Today is the last post of my Northern Lights Adventure series. As is advised, I have left the best for last: dog sledding, an Arctic aquarium and… the Northern Lights! So let’s get down to it.
Tromso has great attractions and two I would recommend are Polaria (the Arctic aquarium) and the Arctic Cathedral. One of the best views of the Arctic Cathedral is from just outside of the Rica Ishavshotel at night. Note: there is an entry fee if you want to go inside the cathedral. Check their website for other events they may be hosting.
Polaria is an awesome experience. Make sure you get there in time to see the seals being fed. They put on quite a show for their food: jumping through hoops and chasing balls around the pool!
One of my absolute favourite experiences of this holiday was dog sledding. I was pretty scared at the thought of having to drive this sled myself with all the dogs after only 10 minutes instruction on it (by the way, the instruction consists mostly of: it’s not about technique, you just need a feel for it. Not helpful!). I’m pretty much the exact opposite of an adrenalin junky.
Luckily we got to pair up for this and ET did all the driving. I sat peacefully on the sled, occasionally getting bits of dog poo flung into my face (they poop while they run!), watching some of the most spectacular scenery pass by. Pristine white landscapes, without even a single footprint or sled track, frozen rivers and waterfalls. The dogs were so cute as well! There was one dog on the tour guides sled: his pretend husky. Actually a border collie, who got bored of driving the sled after a while and got unclipped to run freely. He used his freedom to run between the other dogs, almost checking on them. He was so busy though, I couldn’t get a picture of him!
After the sledding tour we gathered in a wooden tepee type thing (lavvu) for tea and this snack of cracker bread and sweet cheese. So weird, so awesome. The company we did all this with was Lyngsfjord and they were excellent; I highly recommend them!
The dog sledding was amazing, definitely one of the best things of this trip and one of the most memorable experiences of my life. But the Lights: the Lights were the reason for the trip. I went into the trip trying to plan as many cool things as possible, so that if I didn’t see the lights I wouldn’t be too upset. Let’s get real though: the lights were the reason for the trip and I knew that if I didn’t see them I would be devastated!
So as I do, much research and preparation preceded the trip. I gave us seven nights in the Auroral Zone; I read up on how to deal with my camera in the cold (Ziploc bag with some silica gel); I read up on the best spots to see the lights and made sure we stayed there; I read up on how to photograph the lights. The truth is: none of this mattered, it really all came down to luck.
Luck is something we generally don’t struggle with. As it turns out, with the Lights we did. Every night we were in the Auroral Zone was overcast and snowing like mad! You may have read about our disaster with the Aurora Sky Station. Anyway… we were down to our second last night in Tromso, which was also our last night to see the lights before flying south to Oslo. We decided to bite the bullet and book a tour for the next night: one of the tours that takes you racing around the north of Norway and even into Finland to see the lights. The next morning, the tour operator called to say that they were cancelling that evening because there was an avalanche near the border of Finland the night before and there bus got stuck.
It turned out that the tour operators that weren’t directly affected by the avalanche were spooked by their colleagues experience and all the tours were cancelled. All, except one that is. The tour that was advertised in the lobby of our hotel. We booked our spots on the tour. I panicked slightly thinking that we would be driving into our death that night, because if all the other tour operators cancelled then what kind of looney would still run a tour??? Well, I now know that we’re the type of looneys who would go on that tour.
We got onto that bus that night, in the charming mixture of rain and snow that seemed to be the standard in Tromso and off we went. Each location we went to either ended up in a snow storm, or the wind was so strong that should the bus stop, it would be blown over. It seemed that all hope was lost and the tour guide started talking us through what we could have seen. And then, behind him, the clouds parted and there they were! I could cry just thinking about it.
ET and I (and the rest of the looneys on the tour) raced to the top a muddy little outcrop with tripod and camera in hand. We watched for at least half an hour as they danced across the sky. I had wandered if they do dance and they really do. It’s a magical experience to watch them.
Despite all of my preparation and purchasing of tripods and other equipment, my photography preparation was almost in vain. It took both ET and I to hold down my tripod in the strong wind for the 30-60 seconds it took to get a photo. You can see they’re still pretty blurred.
Many websites discourage amateur photographers from even bothering to try get a shot of the lights because of how difficult it is to get a good one. Are mine magazine-publishing worthy? No. They’re mine though. I feel proud every time I see one and remember the thrill of standing on that little outcrop, with the cold burning through my skin, ET and I trying to anchor my tripod to the ground, watching one of the most amazing things I will ever see in my lifetime.