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The elusive, otherworldly glow of the Northern Lights is described by some as the greatest light show on earth. Visible above 65 degrees north, the Northern Lights are on many travellers’ bucket lists – and the snowy wilds of Europe are an excellent viewing spot.
Iceland and Norway are firm favourites, where it’s possible to see the heavens ablaze with swirling, smoky light from late September to early April, but as customer Nikki Magrath found out, with nature there are no guarantees…
“Seeing the lights for the first time was a wonderfully strange feeling,” says Nikki Magrath, who travelled with her husband Duncan to Norway in March 2017. “It was the last night of our trip, when they crept over the mountaintop. We rushed outside, and this wonderful billowing smoke effect played in the sky for hours.”
The mesmerising lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are formed from fast-moving, electrically charged solar particles driven towards the Poles by the earth’s magnetic field.
When they collide with atmospheric gases they create colourful curtains of light, like nocturnal rainbows, that seem to dance in the night sky. “This was all explained at the Space Centre on the first day of our trip,” says Nikki.
“It was a great place to start our journey as we were all assigned a role in a simulated space experience, which was a great laugh and a good ice breaker.”
But guests are by no means guaranteed to see the lights. “Because there was so much cloud cover they didn’t appear until our last night,” remembers Nikki. “We anxiously watched the local weather forecast all week, and even woke up in the middle of the night just to check. By the end of the holiday we’d resigned ourselves to not seeing them, saying to each other, ‘Fab holiday – shame about the lights.’”
Luckily the lights are just one of many thrills on a holiday to the Arctic. Cool cities, sparkling white landscapes, fairytale hotels, husky-sled rides and the possibility of getting acquainted with the locals are all inspiring reasons to go.
“We wouldn’t have been that disappointed if we hadn’t seen them,” Nikki says. “Because there was just so much else to do. We went ice-fishing on a lake, and cooked what we caught on an open fire.
We had a visit to a reindeer farm to meet Sami farmers, and learn about their traditions. It was fascinating meeting the locals, and seeing how Exodus is able to support these remote communities.”
“Nigel and Ingvild – our hosts and guide – were fantastic. Nigel drove us everywhere, stopping frequently for lovely views and wildlife spotting – if someone saw a moose or spotted an eagle, he’d just pill over. And Ingvild made the most stunning food. We ate cod, char and moose pie, with a special gluten-free option for me.
The weather and landscape was very dramatic, with dark purple skies, white mountaintops and outcrops of black against the snow. Here and there the vista was studded with colourful buildings, blue frozen lakes, and the sea.
We even had a picnic at the beach one day, a surreal event in all your ski gear! But Nigel had a big flask of hot chocolate to keep us warm.”
“But nothing will ever beat the moment when the lights came out to play. We’d just finished a delicious dinner of venison cooked on an open fire in front of us, and were snuggled up in the Lavvo (a traditional Sami tepee) thinking about what a great time we’d had, when Nigel came in to tell us the news.
It was wonderful. He left us with a bag of coal and we stayed up all night watching this magical whirl of lights in the sky. It was so perfect it was like a stage-managed event.”
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