When Katie and I booked our trip to Tromsø, Norway, one thing we both hoped for was a chance to see the Northern Lights. Living in the South of England, it was something neither of us had experienced before; we’d only ever seen photographs and footage of the phenomenon. After looking into our options, we decided to book a Northern Lights chase with Chasing Lights, a company based in Tromsø who go out every night in buses to wherever the lights are the strongest. This means that those who go on the chases sometimes end up venturing into Norway’s neighbouring countries, Finland and Sweden. Katie and I were so excited at the prospect of not only seeing the Northern Lights, but also about potentially visiting another country too.
Once we’d arrived in Tromsø on Friday evening and moved in to our AirBnB property, Katie and I decided to head out to Sommarøy, about an hour’s drive away, to get away from the streetlights in case the Lights happened to show themselves. It was a peaceful drive, and even in the dark we could tell how beautiful the scenery was – tall, snow-capped mountains, cute little weatherboarded houses, and the fjords twinkling in the moonlight. It was all too beautiful to simply drive past, so we made a few stops along the way to indulge in some night photography.
One of our stops was in Ersfjordbotn, a picturesque little village nestled in between mountains, and on the edge of Ersfjord. The skies were relatively clear here, but we couldn’t see a hint of colour; we decided to capture a few shots of the scenery, then to move on… but then, just as I was getting my camera set up, I heard Katie excitedly calling my name. The Lights! Up in between the mountains, green lights were dancing in the sky! I squealed, and Katie squealed, and I frantically set about getting my camera positioned to capture this amazing sight.
We couldn’t believe our eyes! We’d only been here for a few minutes, and only in the country for an hour or two, and we were already watching The Northern Lights making patterns in the sky! It felt almost as if it was Norway’s welcome gift to us.
Within a few minutes, other cars turned up, and then a coach. Clearly word had spread of the Lights’ appearance in Ersfjordbotn. The Lights were creeping across the sky, and as the people piled out and started setting up their cameras around us, we took a few moments to stand still and look up as the colours danced above our heads. It was much more difficult to get a good shot of the Lights now, as people kept walking into shot, and their car headlights were interfering with the picture quality, so we decided to move on towards Sommarøy, where we hoped to find a quieter vantage point.
As we drove on, we lost all traces of green in the sky, or did we? It was hard to tell. It seemed as though our eyes were playing tricks on us – sometimes we’d see what we thought was a green patch of sky, but it turned out to be a cloud. Everything seemed to have a green glow about it if we stared for long enough, and before we even reached Sommarøy, we’d started to lose hope. Plus, our fingers were really suffering from the cold, as we kept removing our gloves to we could operate our cameras. We stopped once more after spotting a vague green glow in the sky. We weren’t expecting to capture anything, as we were so used to false alarms, but when we looked back at our shots, we had indeed managed to capture some more Lights!
The thing we did not realise about the Lights is that, sometimes, what your camera can pick up cannot actually be seen with the naked eye. Despite the colours appearing quite vividly in my photographs, in real life, the glow was so faint that it was hard to be sure if we were seeing Lights or not. Funnily enough, the very first time we saw them in Ersfjordbotn, they were much brighter than what we saw nearer to Sommarøy, so my photographs here are a little deceptive. Still, it was amazing to see the Lights, no matter how faintly.
The next night it was time to head out with Chasing Lights. We met the minibus at a nearby hotel and our guide Bert talked us through the plans for the evening. Being the first two customers, Bert let us in on a little secret – we weren’t just going to be in Norway that night… we were going to Finland!
On our journey, we stopped at a petrol station in Nordkjosbotn for a pee break and to buy some snacks, then we headed off towards the Norwegian-Finnish border where we stopped to take some group photographs.
The temperature was dropping dramatically as we travelled further into Finland, and when we stopped near Kilpisjärvi and got off the bus, it was quite a shock to the system. After a while of trying and failing to get my camera set up correctly, I became quite frustrated. I wanted to ask Bert for some help, but the other customers were all more vocal than I was and I never got a chance to talk to him. Also, there wasn’t much activity in the sky. I didn’t manage to capture any Lights, however, Bert did.
With clouds beginning to cover our view of the sky, we moved on further into Finland. By this time, the temperature was at -24°c and I was really starting to feel it. We made another stop, but I had started to get grumpy, so I stayed on the bus. There was no Light activity so I didn’t really see the point of freezing for no reason.
Then we drove on a little further and I was finally persuaded to suit up and get off the bus. The reason why was because we were about to cross over into Sweden! And this wasn’t just any old trip across a border; we were stepping onto a frozen lake for some food around a campfire!
While we ate our stew, Bert gave a talk about the Northern Lights, explaining how and why they occur, and how they were interpreted by humans prior to any scientific explanation. It was very interesting, but my hands and feet were really starting to bite. Somehow I had managed to get snow inside my glove, so I couldn’t wear it properly, meaning that my hand was exposed to the painfully cold air. Still, it was a once in a lifetime experience, so I tried my best to ignore my discomfort and enjoy the fact that I was sitting on a frozen lake in Sweden!
After eating, there was a little time for us to take some more photographs, and I finally got to speak to Bert about setting up my camera. He showed me what I needed to do to get a decent shot at night, and I managed to get a few images I liked before my battery drained out. While attempting to swap batteries with my frozen fingers, I dropped my second battery into the snow! It sank right down, but thankfully, I managed to dig it out. I didn’t want to risk breaking my camera by putting a freezing cold and slightly snowy battery in it, so that was the end of my photography session!
Eventually it was time to get back on the bus. Bert kindly took my camera battery and warmed it up for me. He also lent me his phone charger as the cold had completely messed up my battery. Tired and cold, but happy to have experienced this adventure, I plugged into my music and went to sleep for the two and three quarter hour journey back to Tromsø. We arrived home at around four in the morning, and were kindly dropped back at our door.
Although we didn’t get much in the way of Lights on our chase, I couldn’t fault the service. Bert was a fantastic guide, full of knowledge and enthusiasm. Arne, our driver, was very helpful – he helped me get dressed into my thermal suit. The clothes, food, and drinks they provided were more than adequate, and the dedication from the whole team to get their customers to The Lights was incredible. In a way, I feel we were just a little unlucky; I’ve been following Chasing Lights on Facebook, and there have been so many amazing Northern Lights photographs and videos posted since our trip! Perhaps if we’d gone to Norway a week or two later, we would have had more luck!We didn’t manage to see The Northern Lights again on our trip, despite heading out most nights. Unfortunately, there was a lot of cloud during our time in Norway, so it was difficult to find a clear enough patch of sky to catch the Lights. Still, I do feel so lucky to have seen them at all. I mean, how many people in this world can say they’ve stood under a sky full of dancing colours? Perhaps when I return to Norway, which I absolutely plan to, I’ll get to see an even more spectacular display.
The route we took with Chasing Lights, emailed to me by Bert.