Head 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle and you’ll find an island surrounded by mountains under the cover of darkness: Tromsø. As capital of Northern Norway and home to breathtaking fjords, snow-covered landscapes and some of the best Auroral activity in the world, this is a destination that you’d be hard-pressed to forget.
Given Tromsø’s northerly position, between late November and January the sun remains below the horizon resulting in almost two months of polar nights, enveloping all life in a fascinating faux light that glows blue. It is quite an experience in itself, yet it’s another kind of light that brings in visitors, and one that comes and goes as it pleases: the Aurora Borealis. The city’s geographical position means your odds of witnessing this natural phenomenon are fairly high, but never guaranteed. Taking my chances and with my camera at the ready, I set off on my own chase of the Aurora and found much more than I had bargained for.
And Then There Was(n’t) Light
Landing into darkness just after 10pm, we couldn’t tell the difference at our new latitude. You’d be forgiven for being dubious about whether the sun could cease to exist until you see it for yourself. My body clock switched off without the usual rise of the sun and I managed to sleep through until midday, awaking only to find a colourless sky and the city’s snowy, lamp-lit streets. I began to find the notion of daytime a distant memory.
Dramatic as I was, I took to the city and headed across Bruvegen bridge to get a better look at my surroundings. Battered by Arctic winds I stopped midway and felt a sense of being on the world’s edge; cold yet humbled. Suddenly the lack of light didn’t seem to matter so much, the landscape had more than made up for what was missing.
Reaching the other side of the bridge our next stop took us 420m above sea level up to mount Fløya to see the city below us sparkle. Up here you could see the sun light the sky from behind mountain peaks, and without a watch it could pass as the break of day. I contemplated this before the light slipped away, returning us to darkness for the next 20 hours.
Dog Sledding in the Lyngen Alps
Anticipating 3-4 hours of light, the Lyngen Alps required an early start to get to. After travelling a little over an hour we arrived in Svelsby town where we got weather-ready suited and booted before we met our dogs. We seemed to get the seal of approval after a few affectionate dog noises were exchanged between us and we concluded that they liked us. Apprehensions at bay, we set off into the blue light.
Quickly we were out in the wild, encased by vast white plains and crystallised mountains – the experience was exhilarating. I could have gone off course then and there, fulfilling my Iron Will childhood dreams, but before I could try and ya! the dogs where the wind would take me, the light told us it was time to head back.
We began our short journey across the fjord to Tromsø, this time welcoming the darkness with open arms and hopeful thoughts.
Solar Winds and Silence
‘Like most women, Aurora is a little temperamental’ our guide told us as we clambered onto the bus wielding tripods and gear. I agreed to disagree with his statement and kept a firm eye out of the window.
One hour into our drive north to Kvaløya Island we made our first stop by a lake where the Aurora was out in full force, filling the night’s sky with a dusting of green. I fumbled with my camera as our guide took pleasure in explaining the science behind the lights, failing to capture what was my first experience of them.
Eventually complaints from the group were made about the light pollution coming from nearby houses, so back on the bus it was to find another spot where we wouldn’t be bothered by lights in a place where the next sunrise was 4 weeks away.
20 minutes, winding roads, daring not to look away from the window in case she vanished without a goodbye.
But then we made it. On a curve of the mountain we stopped at a point overlooking the sea, and there she was. This time bold and unafraid, first snail-like, trailing across the star-studded sky, then dancing furiously. Greens and reds, then greens, then reds; we all watched without saying a word.
It was just her and us, and it was silent.