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The Aurora Borealis Travel Guide : Sighting the Northern Lights

Witnessing the Northern Lights remains a popular life-goal, but is it worth the hype?

Witnessing the Northern Lights remains a popular life-goal, but is it worth the hype? sent luxury travel writer Mark Southern along to find out.

The Arctic Circle, it turns out, is chilly.  Actually, it should probably be pointed out that the Arctic Circle is really very cold indeed.

I first discover this upon landing in Tromso in northern Norway when the icy wind whips into you immediately after taking one step off the plane.

I’m here to (hopefully) set my eyes upon one of the world’s most incredible natural phenomena, the Northern Lights – the strange occurrence when the electrically-charged particles collide over the Earth’s magnetic poles, and create glorious colours in the sky.

I say ‘hopefully’ as it can be hit and miss if you’re lucky enough to be there when the Lights come out and, knowing my luck, I feel sorry for the others on the trip that they unwittingly chose to come on the same trip as me.

The tour is being arranged by the excellent adventure travel company, Transun, and they meet me plus the thirty or so other Light-seekers, and transfer us across the Swedish border to Kiruna, passing the frozen fjords en-route.

We arrive at the only hotel in the small town, the Davvi Arctic Lodge – a modern split-level place, with comfortable rooms and a sociable communal bar – where we’re given our very own thermal snow-suits and boots, and then it’s the first trek up the hill to see the Lights.

The first thing you notice whilst being in the wilderness of the Arctic Circle is the quiet.  Absolute silence fills the frozen air, whilst the two foot carpet of soft, spongy snow surrounds you flattening the landscape in every direction.

But it’s not the ground we’re now looking at, with everyone staring upwards at the sky, hoping to see something, anything, that resembles the famous Aurora Borealis.

However, what these poor people hadn’t taken into account was that I was also there acting as the bad-luck charm, and the sky stayed still.

Canadian Northern Lights. Image copyright: Dyet
Canadian Northern Lights. Image copyright: Dyet

The following day, when the light returned to the small Swedish village, it was to the SUVs and to a nearby reindeer camp.

The Sami tribes still use reindeer on a daily basis for both food and clothing, and also for getting around, and we learn how to ride a reindeer, plus how to lasso a passing animal.  Useful stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The afternoon is snowmobiling, and it’s just about the most fun you can have in a remote village in Lapland.  We set off on snow safari in convoy, as the tour leaders guide us around the barren landscape, stopping here and there for a breather.  The snowmobiles reach speeds of 30mph, and the sensation of the cold across your face is wonderful.

Then, it’s back to the lodge for dinner and to prepare for the second of our Northern Lights hunts.

As the darkness begins to envelope the night sky, it’s into our thermal suits and out into the cold again.  This time we lie back on the comfy mattress of snow and stare upwards, willing something to happen.  But, of course, thanks to me, nothing does.

The following day we set out to learn to dog-sled, with the help of half a dozen husky dogs each.  Sitting on the sled with the dogs leading the way is remarkable, and really helps to accentuate the difference between ‘normal’ life in London, and this unique experience.

But, as incredible as the huskies were, we didn’t come all this way for that, and there’s only one thing on everyone’s minds as we once again climb into the thermal suits for the final night.

This time, however, we’re taking the snowmobiles out on our search, and the convoy of machines glides along the white surface like a shining snake of headlights, burning into the blackness.

We stop in the middle of an ice plain, and look hopefully upwards, but still nothing.  We repeat this at the next stop, and still my bad luck ruins the experience for everyone else.

Main image above copyright: s.