Post from A Diary of a Productive Person. Originally posted on 9 April 2014.
I am an aurora hunter.
Mr. Spanjy and I always dreamt of seeing the Northern Lights. Last year we trekked to Iceland and even though we saw a lot of stuff, we unfortunately did not see the Northern Lights.
So when Mr. Spanjy said to me that he had four days of annual leave he MUST use before end of March, I could think of no better way to make most of this opportunity than giving ourselves a second chance at seeing the lights. We did our research and booked four nights in Tromso, Norway and on Sunday 23rd of March 2014, our dream of seeing the aurora borealis came true.
Few things to know about Tromso upfront.
- This place is EXPENSIVE!! Breakfast for two (two coffees and two hot brekkies like a panini) will set you back 30 quid easy. Be prepared for pay over 100 quid for dinner for two i.e. no entree, a main each, a glass of wine each and shared dessert
- Tromso is a tad annoying to get to: We flew with Norwegian Air from London Gatwick at 9:10 am and only got in to Tromso by 4:30 pm. We had a two hour layover in Oslo and in hindsight, it might have been better for us to spend the day in Oslo however we wanted to maximise our chances of seeing the lights
- March is meant to be one of the best months of the year to go see the Northern Lights due to minimal cloud cover and rain
- Its still very cold at the end of March: Yes, I know we were in the Artic Circle however March is meant to be Spring. I was definitely not expecting -7 degrees and strong winds. Make sure you dress warm and wear lots of layers
- We stayed in a BnB but I would recommend getting a service apartment. That way you can save a bit on food (especially breakfast and snacks) and if you plan to spend most of your time outdoors, you can pack your lunch and take it with you
- Hire a car but be prepared to pay for parking. Having a car is great for venturing outside of Tromso and exploring the surrounding fjords however when driving in City Centre, parking will cost you a fair bit. Parking tips:
- Weekdays: parking is free after 5pm
- Saturday: parking is free after 3pm
- Sunday: free parking all day
Now that we have the serious stuff out of the way, let's get to the fun bits. So our BnB looked like this ... pretty!! Looks like something out of a postcard doesn't it?
Day 1: Searching for the Northern Lights
We checked in to our BnB by 5pm and made a mad dash for a 6:30 pm tour with GreenFox to go see the Northern Lights. Mr. Spanjy and I were so excited that the early start, long travel and negative something weather faded from our minds and we geared up for a night of hunting.
Marcus, our tour guide for the night, was quite excited about picking up his eight bright eyed travellers keen to see the lights. He drove us out to the Finnish border (approximately 2 hours from Tromso) making a stop at Skibotn on the way there. The temperatures dropped dramatically and the warm suits provided by GreenFox on top of our already layered up gear just didn't keep me warm enough. I was wearing 3 pairs of woollen trekking socks and 2 layers of clothing. Still cold.
At around 11pm, severe tiredness, hunger and disappointment started kicking in. All I could think about was a warm shower and bed. "Stuff the lights" I thought ... "they aren't coming out tonight" I said to Mr. Spanjy. We were both as tired as each other and super glad when the tour finished up at 3:30 am.
I was right. No lights. Freezing cold. Hungry and tired. Lights can wait till tomorrow. Hello bed!!
Day 2: Exploring Ersfjordbotn and Tromvik as potential light gazing spots
I'm definitely not as young as I used to be. I woke up feeling completely shattered but that could've been a combination of aurora hunting and months of long hours of work. Either way, we woke up just in time for lunch and head out of Tromso for some sightseeing.
We ate at Emma's Under Restaurant where they do seafood really well. Their fish pie is delicious!! (Geri, if you are reading this, let me remind you about our business idea. There is money in pie!!).
We headed out to a few spots that Marcus recommended us to visit during the daytime so we could check out the location as potential Northern Lights gazing spots.
First stop, Ersfjordbotn. This place is approximately 30 mins drive from Tromso and absolutely stunning. We were told by many that this is THE place to catch the Northern Lights. The drive was easy and the scenery absolutely stunning.
We drove further to Tromvik which is a small fishing village of approximately 100 inhabitants. We were told by Marcus that rather than taking the right in to Tromvik village (which we did), take a left and drive towards the hill. Apparently Northern Lights from this spot are spectacular. We tried driving up this path however the snow blizzard was so bad that we didn't make much ground. Instead we chose to roam around this smelly little town.
After an entire day of driving and battling the severe snow blizzards, we thought of giving the Northern Lights hunting a miss. Even if they were out dancing around between the clouds, there is no way we would have managed to see them.
Another day and no lights. At least we had these beautiful pictures in our dreams.
Day 3: This is THE DAY!!!
Well rested and the weather looking up, I could feel it in my toes that we were going to see the lights tonight. We started the day off with breakfast at Kaffe Bonna.
his place makes a mean coffee. They also serve coffee in large tumblers with straws. I didn't understand why everyone was sipping their hot coffees with a straw so I decided to ask my trusted friend, Mr. Google. So what did my dear friend tell me?
Did you know that Nordics drink a ridiculous amount of coffee? Could be the cold weather, could be the dark, could be tiredness from the lack of vit D. Either way, these guys drink a LOT of coffee. So when you drink a lot of coffee, how do you keep your teeth unstained? Drink out of a straw!!
Perfectly logical right? Blew. My. Mind!
We drove out to Sommaroy which is just over an hour outside of Tromso. The drive was beautiful but the white beaches surrounded by ice white snow even better.
This was a sight to be seen. I hadn't seen water this blue since Wineglass Bay (Tasmania) just under two years ago. Being a water baby, I couldn't help myself. I had to get in. Mr. Spanjy double dared me to get in to the icy cold water. Of course I did. The water was so cold, so pure, where I spent the entire time squealing like a little piglet.
It was totally worth it.
After exploring the three main locations, Mr. Spanjy and I parked ourselves in a cosy restaurant for an early dinner and some aurora hunting planning. We checked out the weather forecast and picked Ersfjordbotn as our sit out spot. Truly feeling like aurora hunters, we got our cameras ready, geared up and headed out for a long night ahead.
We waited for just over an hour in the freezing cold, faces glued to the car windscreen, watching the skies, waiting for our guests to make an appearance. We waited, and waited and all of a sudden Mr. Spanjy notices a perfectly formed cloud looming above us.
"I think they're here", Mr. Spanjy said.
"The Lights? Are you sure?", I asked like a confused cross-eyed wombat not really sure what I was looking at.
"THEY ARE HERE ... THEY ARE HERE. Get out get out ...", he exclaimed.
I watched the cloud turn green and start dancing before my eyes. I couldn't contain myself. I swore like an absolute trooper (probably waking up all of Tromso) and did random laps around the car ... not knowing where to look.
Day 4: Dog sledding
Still on a high from the night before, we grabbed an early breakfast at Cafe Riso. Man, the breakfast here is mind blowing. Absolutely carb packed happiness. The perfect meal to keep us going all day of mushing.
Their coffee is insanely good. So nice to have a good cup of coffee since Sydney in May 2013. Sorry London, you need to learn a thing or two from Tromso on how to make a good cup. But I guess if you couldn't learn from your Italian brothers, I can't expect anything more, can I?
So here are some happy dog sledding photos:
With the Artic as our backdrop, the sun shining bright, this was the best day to backup the night before.
Day 5: Goodbye Tromso
Smiling ear to ear and absolutely exhausting all of our tourist options, we took a cable car to check out Tromso from the sky, did a quick tour of the Mack brewery, and headed to the airport to fair Tromso goodbye.
What a wonderful five days. That feeling of seeing the lights for the first time will always remain with me. And this one very special shot ... taken from the plane on our way home to London, waving the lights goodbye.