Chasing Northern Lights aka Aurora Borealis
Seeing the northern lights was a dream since a long time. But it seemed so far fetched to me that over the years I stopped yearning to pursue it. But thanks to social media, it reignited the fire in me to go for it, and then there was no stopping. We had taken a “Chasing Northern Lights Tour” from All About Lapland. Our guide Alex, gave us an experience of a life time. Here it goes.
Gearing up for the tour:
Alex came at our hostel located in Rovaniemi City Center. After introducing himself, he gave us information about Northern Lights, reasons why they appear and science behind it. He also gave us a very detailed explanation of how he studies the prediction of northern lights. One of the primary reasons for northern lights phenomena is the solar wind. Since there was some high solar activity that had happened earlier in the day, Alex said that, as per his experience and observations, there was quite good chance of viewing the auroras tonight. He also mentioned that these are predictions and not certainty as a lot of factors are responsible for clear viewing of these lights. A sudden blanket of clouds can hamper the viewing even if the northern lights are present. Hence he took everyone’s opinion if they are fine to go ahead with the tour tonight. All were excited for it since a long time and hence very eager to go ahead with the tour.
Dressing up for the tour:
In order to view the northern lights clearly, it is essential to go away from the city lights as they create an hindrance due to there reflection. Going away from the city will take you in the wilderness. A typical Finland landscape is an endless stretch of forests with lakes in between along with small farms and towns. Hence the temperature drop is quite significant when we move away from the city and enter the wilderness. To help us sustain to this extreme weather, Alex provided us with space suits, snow boots and mittens. To walk in the pitch dark nature, he also provided a head torch. We all dressed up in this attire in the cafe itself – all set to go with high anticipation, for the long awaited moment.
Starting the Chase:
We hopped into Alex’s van, dressed up as if we were about to go on the moon. On our way, Alex gave us more information as well as showed a lot of stuff on his iPad. Our first attempt for chasing the northern lights was through a place called Sinetta, about 25 km from Rovaniemi. The sky was cloudy in Rovaniemi, but as per his prediction, there would be clear skies in Sinetta. It took us about 40-45 min to reach Sinetta. We were so excited, that even a car headlight reflection up in the sky would make us feel as if it is the auroras.
Viewing Northern Lights:
- First Attempt: We drove a few places around Sinetta in an attempt to find clear skies. Finally Alex could find a patch of clear sky and we hopped out of the vans. The weather was chilly and piercing. Alex showed us a very faint green coloured strand of northern light. Even though it was not as strong and bright as we had expected it to be, it was still our very first spotting of northern lights and hence thrilling. Alex set up his camera and took individual photos of all of us with northern lights in the background.
- Second Attempt: After having the first glimpse of the auroras, we hopped into the vans again and set out for the chase again. Alex took us some few kilometers inside around some frozen lake. It was pitch dark. We hopped out of the vans, walked on the frozen lake, digging through thick layer of snow. We came across an open stretch of snow land which was our base for the next sighting. Alex gave us some hot tea in a traditional Finnish wooden cup. It helped us to warm up slightly against the piercing cold. It was -26 degree Celsius and it was tough. Only thing which helped us beat the cold was the excitement and anticipation to see the auroras. Out feet were going numb and Alex recommended us to not stand still and keep jumping or walking or doing some activity. After some time, we again saw some activity in the sky. This time, it was light green along with light pink and the movement was fast and they appeared as if they were dancing in the sky. Our second attempt was better than the first one. Alex again took some of our photographs and also recorded a video of all of us sharing our experience of viewing the northern lights. Even though viewing the northern lights was overall a phenomenal experience, I must still guard you that the photos are more dramatic than what we see through the naked eyes. Hence if anyone planning to go in future, I would request to not go with preconceived notion of how they would appear in reality. Else it might be disappointing. I would recommend to go with an open mind to enjoy the journey of chasing than just viewing the auroras.
BBQ by bonfire on the frozen lake:
After our second attempt, Alex gave us another experience of a lifetime. We lit up a small bonfire near the frozen lake. By this time we were freezing and the bonfire brought some comfort. We all surrounded the bonfire and chitchatted for a while. We enjoyed another round of tea. Alex told us that his wife is a chef and she had made sandwiches and cookies which she had named as Aurora cookies, for all of us. Since two of us in the group were vegetarian, we also got a share of very delicious vegan sandwiches made from traditional Finnish bread. Later, we had barbecue party. For non-vegetarians, Alex grilled pork and beef and for vegetarians it was zucchini. Even grilled zucchini was delicious. I mean it. Even though the ambience and the vibe was thrilling and one-of-a-kind and even though it felt as if the night should not end, the climate reminded us of reality over our fantasy. As they say, all good things must come to an end and so did our tour. We climbed into the van. This time it took quite some time for our frozen feet to come back to normal. We reached our hostel at about 1.30 AM in the morning with fond memories and experiences of a life time.