Much of Iceland is devoid of vegetation. A hostile climate, frequent volcanic activity but also over-grazing of fragile soils in the past have led to vast tracts of almost totally barren wilderness. The first plant life to take hold after volcanic activity are lichens. Those flowers that do manage to grow in the desert areas are often dwarf or Arctic varieties of plants found in Britain (willow, campion) or others such as saxifrages found in Alpine regions. Akureyri on the north coast is, surprisingly, blessed with a relatively mild climate that allows for a variety of plants in the botanic gardens including the lupins that are now widely used to try and enrich poorer soils with nutrients. In coastal areas farming is possible together with the raising of Icelandic ponies whilst valleys may provide shelter for trees. Because there are so few people in most of the country areas it is often possible to get very close to a great variety of wild birds. Snipe drumming through the night were a common occurrence. Over 2 million pairs of puffins nest on Iceland providing a photographer's paradise. Even great skuas allow you near, though approaching a nest does provoke a reaction! Whaling may be in the past but there are numerous opportunities to go whale-spotting with the best sightings likely off the north coast where the sea is very deep. We were lucky enough to spot five blue whales including a mother and young. To see the photos click here.