Aurora Borealis: Capital of the WorldBy Lyn Shaw -
No doubt one of the items on most people’s bucket list is to see the Northern Lights. We decided we weren’t getting any younger and to give it a go. We made a January booking and planned excursions through the very helpful Inga at the Baltic Travel Company. A three hour flight out of Gatwick took us directly to the Aurora Borealis capital of the world – Tromso, Norway.
A private transfer from the airport delivered us straight to our hotel: the Clarion Collection Aurora. Arriving in the evening put us there in time to enjoy a free nightly buffet (a real cost saver in expensive Norway). The Clarion has lift access throughout, a mobility plus, although our standard double room with walk in shower was a little snug. Next morning we awoke to the polar day - no sun but a sparkling kind of twilight. After our complimentary breakfast, we walked up to the High Street, pleasantly surprised to find most footpaths were slightly heated, clearing them of snow. High Street featured nice shops if a tad pricey and mostly outdoor activity related.
Later that evening we were collected by minibus (wheelchair friendly and two grab rails pull up inside) for a pre-booked Northern Lights excursion but by then it was cloudy and starting to snow; the guide said we may not see anything that night. The Aurora can be an elusive “lady” and requires clear starry skies and, for viewing in Tromso, a KP (solar activity rating) of over 2.5. This rating changes by the minute but can be predicted in advance with information published on the “Aurora forecast” website. Unfortunately on our excursion the guide was right, clouds obscured all but we still spent six hours sitting on benches in front of a roaring fire inside a Sami tepee having tea and cakes, chatting with other guests from around the world. One useful thing the guide did provide was comprehensive camera advice on settings for capturing the lights if and when they did appear. Eventually at 1am the minibus took us back to the hotel again, disappointed but not defeated.
Next day we were up bright and early for another prearranged excursion, this time dog sledding with Lyngsfjord Adventures. After an hour’s bus travel to base camp we got kitted up with insulated bodysuits, gloves, hats, and boots. We were instructed on how to use the sled brake (always stood on when going downhill) and how to help the dogs by running and pushing when going uphill. And so we started off with me seated on a reindeer skin and holding on for grim death while 5 huskies seemed determined to veer close to every tree branch and trunk in the vicinity. We went 7 Km each way with a break in the middle. It was relatively easy to transfer on and off the sled. The ride was comfortable but you have to be quite fit to drive. Rather too soon we arrived back at camp where we were served hot reindeer stew (sorry...delicious), then un-kitted and hopped back on the bus for the trip home.
At 8pm the evening sky seemed to be clearing and the KP forecast was a 2.6 rating. We decided to take a walk over the bridge towards the Arctic Cathedral (with handrails but quite slippery, as an alternative you could take a taxi for £10) heading for the park on the left down by the waterside. Here we sat on a park bench watching as more and more stars appeared. At about 9pm my partner noticed a band of grey above our heads – “the milky way?” I suggested. To our great delight gradually this band turned an emerald green.
It was the Northern lights in all their glory, swirling with patterns, shapes and streaks, just a half mile outside of Tromso. We sat there for two hours mesmerised by this free show of light, always changing, completely natural. Our previous night’s guide’s advice on the camera was invaluable as we took copious amounts of stunning photos.
So in summary was it worth it? Definitely—the trip was a once in a lifetime experience I would thoroughly recommend.