Bucket List: A list of all the things you want to try, goals you want to achieve and life experiences you want to have before you die.
As long as I can remember, viewing the Northern Lights has been at the top of my ‘extensive’ bucket list.
I can’t think of many experiences I’ve had that have been more magical than watching the Northern Lights dance above me. They’re definitely worth the time and expense spared and let’s not forget the cold!
Well, at least once in a lifetime!
There are many countries you could view the Aurora Borealis, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Canada and U.S.A.
My initial plan was to view them from Finland, the glass igloos at Kakkslautten seemed like a fabulous experience but, once you start taking in to account; accessibility, food, accommodation, weather and the possibility of viewing Aurora.
I chose Norway- Tromso;
- You can fly directly from most cities in Europe.
- The food, was great, the only reindeer sausage we saw was at the airport 🙂 There is an abundance of fresh seafood, delicious pizza and good coffee.
- Accomodation in most of Norway is very basic, we stayed at “Clarion The Edge Hotel” a 4 star (there are no 5 star hotels) the best accommodation option. The rooms were clean, we had all the necessary amenities, and frankly, we were just here for the lights.
- You need dark skies, if its really cloudy or snowing, it might be difficult to view Aurora. So bottom-line, you don’t need to freeze doing it ;). Autumn in Tromso is a great option, mild weather, the day temp was around 4°C and night was 2°C. The tour company provided snowsuits, which was great. In winter the temp. drops to -4°C, brrrrr with snow!
- There are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights, but your chances are greater here, situated in the centre of the ‘Norther Lights Oval’ and the far North. Book a Northern Lights Tour and you won’t have to worry about the chasing, the tour guide will do everything for you.
2 nights in Tromso
Honestly, there isn’t much to do in Tromso town, however, there are day trips; you could take a Fjord cruise, whale watching tour or do the reindeer sledding activity. 3 nights in Tromso would be better, you would have an increased chance of viewing the lights. The tour companies won’t take you out in bad weather, the night before we arrived the tour was cancelled due to rain. The weather wasn’t ideal the night we headed out in search of the lights, but the guide did his research and drove us an hour out of the city to a Fjord where there was a patch of clear sky.
This is what we came for!
Once again, I looked for a small group tour or private tour. The private options were too costly. In retrospect, I’m glad we went with the small group, you need as many eyes as you can get searching the skies.
We departed at 6.30pm (sunset), Jeff (our guide) drove us an hour out of Tromsø to a location with clear skies.
Snow suits were provided, which I used initially, but then realized they don’t look so good on the photos , so I ditched mine.
I spotted the first sign around 7.30pm, very faint, but you could see it.
We waited for the night to darken, at 8 pm the next light appeared.
The lights appear gray to the naked eye, like smoke. For the next hour they jumped across the sky.
Sometimes the lights had a hint of color, as she danced we witnessed a display of green and purple, not nearly as intense as displayed on the camera LCD.
At about 9.30pm the show ended and Jeff set up camp for the evening, we sat around the fire drinking Vegan soup, Rooibos tea and eating Hannah’s date and cardamom treats (they are about the vegan life ), he answered all our Aurora Borealis questions while we gazed at the sky waiting for her to appear again. At around 11pm, she appeared briefly, we were satisfied and decided to head back to Tromsø.
Much like an African safari, viewing the Northern lights can be addictive. We were so tempted to head out the next night. However the tours were cancelled due to cloudy skies.
Instagram vs Reality!
I always imagined I’d witness the sky illuminated in shades of blue and green. However this is not the case; you cannot see the colors of the aurora with the naked eye, at least not as well as displayed on a digital camera.
The human eyes can’t see the colors of the aurora at night. Human eyes have cones and rods — the cones work during the day and the rods work at night. Rod cells, concentrated in the periphery around the outside of the fovea, can detect much fainter light at night, but only see in black and white and shades of gray. [Aurora] only appear to us in shades of gray because the light is too faint to be sensed by our color-detecting cone cells.”
*www.space.com (best to explain it)
The human eye views the Northern Lights in faint colors and shades of gray and white. DSLR camera sensors don’t have that limitation. With long exposure times and high ISO settings, cameras have a much better range of vision in the dark than people do.
You’ll see the Aurora, it just won’t be as vivid.
I’ve conducted a fair deal of research on Aurora, at 7.30pm, I immediately recognised her , she appeared like a grey smoke streak. Jeff confirmed the sighting with his camera. he snapped away and got us all to pose just in case she didn’t appear again.
From the photo below, you can see that a dark sky is essential, this taken at 7.30pm..
Best time to go?
In the polar latitudes, auroras can appear on any dark night. Long winter nights are good but not necessarily the best time, due to snow (which results in cloud cover). Near the equinoxes are the best time to see them, in March and September, the Earth’s magnetic field allows more solar particles to interact with the atmosphere, creating the Aurora displays we see. I visited near the Autumnal equinox which occurs towards the end of September. Our Kp- index was around 5 (because of the equinox), which is high, resulting in great Aurora activity.
Kp-index describes the disturbance of the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar wind. In a nutshell you need solar activity for a glorious display.
This info was foreign to me, prior to 2018!
Where to stay;
Clarion The Edge Hotel
Both these hotel are a short walk to the tour operators collection point.
Where to eat;
Riso Mat Coffee Bar
What to do;
Northern lights chase, I would recommend, Northern Soul Adventures
Take the Fjellheisen cable car up to the Storsteinen mountain ledge and take in panoramic views of Tromso.