thatboth will work in our favour and that we willend our short holiday in Iceland mesmerisedby dancing curtains of green and red lightover a landscape of snowy mountains anddark fjords. Indeed, with 2013 marking theheight of the 'solar maximum' (the mostactive part of the sun's 11-year cycle) thereis no better time to go in search of thisspectacular natural light display!All too soon, however, it will be time for us toleave the dramatic landscapes of theSnaefellsnes Peninsula and return home, butthe Orcas will continue to enjoy the harvestof Herring for a few more weeks before,once again, both hunters and prey slip awayinto the vastness of the open ocean. 80Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Keflavik and transferto Northern Lights Inn.Day 2/4Orca and NorthernLights watching fromStykkishólmur.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotel in Stykkishólmur.All rooms have private facilities.FoodAll included, except for lunches onDays 1 and 4.GradingGrade A. Easy short walks only.FocusKiller Whales, Northern Lights,birds and landscapes.LeaderMalcolm Stott.Single room supplement£125.Web quick search: ISL04Iceland - Killer Whales & Northern Lights A 5-day winter break to west Iceland's Snaefellsnes Peninsula in search of Killer Whales, wintering birds and the breathtaking Northern Lights.Sunday 3rd February - Thursday 7th February Cost: £1,295Monday 18th February - Friday 22nd February Cost: £1,295KEFLAVIKICELANDSTYKKISHÓLMURGRUNDAFJÖRDURSNAEFELLSNESPENINSULAOrcaNorthern LightsNorthern Lights

During the height of the Arctic summerthe dramatic volcanic island ofIceland is bathed in 24-hour daylight.As the summer sun sinks lower in the sky,however, and winter's icy grip graduallytakes hold, the nights lengthen and heavensdarken to reveal one of the natural world'sgreatest spectacles, the ethereal flickeringsof the Aurora Borealis, or 'Northern Lights'.The Aurora has been a source of wonderand mystery for thousands of years and,although we now understand the sciencebehind the spectacle, these mesmerising,other worldly lights still transfix all thatwitness them to this day. To enjoy the Northern Lights at their best wemust head north and position ourselvesbeneath the Auroral Oval, a 'doughnut-shaped' expanse of atmosphere that sitsover the Earth's magnetic north pole. Thisoval expands or contracts with the intensityof the solar wind, the stream of hot plasmaejected from the sun reacting with gasmolecules in the upper atmosphere tocreate the light display itself. When solarwind activity is high, the Lights often takethe form of dancing curtains which evolveand change continuously, each curtainconsisting of many parallel rays lined upwith the direction of the magnetic field. Atother times it may take the form of a slowlypulsing green, blue or red glow in the sky.To stand the best chance of witnessing thevery best of auroral displays we havecarefully timed this holiday to coincide witha new moon, to minimise light pollution,and, since the activity is generally higheraround the equinoxes, to run our final threetours in the early Arctic spring. In addition,we have based our tour in northern Iceland,not only because it lies further under theAuroral Oval, but because the weather istypically drier than in the south. Since thereis also plenty of daylight at this time of year,we will spend our diurnal hours exploringthe dramatic landscapes of northernIceland, enjoying the winter birdlife andgeothermal features of this geologicallyactive island. We begin our tour with a flight to Keflavikand one night at the Northern Lights Innwhich is located close to the famous 'BlueLagoon' geothermal pools and surroundedby rugged lava fields. The following morningwe take the short flight to Akureyri and driveeast to the beautifully positioned HotelM´yvatn which will be our base for the nextthree nights of the tour. Our hotel overlooksLake M´yvatn - far away from thedistracting lights of towns - and offers awonderfully open panorama from which toenjoy the Northern Lights. It is also on theflight path of one of the local Gyr Falcons!We will return here each evening to gazeupwards to the heavens in the hope that theskies will be clear and the Aurora on show.The Northern Lights can be active at anytime after dark, but activity tends to peakaround midnight. We can therefore expectlate nights on this tour, but no compulsoryearly mornings! During the daylight hours we will focus ourattention on the scenic delights of northIceland and the limited wildlife on offer atthis time of year. Lake Mývatn (one ofIceland's foremost birdwatching spots in thespring) is likely to be mostly frozen inFebruary and March, but there will be areasof open water. Here we will be looking outfor such ducks as Barrow's Goldeneye, andperhaps a few wintering Whooper Swans orgeese. Snow Buntings are often recordedaround the lake shores, whilst a little furtherinland Ptarmigan are common. The winterlandscape here is spectacular and we willstop frequently to take short walks and toadmire the cinder cone of Hverfjall, thePsuedo-craters and the peculiar lavaformations at Dimmuborgír. Iceland sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge andis geologically active. One of the mostaccessible pockets of geothermal activity isfound at Námafjall and Krafla, a short distancefrom Mývatn. Here boiling mud pools andsteaming fumeroles create an alien landscapeof yellow sulphur deposits and swirling cloudsof steam. These are in turn surrounded byvast black rocky lava fields, some of whicherupted as recently as the 1980s. We will alsoventure north to the coast at Husavik insearch of birds such as Glaucous Gull,Iceland Gull and wintering sea-duck, includingthe beautiful Harlequin Duck.Whilst we have done our very best to ensurethat this tour is located and timed to givethe best chance of witnessing the NorthernLights, ultimately only 'mother nature' willdecide whether or not the show will takeplace. Aurora or not, a journey around northIceland during this season has much tooffer and we are sure to return hometransfixed, not only by the nocturnal lightdisplays but also by the spectacularlandscapes, wildlife and hospitality of thisunique, and far-flung, corner of Europe.Iceland - Gyr Falcons &the Northern Lights A 5-day holiday to northern Iceland timed to offer the very best chance of enjoying the Northern Lights, as well as Iceland's winter wildlife and spectacular landscapes. Friday 8th February - Tuesday 12th February Cost: £1,395Tuesday 12th February - Saturday 16th February Cost: £1,395Wednesday 6th March - Sunday 10th March Cost: £1,395Sunday 10th March - Thursday 14th March Cost: £1,395Friday 15th March - Tuesday 19th March Cost: £1,395Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking Information´´´ISAFJÖRDURKEFLAVIKTPINGVELLIRREYKJAVIKBLANDAHVITATHJORSÀLAGARFLIOTJÖKULSÀHUSAVIKAKUREYRIHUNAVELLIRMYVATNKRAFLAICELANDVATNA JÖKULL(ICE)SNAEFELLSNESPENINSULAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Keflavik andovernight.Day 2Fly Akureyri and transferMývatn.Day 3/4Excursions from Mývatn.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationFor the first night we stay at theNorthern Lights Inn near Keflavikand then transfer to the HotelMývatn for three nights whichcommands a beautiful positionoverlooking Lake Mývatn. All roomshave private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy to moderate day walks. FocusBirds, Northern Lights and geology.LeaderMalcolm Stott.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: ISL0281Northern Lights, IcelandGyr Falcon