Green light district

Travel writer Eleanor Hughes goes in search of the Aurora Borealis.

Travel writer Eleanor Hughes goes in search of the Aurora Borealis.

Spectacular Aurora borealis or Northern Lights in the sky over Norway.
Picture supplied

The Hurtigruten ship’s public announcement ‘ping-pong’ sound wakes me. A female voice comes through the speaker speaking, I assume, Norwegian. Is it 6am already and we’ve docked in Trondheim? I reach for my watch in the dark. 12.35am. Huh?

The woman continues. “Ladies and Gentlemen. The Northern Lights can be viewed . . .”

For a few seconds I contemplate giving them a miss, it’s cold out there . . . Nah, got to do it . . .

Over my pyjamas I hurriedly pull on thermals, woollens and jacket, which luckily I’d already got ready for my early morning excursion in Trondheim. Grabbing the camera, I head to deck 6 and wrestle the heavy door open. I’m hit by a polar blast.

That wakes me up. I push into it, head down. When I round the bow, it pushes me backwards. I huddle close to the bulkhead.

To port a faint white patch, like a fogged up windscreen, sits lowish in a sky that’s quite light for the middle of the night. Underwhelming.

Roughly 30 people stand with me. With MS Trollfjord carrying around 600 passengers, many must have decided to stay in bed. Or possibly they’re up on Deck 9. I decide it’s probably even colder up on the open deck and stay put. Buffeted by the wind — there’s nothing to hide behind — I wait to see if anything happens.

Minutes later, a greenish tinge appears. Swirls of white and pale green dance in the sky, fading in and out. They’re wide, then they shrink. It’s like turning a kaleidoscope, the only colour a pale whitish-green. I balance my camera on the ship’s handrail to try to keep it steady and click away having no idea, in the pitch black with the wind blowing the camera and me about, if the photos are in focus.

By 1am the show is over. My face is frozen. I head back to cabin 742 and my warm bed, happy I’ve seen for the first time Aurora Borealis, as the lights were named by Galileo.

When I view my photos in the morning, I find the Northern Lights are more vivid than what I saw. Apparently the camera picks up colours that the human eye doesn’t.

At the excursion desk the Aurora forecast from the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks is displayed. I check it daily for the rest of my six night voyage. Each time it shows the likelihood of the lights appearing as low. On a scale of 0-9 it sits at 2. And the forecast is right. There are no more lights. Cloud cover is too thick.

Five nights later in the small town of Saariselkä, Lapland, I receive a call in my hotel room.
“The lights are out,” says Nacho, my tour guide, who’s been on the lookout.

It’s 10pm. A much more seemly time for them to appear. I pull on the many layers, grab the camera and catch the lift down. Most of my tour group — I think they’re my tour group, it’s hard to tell in the dark with everybody wearing hats or hoods — are already over the road, staring upwards. I find some familiar faces. The spikes on our boots crunch into the ice as we head away from the street lights and hotels, along the footpath — barely discernible from the main road, there’s so much snow about.

On the edge of town, we get a perfect view. Above the silhouettes of pine trees above the toboggan run, vertical and horizontal lights flow across the black sky. Some, like searchlights, beam from a distant spot. Green ghosts flit and disappear into the dark — I see why Sami believed the lights were the souls of the dead. Vivid green lines streak across the sky in the way that jet vapour does, then a misty green light drapes above the trees like curtains of chiffon. A fish hook shape emerges. I keep photographing, thinking I should stop and just enjoy the show, but each time it changes I feel the need to capture the image. The lights fade. Is that it? No . . . another glow begins. After maybe an hour, tiredness and cold send me back to the hotel. Others stay ou — the show continues.

Two nights later, expecting a loud sound, I almost ignore the little bleep that sounds in my igloo in Sinetta, which lies on the Arctic Circle. Was that the Aurora alarm? It’s 11.30pm. From my warm bed I look up through the glass ceiling — the pillow end is in the middle of the hexagonal room. I see nothing but a few pinpricks of starlight. I play with the bed controls.

My head goes up, my feet go up. Soon I’m sitting up with a view of the Northern Lights low on the horizon. Shimmering green shows just above the pine trees on the periphery of the Arctic Snow Hotel complex. It lasts about 10 minutes.

I wake to the Aurora alarm again bleeping, set off by the night watch person. It’s 1am. I grope for the bed controls in the dark and manage to find the right button to raise the head end. A bright white light glows. It’s amazing. I laugh when it swoops all over the place. It’s someone with a high-powered torch. There are other people outside and they’ve triggered the sensor lights next to each igloo. Those lights reflect in my glass ceiling which dulls and confuses my view of the Northern Lights. I play with the bed controls. If my head is too high I see the sensor lights and no Northern Lights, too low and I can’t see them.

After ten or so minutes I give up and push the down button on my controls, a little disappointed. It was around -26°C when I went to bed, I have a cold and hacking cough, and it’s cosy in my glass igloo. I’m not going outside to get a better view. Happily though, I’ve been lucky to see the Aurora Borealis three times, a magical spectacle that will stay with me.

I pull the feather-light duvet higher and go back to sleep.

  • The writer travelled courtesy of Bentours and Mondo Travel on a ‘Follow the Lights’ tour run by Bentours.
  • <

The Hurtigruten ship’s public announcement ‘ping-pong’ sound wakes me. A female voice comes through the speaker speaking, I assume, Norwegian. Is it 6am already and we’ve docked in Trondheim? I reach for my watch in the dark. 12.35am. Huh?

The woman continues. “Ladies and Gentlemen. The Northern Lights can be viewed . . .”

For a few seconds I contemplate giving them a miss, it’s cold out there . . . Nah, got to do it . . .

Over my pyjamas I hurriedly pull on thermals, woollens and jacket, which luckily I’d already got ready for my early morning excursion in Trondheim. Grabbing the camera, I head to deck 6 and wrestle the heavy door open. I’m hit by a polar blast.

That wakes me up. I push into it, head down. When I round the bow, it pushes me backwards. I huddle close to the bulkhead.

To port a faint white patch, like a fogged up windscreen, sits lowish in a sky that’s quite light for the middle of the night. Underwhelming.

Roughly 30 people stand with me. With MS Trollfjord carrying around 600 passengers, many must have decided to stay in bed. Or possibly they’re up on Deck 9. I decide it’s probably even colder up on the open deck and stay put. Buffeted by the wind — there’s nothing to hide behind — I wait to see if anything happens.

Minutes later, a greenish tinge appears. Swirls of white and pale green dance in the sky, fading in and out. They’re wide, then they shrink. It’s like turning a kaleidoscope, the only colour a pale whitish-green. I balance my camera on the ship’s handrail to try to keep it steady and click away having no idea, in the pitch black with the wind blowing the camera and me about, if the photos are in focus.

By 1am the show is over. My face is frozen. I head back to cabin 742 and my warm bed, happy I’ve seen for the first time Aurora Borealis, as the lights were named by Galileo.

When I view my photos in the morning, I find the Northern Lights are more vivid than what I saw. Apparently the camera picks up colours that the human eye doesn’t.

At the excursion desk the Aurora forecast from the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks is displayed. I check it daily for the rest of my six night voyage. Each time it shows the likelihood of the lights appearing as low. On a scale of 0-9 it sits at 2. And the forecast is right. There are no more lights. Cloud cover is too thick.

Five nights later in the small town of Saariselkä, Lapland, I receive a call in my hotel room.
“The lights are out,” says Nacho, my tour guide, who’s been on the lookout.

It’s 10pm. A much more seemly time for them to appear. I pull on the many layers, grab the camera and catch the lift down. Most of my tour group — I think they’re my tour group, it’s hard to tell in the dark with everybody wearing hats or hoods — are already over the road, staring upwards. I find some familiar faces. The spikes on our boots crunch into the ice as we head away from the street lights and hotels, along the footpath — barely discernible from the main road, there’s so much snow about.

On the edge of town, we get a perfect view. Above the silhouettes of pine trees above the toboggan run, vertical and horizontal lights flow across the black sky. Some, like searchlights, beam from a distant spot. Green ghosts flit and disappear into the dark — I see why Sami believed the lights were the souls of the dead. Vivid green lines streak across the sky in the way that jet vapour does, then a misty green light drapes above the trees like curtains of chiffon. A fish hook shape emerges. I keep photographing, thinking I should stop and just enjoy the show, but each time it changes I feel the need to capture the image. The lights fade. Is that it? No . . . another glow begins. After maybe an hour, tiredness and cold send me back to the hotel. Others stay ou — the show continues.

Two nights later, expecting a loud sound, I almost ignore the little bleep that sounds in my igloo in Sinetta, which lies on the Arctic Circle. Was that the Aurora alarm? It’s 11.30pm. From my warm bed I look up through the glass ceiling — the pillow end is in the middle of the hexagonal room. I see nothing but a few pinpricks of starlight. I play with the bed controls.

My head goes up, my feet go up. Soon I’m sitting up with a view of the Northern Lights low on the horizon. Shimmering green shows just above the pine trees on the periphery of the Arctic Snow Hotel complex. It lasts about 10 minutes.

I wake to the Aurora alarm again bleeping, set off by the night watch person. It’s 1am. I grope for the bed controls in the dark and manage to find the right button to raise the head end. A bright white light glows. It’s amazing. I laugh when it swoops all over the place. It’s someone with a high-powered torch. There are other people outside and they’ve triggered the sensor lights next to each igloo. Those lights reflect in my glass ceiling which dulls and confuses my view of the Northern Lights. I play with the bed controls. If my head is too high I see the sensor lights and no Northern Lights, too low and I can’t see them.

After ten or so minutes I give up and push the down button on my controls, a little disappointed. It was around -26°C when I went to bed, I have a cold and hacking cough, and it’s cosy in my glass igloo. I’m not going outside to get a better view. Happily though, I’ve been lucky to see the Aurora Borealis three times, a magical spectacle that will stay with me.

I pull the feather-light duvet higher and go back to sleep.

  • The writer travelled courtesy of Bentours and Mondo Travel on a ‘Follow the Lights’ tour run by Bentours.
  • <
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