The Trip of a Lifetime: The Northern Lights
People talk about crossing things off their bucket list and to be honest I’ve never really thought about this idea myself, until I experienced standing on a frozen lake witnessing the Northern Lights with my two young daughters staring up at the sky in awe, this is an experience that I will never forget and yes one to cross off my bucket list.
The Northern Lights are one of nature’s great displays, a free, multicoloured light show that is most commonly seen in the Arctic regions. There is no guarantee of the Northern Lights being visible even when you book on a guided tour as I did and every viewing will be different, with changing patterns and colours: a true natural wonder. If you are fortunate enough as I was to witness the nocturnal rainbows know as the Northern lights it is one of the most profound, humbling and spiritually uplifting experiences that you can undergo.
In recent years, trying to see this elusive and ethereal sight has become a prime reason to fly north for a magical and adventurous winter break, despite the often high costs and the cold weather conditions.
It’s a holiday that you’ll never forget and I was fortunate enough on my recent trip to witness the Northern Lights twice, which leads to the question of exactly what are these mesmeric lights? The fantastical light display is formed from fast-moving, electrically charged particles that emanate from the sun. These are driven towards the Poles by the Earth’s magnetic field and their varying colours are a result of the different gases in the upper atmosphere. In the northern hemisphere they are known as the aurora borealis and hang above the planet in an oval-shaped halo. The lights also have their southern counterpart above Antarctica, the aurora australis, but this is not witnessed by many people due to its location.
Watch | Why you must see the Northern Lights in your lifetime
To witness the Northern Lights in their full glory, you will have to head north towards the Arctic, above latitude 60 degrees at the least. The snowy wilds of Canada and Alaska are considered fine viewing spots, too, but for most of us it is more affordable, and convenient, to fly to Iceland or northern Scandinavia, commonly known as Lapland, which is exactly what I did Here it is possible to see the lights from late September to early April, with October to November and February to March considered optimum periods.
The hours of darkness increase the farther north you travel, and while the aurora can be sighted at any moment, 9pm to 2am tends to be prime viewing time, which is how I found myself stood on a freezing lake in the early hours of the morning gazing at a deep, dark expanse of sky, waiting with anticipation of a celestial light display.
Standing in sub-zero temperatures staring up at the night sky with fingers crossed, was in itself a memorable experience but as the emerald green swirling lights set the sky alight it was breath taxingly beautiful and in that moment it was impossible to have a care in the world.
I was lucky to see the lights on my excursion and then again the next evening outside the hotel I was staying in. But if venturing off to see the Northern Lights bear in mind that this can never be guaranteed. For this reason it’s important not to become obsessed with the single goal of beholding the aurora, but to see this as just one of the many thrills of a winter holiday to the Arctic to go. For this reason I booked my excursion to see the Northern lights as just part of my holiday and got into the festive mood by enjoying the delights of a snow drenched Saariselkä, which is 250km north of the Arctic Circle and about 1,000 kilometres from the southern capital, Helsinki.
I travelled with Santa’s Lapland and enjoyed all the Christmas delights of husky sledging, visiting Santa and tobogganing, which made the prospect of seeing the Northern Light a bonus.
I stayed at Santa’s Hotel Holiday Club and having two young daughters this was the stuff that memories are made of. Crunching across the untouched snow in the low light with snowflakes gently falling was magical. Heading to the floodlit 1.2km toboggan run, the longest in Northern Europe; at 7am might sound slightly mad, but it was great fun and well worth the trek up the hill. The views from the top were spectacular and the trip down pure exhilaration for adults and children alike
By 3pm darkness was falling, but with everything well lit there was still plenty to do. Lapland receives around four and a half hours of light in December, with approximately two to three hours of ‘grey light’ either side, rather like twilight in the UK, but it must be said that the lighting was atmospheric and added to the magic of the place
Throughout our trip there was plenty of sledging, and lots of exploring but the best was still to come, when we arrived at the Arctic Circle Centre the next day, the memories will last forever. The day started with husky sledging, and after some brief instructions I assumed the role of ‘musher’ – pulled by six enthusiastic huskies and thankfully guided by our husky wrangler ahead of us on a snow-mobile. With my daughters seated in the sledge in front, I stood on runners at the back and negotiated the route through the beautiful snow covered countryside and this was a truly magical experience and great fun
For the adults a visit to the Ice-bar is highly recommended: you must treat yourself to alcoholic hot chocolate and sweet treats whilst seated at the solid ice-block benches and tables and marvel at the ice sculptures.
After a day packed with reindeers and winter delights there is no bigger bonus than witnessing the magic of the Northern Lights and it is certainly something that is for most a once in a lifetime experience. Santa’s Lapland experience was magical for both my daughters and me. It certainly made Christmas a very special time and it will be one which will be remembered for years to come and the memories cherished for a lifetime.