13 December 2014

Experiencing the Northern Lights over Tromso, Norway


Gathered around a Norwegian campfire, 350km into the Arctic Circle, huddled from head to toe in exploration overalls and snow boots we had one of those life-affirming moments. Occasions when you really feel alive.

We only had to stare into the clear pinpricks of the Milky Way, spread across the night sky in a haze of primordial luminescence, whilst our tour mates clanked about with torches and cameras attempting to capture the faint Aurora Borealis in rolling hazy streams over our heads. You know, those moments.


The snap crackle and pop of flame licking autumn-dried brushwood, baked by a long windy summer. Sliding hotdogs onto claimed sticks in a barbaric echo of cavemen eons ago, all the while our homemade vegetable soup was shaken vigorously from a thermos, bringing us back to earth with a modern thump.

A shout went up near the end of our temporary campsite, another possible spotting of one of the worlds greatest natural phenomenon; the magnetic effect sunspots have on our Earth's atmosphere, creating surreal plays of light and colour across Scandanavian skies.

The Aurora Borealis.


After hours of fruitless navigating through tumultuous rain clouds and pregnant winds, the only clear window of the evening finally braved our eager eyes. We had travelled for miles, not just that evening but from nations all over the world, hoping, praying for a glimpse of the nebulous Northern Lights.

To the east, a faint green glow began to spread across the sky. Our guides shouting to us in their hungry excitement as the heavens began to shift in a shimmery glaze. There we were, stood in the middle of an Arctic pasture, heads agog, necks protesting, as one of the Earth's greatest spectacles unfolded before us. As the native Saami people phrase it, we witnessed "the fire lit by a bird, the Siberian Jay".

Demure, but incredible nonetheless, we stood amidst the clicking, clanking and whirring of electrical equipment photographing the dancing colour, content to simply appreciate these astonishing moments. Not wishing to be kidnapped by the Lights, we kept our handkerchiefs safely stowed in pockets and whistling to a bare minimum - to avoid spoiling the Norwegians' childhood ghost stories for future generations if nothing else.

Before we knew it, they retired back to their celestial homes. 


We shuffled through the pitch black darkness to a Saami site where trade camps are pitched all summer long, to lay that fire and talk nonsense. No-one really spoke of the Lights, as if it was almost taboo. Our grinning hosts, one a gregarious Glaswegian, the other a no-nonsense Norwegian Mama whose brood seemed to include these ethereal flickerings, broke open a celebratory tin of Shortbread and Jaffa Cakes ("Aurora Jaffa Cakes" I was assured with a theatrical wink) and a wee dram of Whiskey to warm us from the tops of our heads, to the tips of our toes.

And that, that was how we experienced the Northern Lights in Tromso.

33 comments :

  1. I'm so jealous Emma, 3 attempts (froze my boobies off all three times) and I still have't seen those pesky Northern Lights! It's such a fun experience going Aurora Borealis hunting even if you don't see them. Sounds like you had such a brilliant adventure and I'm so happy that you got to see them xx

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  2. I would LOVE to see the Northern Lights - it's on my very long bucket list but at the top!

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  3. I grew up on the Canadian border (Literally the marker for United States on one side and Canada on the other was in my back yard) so I was blessed to see the Northern Lights, it was quite scary at first, having lived on a tropical island before Maine... I had no idea what was happening to the sky!! Absolutely breathtaking though, I'll never forget it! I hope you have a Merry Christmas! Tammy xx

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  4. I've never seen the Northern Lights, although it is on my "Bucket List" I'm loving the look of that campfire as well! x

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  5. Magical post Emma! Had just been reading an article about Australia prior to this that had me crazily craving some summer sunshine but this popped me right back into winter travel mode. Give me a fire, some great storytelling, a drink to warm me up and a new destination anyday xx

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  6. london_unattached14 December 2014 at 21:28

    Lovelly post. I have the Northern Lights still on my wishlist! Respect to you for writing so evocatively

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  7. It is so beautiful - we were honestly lost for words!

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  8. Thanks Jess - it is a stunning phenomena - well worth wrapping up like an eskimo & braving below zero temperatures. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

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  9. We've never sat around such a cheerfully cracking fire!

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  10. Oooh, this is wonderful - what a backyard treat to have (once you knew what it was!!) Merry Christmas to you too Tammy! x

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  11. It is absolutely worthy of first place, no
    question - there is nothing like it!

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  12. They are certainly mischevious but worth it when you do see them!

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  13. A nip of whiskey was a perfect round-off - it heated us from tip to toe!

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  14. Hungry_Healthy_Happy15 December 2014 at 12:14

    I am very jealous. It's something I have always wanted to see!

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  15. Book it in - allegedly this Feb/March is the last few months of a huge peak in the cycle for another 10years or so.

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  16. This has got me totally stoked for our trip to Abisko/Kiruna in February! We have three nights in Sweden and I'm REALLY hoping we can see the lights at least once. But I doubt we'll be disappointed even if we don't - that'll just mean we can plan more trips in the future to try and see them! :)

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  17. So jealous! I am hoping to see them in northern Ontario, but of a slim chance though x

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  18. Happyeverafter_Bride18 December 2014 at 12:17

    I hope in my lifetime I can witness the magic you've described in this blog post. It seems so special, am glad you are sharing with us!

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  19. I saw them on the plane back from Iceland! Was unreal!

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  20. I have my fingers & toes crossed for you - all you need is clear skies, a good distance from city light pollution and a good dose of luck from the Northern Lights gods!

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  21. You never know your luck! Apparently there are Southern Lights as well over the end of NZs soutg island but they are even rarer.

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  22. Ohhhh, that's amazing Sammy - did the pilot notice them & tell you all?

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  23. I still remember the first time I saw the lights. We were living in Alaska. We lived in an apartment building with my husband's teammates, who were all from the lower 48 and had never experienced them either. I remember getting a phone call from a coworker telling me to look out my window. It was rare that they were ever strong enough to see within the light pollution of the city limits, but there they were. The next minutes that followed consisted of me running around the building like a crazy woman, banging on doors and waking guys up to see the lights. A large group of us stood huddled on the balcony of our tiny apartment mesmerized by Mother Nature's creation.

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  24. What a wonderful trip Emma. I have seen glimpses of the lights on a few occasions but only one full-on experience, with the whole sky dancing with light. That was in Orkney - very special. So glad you got to experience another of our natural wonders. x

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  25. Sounds amazing! Did you organise yourself or book through a tour? I would love to do this...
    Claire xx

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  26. Which company did you use Emma? Would you recommend them? Thanks:)

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  27. We went with the slightly off-beat but rather awesome Marianne.

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  28. We booked through a tour company - the thought of driving in Norwegian snow terrified my-inexperienced-driving self!

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  29. It's wonderful that you were able to experience them in Orkney though - what a doorstep (sorta) experience!

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