Don't chase the Northern Lights - Let them come to you!
Apprx. Reading Time: 6 minutes
Transparent igloos, complete with furry bedding and pristine skies beckon - but they shouldn't, not if you want to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights on a budget!
And that is what I intended to do.
But as I mentioned in one of my last articles, Scandinavia is infamous for being expensive and with every passing day it seemed impossible to chase the Northern Lights on a budget.
I had got my hands on a return ticket to Oslo for £30, courtesy Ryanair. But getting to Oslo wasn't going to reward me with a show. Air tickets are the most expensive bit when it comes to planning a journey, but in this case, they turned out to be the cheapest!
If you want to increase your chances to see the Northern Lights you have to ensure it's winter, you're in a location with almost no city lights, it has to be a clear sky...it is quite a list!
And so my search started - I was determined to plan my trip within a budget as I was sure minor expenses would add up. Also, a budget trip in Norway is pretty much equivalent to a lavish one in some of the Asian countries, so you can imagine what a lavish trip would be like!
I found out the following if I were to stay in Tromsø:
- A budget meal for 2 costs £70 on average in a restaurant
- Lodging costs £80 per night in a mid-range BnB/Hotel
- A Northern Lights chase costs £100 per person
- Any additional activity be it Dog-sledding or Snow shoe walks cost anything between £70-£100 per person.
If you want to cut down on costs, you can skip the activities, but if the lights don't show up, it's a very cold journey! As the lights are so unpredictable, almost everyone suggests you take part in some activity in the day - and it's worth it!
I continued hunting for good lodging options, there was one in Kvaløya, but it had the following clause:
'There are no grocery stores where the Lodge is located. If you need transportation from the airport, and might need to stop to collect groceries, you need to do so within 30 minutes. Every additional 5 minutes would be charged extra!'
And although the prospect seemed exciting, I couldn't risk missing out essentials as Google Maps stated the place existed in the middle of nowhere [which was superb keeping in mind the lights]...so hopping to a grocery store was out of the question.
After about 2 weeks, I found Arctic Panorama Lodge. They had an offer going on and I could not believe my luck! The cost included accommodation for 3 nights, all meals and transportation to Tromsø. The only catch: The lodge was located on the island of Uløya, located between the Fjords! 3 hours away from Tromsø, away from civilization.
So off to Uløya it was!
The Third Night
After a journey of almost 12 hours which included all forms of transportation: Air, road and ferry, we finally landed at Uløya. We had been in Norway within the Arctic Circle for 3 nights with no sign of the lights. When it started getting dark, I headed off to ask Svein [the owner] as to when we would be off to chase the lights. His answer shocked me:
"But you said we could see the lights!"
"Yes, I did. You can chase them too if you wish. All you need to do is run outside!"
"So, we don't need to get dressed and drive off somewhere?"
"No! Just grab a beer or some coffee. And you can sit on the patio and wait till they arrive!. Grab a Reindeer skin to sit on if you wish, or you could wear a snow suit. You could even spend time on Facebook till they appear!"
"But don't we need to search for clear skies if it's cloudy here?"
"If the lights don't appear here, they won't been seen anywhere for miles! Including Tromsø!"
That's when I knew I'd landed the best deal I could out there! There were hills behind us and a still lake in the front, a picture perfect postcard all ready and set. All I needed to do was wait patiently, pray, drink some beer and stay warm.
The reason why you would see the lights here is because of the almost 'zero' light pollution. Other than a lamp post some miles away and the light from the lodge, there was no light on the island. Did I mention the island had only 17 inhabitants on one end?
After uninstalling many apps, we'd finally found one we love - Aurora Forecast. It said 'Try'. So 'Try' we did, between hopping for refills of Beer and listening to Sami tales from Aud. But the Aurora, being a tricky lady never made an appearance. It wasn't very tedious though to get inside and get to bed!
The Fourth Night
The next day a storm was predicted. The app stated that there was activity but it would be masked by clouds. Which plummeted my hopes down further, but I realised ....after the storm comes the calm! So keeping my hopes high and offering a short prayer again, we proceeded to have dinner [Nordic roe soup and roast]. Aud enthralled us with Sami tales once again, while we waited for the storm to pass...
As soon as I saw the first star twinkling outside I quickly excused myself and headed out.
It was cloudy and it was a full moon day. Not ideal conditions, but I still had my hopes high. We proceeded to set the camera up and get the settings right. We'd bought spare batteries as we'd read that because of the cold the battery tends to drain out faster.
Tip: Always carry a tiny flashlight too!
While some of the others headed in after an hour, I continued to stroll outside almost numb. That's when the clouds started glowing. They seemed like grey clouds about to pour, but with a green tinge. I ran inside and asked Svein to confirm. He ran to put the lights of the lodge off and said that it was finally happening!
Like Svein had predicted, they came from the East, trails of wisps lazily floating across the sky. The continued in the direction of the mountain and made the lake glow eerily as well.
The big show
They continued making patterns in the air for a good hour and I was pleased that I'd at least seen something! That's when the colours started to change. We could see purple! The activity was definitely getting stronger and I couldn't contain my excitement. I kept yelling 'Ooooo' 'Ooooo' and twisting and turning my head in every direction as the lights made a straight appearance from the mountain and then started to twist and turn.
And then they got stronger and made a vortex, almost like tendrils and started reaching down. It seemed like I could almost touch them if I wanted to. That's when I went dead silent and savoured the moment. Magic was happening right there! Even in all the exhilaration I couldn't stop saying a short prayer.
I've heard people visiting the Nordic countries 2/3 times yet never chancing upon them. Yet here I was, on my first visit and the lights were dancing for me!Curving, bending in hues of fluorescent green, purple and pink.
The lights continued to make intricate patters and I was straining my neck to see all the activity. They seemed to circle us, encompass us. They seemed to be parting the clouds.
Svein informed us that it's rare for them to be so bright at the very end of March.
The lights continued to dance for almost 3 hours, till 2 am.
We'd hop in, get a coffee and head out to see them again. They had stopped twirling but the sky was full of them.
When we finally headed inside at 4 am, we could still the night lit up through the window, although the lights were starting to dim.
The final trails
It was our last day in Norway. The weather was beautiful and the sun was shining. I was sure the lights would shine brighter tonight. After having an early dinner we stepped out. About 11 PM the trails started to appear again. Sometimes they would turn like ribbons but it was definitely dim.
I would head into the lavvu every few minutes to keep warm. I hoped they would dance again but they seemed to be content just making an appearance.
Goes to prove that you could have a clear sky yet the activity could be almost nil!
I finally called it a night at 2 am to catch up on sleep.
It was a memory I was gonna cherish forever.
After all, It's not everywhere you can step out and watch the Northern Lights do their magic. You might have to chase them but I didn't!
PIN FOR LATER!
To catch the Northern Lights in Norway
- I stayed at the Arctic Panorama Lodge. I got a really good deal since it was almost Spring. It was sheer luck that I saw the lights!
- The Arctic Panorama Lodge is a great option if you want to chase the lights but cannot manage to spend apprx. £100 per night. Like I've mentioned you don't need to run after the lights, you only have to pay for lodging.
- Meals and transportation are included in each booking.
- For photography:
- Ensure you carry additional batteries
- You will also need a sturdy tripod
- Also carry a small torchlight as it will help to configure the settings on the camera in the dark
- The lights cannot be captured on a phone. You need a DSLR.
- Also invest in a remote shutter release to click pictures as the smallest movement blurs the images as the images need exposure of at least 20 seconds
- Although a lot of tours provide snow suits, ensure you wear lots of thermal clothing
- There are many apps that will predict magnetic activity and your probability of seeing the lights. Aurora Forecast is one of the best!
- November, February and March are the best months but the Northern Lights are visible throughout winter
- Although I didn't need to opt for a chase, Guide Gunnar has some of the best chase tours in Tromsø
- If you're not interested in heading off to Tromsø, the next location in Norway that has amazing activity is Alta.
- The island of Uløya also has one of the rarest ski slopes in the world, where the hill slope almost touches the sea, in addition to many activities that are held here that include Snow Mobile drives and Snow-shoe walks. More reasons to visit!I will be adding more articles that will give much more insight into planning a successful trip and putting my complete itinerary up as well! Stay tuned! :)
One of my other articles describing the lights was published in a leading Indian Newspaper. You can read it here!
Which is the country at the top of your list to see the Northern Lights?
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