My Chance to see the Northern Lights

Contributor: S Barber

Excitement was an understatement! I was finally about to embark on a trip to see the spectacular northern lights for myself, an experience that has been on my bucket list ever since I first heard of this phenomenon.

The Northern lights, or aurora borealis, are caused by the interaction of high energy particles (usually electrons) with neutral atoms in earth’s upper atmosphere resulting in a beautiful, colourful night sky, something I have only ever seen on TV. The best time of year to see them is in February and March when they are brightest but viewing can start as early as November and can extend through to April, which is when my trip was booked for.

I decided to travel to Finland, which is one of very few places in the world where you can catch a glimpse of this phenomenan and booked a spot on an Earth Wanderer Finnish Wilderness Week tour.  I chose this particular trip because you spend a week staying within the Oulanka National Park on the ouskirts of the Arctic circle.  While most tour operators will base clients in the larger Scandinavian towns and book them one evening excursions where they are picked up and transported to the arctic circle to be able to view the lights, all I had to do was step outside of my cabin door to see the lights.  Also, as viewing is dependent on cloud cover I had seven nights to see them rather than just one evening, which greatly improved my viewing chances.

Another pro that I discovered when I arrived at Basecamp Oulanka was that, with your approval, the staff will wake you up in the evenings when the lights are showing so I could retire to bed early in the evenings and go to sleep without having to stay outside on watch for the lights every evening.

On the third day, we had a special ‘Oulanka by Night’ tour through the National Park led by one of the tour leaders. We put on many layers of clothing and our snowshoes and walked through the Park with our fingers crossed that the lights would show themselves.Our leader told us a lot about what caused the lights during this excursion.  I found her tales of the myths that had been created before people understood the science behind them fascinating.  One belief was that they are the spirits of loved ones who are trying to communicate with those they have left behind. Although we didn’t see the lights that night, I wasn’t giving up hope as I still had a few more nights in Finland.

On our second last night, during dinner, our whole group decided that we were going to walk down to Juuma Lake near the lodge and stay up to watch the lights emerge. I went back to my room, got dressed in four layers of thick clothing, put on my snowshoes, grabbed my torch and at 23h00 I headed out to wait for everyone. We walked down to the lake together and sat next to a fire that had been lit for us by the lodge. The sky was very clear, lit with thousands of stars and even a few shooting stars. I will filled with optimism that this would be the night when I would finally see the lights. While we were all sitting and waiting in the cold, we decided to share our stories about our favourite parts of the tour. Then, about half an hour later, I noticed a little white light in the sky. Was this it? The light slowly became brighter and brighter, with more lights appearing horizontally and vertically across the sky.  Gradually they became brighter and started changing colour to green. It was so exciting. I couldn’t believe I was actually looking at this.

Over the course of the evening the lights faded and began to disappear, only to reappear minutes later to show off.  Eventually they faded and disappeared entirely.  That evening I went to bed filled with happiness and awe that I had finally managed to see them.  I tried to take a few pictures but sadly my camera couldn’t do them justice.  Luckily, Scott Stephens, who was travelling on the tour with me captured some incredible shots that he shared with us.  Aren’t they beautiful!

Finnish Wilderness Week

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