I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) so around Christmas time I finally got my arse into gear and started looking as 2012 is meant to be a good year for them. Turned out everyone else had the same idea and many of the trips were booked up. However, I managed to find one, via the Aurora Zone, to the Harriniva hotel in Lapland, Finland for early February. It’s a couple of miles from Muonio village, about an hours drive from Kitilla airport.
The day I was due out to fly Heathrow got hit by a bit of snow and, in typical British fashion, degenerated into chaos with flights being delayed or cancelled. Despite their website saying my flight was fine it ended up being delayed by over an hour and a half which meant I missed the connecting flight from Helsinki to Kittila. Cue an overnight stay at a hotel in Helsinki followed by a flight the next day to my final destination, arriving about 2.30pm. On the way I met a few other travellers in the same boat who turned out to be great company so we ended up spending most of the trip together. Turns out one of the couples is even moving just down the road from me in the next few months!
The first night there we had a brief overview of the Aurora and were just about to get info on the best way to take pictures when the lights appeared! So we all frantically run back to the rooms to put on our gear and run outside to take pictures. The hotel is located right next to a river (which was almost completely frozen) so there was a nice view. The lights appeared for about 20min or so although they were quite feint. We had our first planned excursion that night as well, a snowshoe trek along the river and into the forest. It was quite magical with the bright moonlight in the mostly clear skies illuminating a snow drenched forest in mystical silvery light. The only sounds being a group of ten people trudging through the snow.
This was our first experience of the cold weather – the hotel thermometer was showing -34 and the guide said his car was showing -38. At that temperature you can feel your nostrils freezing up and your breath forms snow on your eyelashes and head. If you close your eyes for a few seconds the eyelids freeze together. It’s a bone numbing cold!
The next morning (Tuesday) was the husky safari. I was quite looking forward to that and for the first half hour or so it was good fun. The dogs just want to run and they are easy to control. However, it was so cold that after 30min or so I could no longer feel my hands or feet and it just became an endurance test. By the end of the two hours I couldn’t wait to get indoors (although the pain that goes with the fingers and toes warming up wasn’t much fun either!).
That night we went off to the national park to try and seethe Northern Lights again only this time it was in a nice warm van. The temperature there was about 15 degrees warmer which made it feel like summer 🙂
We saw another display of the lights over a nice snowfield dotted with trees. It was a bit cloudy so the lights merged with the clouds at times and this created a few nice photographs.
Wednesday brought a bit of culture (and warmer temperatures) with a visit to a reindeer farm and a tour in the farm house by the lady who has lived there forever. It was one of those places full of interesting little details from people’s lives with all the things she has collected over the years. We also got to ride in a sleigh pulled by a Reindeer, feed the Reindeer then have some Reindeer soup 😀 By the way, Reindeer tastes really nice….
The afternoon was excellent fun with a couple of hours spent on snowmobiles racing flat out across snow covered frozen lakes (at +70Km/hr) and winding our way up a mountain on tiny twisty tracks.
That evening we were taken out by Antti Pietikainen, a local Aurora expert, to track down the lights. We ended up at his fathers place which overlooks a giant frozen lake (spectacular views and I want his house!) and got our best views of the lights from the whole trip. As well as the usual swirly patterns we got to see some unusual shapes and spikes.
That was followed by tea, Finnish coffee and biscuits and a warm ride home.
Overall a great little holiday with some fun experiences and we were very lucky to get to see the lights on all three nights.
Photographing the lights is actually fairly easy but you need a tripod and a camera with manual settings. Some people use short exposures and a high ISO but I preferred a low ISO (for the quality) and a long exposure. With the bright moonlight this meant that the foreground was lit up as well giving an interesting effect. Most of the night shots are taken on f/2.8, ISO200 and a shutter speed of 20 seconds or so. The fun bit with that is that it allows you to press the shutter then run round in front of the camera to do a self portrait 🙂