I have always wanted to see the Aurora Borealis. I have been obsessed with the idea since first seeing a picture of this wonderful phenomenon in an encyclopaedia at the age of 8 or 9. In fact, the initial motivation to visit Lapland started with the wish to see the Northern Lights.
However, after doing some research on the matter and realising just how elusive a sighting could be, I dared not hope on the matter too much to avoid disappointment. Moreover, we were booked to go outside of what is considered peak Aurora season (December to March; we went in the first week of April) and so our chances of seeing it were that little bit dimmer (pun not really intended).
Looking around, I had found several Northern Lights safaris on offer, where seasoned Lights hunters charged around EUR80 to take someone out by car/bus/reindeer-sled to various ‘prime’ viewing spots to try and chase a sighting of the Lights. But after some deliberation, Husband and I decided against this for several reasons:
- Cost– an average of EUR70 per adult and EUR40 per child, making it more than EUR200 for the whole family. On top of that, there was no guarantee that you would see the Lights and most companies did not offer a refund if you didn’t.
- Timing– Naturally, you could only see the Lights at night and consequently, most tours ran quite late, i.e. between 9pm and 2am. Considering that our boys are only 7 and 5 respectively with the usual bedtime of 7.30pm, we didn’t think that it would make for a very fun evening (Youngest turns into quite the bear when he’s sleep deprived).
In the end, we figured that since we had a rental car and Husband, while never having seen the Aurora himself, has an MSc in Astrophysics, we should have no problem. Right? So, from the moment we settled in the cabin and hooked up to the wifi, I had Husband monitoring Aurora forecasts (we used Aurora Service EU) and weather reports round the clock. We needed a fortuitous combination of at least KP3 level geomagnetic activity (anything lower and it wouldn’t be visible in Lapland) and clear skies (because you can’t see the Lights if they’re hidden behind a cloudbank!) if we were to have any chance of catching sight of this spectacle. However, as the initial days of our trip passed (zero geomagnetic activity), the weather seemed to get more overcast and my hopes fell to a low. I had now resigned myself to not catching the Lights at all on this trip. I tried to remind myself that I had not expected to see them at all and so I should’t be too disappointed.
Come Friday morning… Husband triumphantly announces that a G1/KP5 level geomagnetic storm was forecasted for Saturday evening. AND, that satellite data seemed to suggest that the giant cloud cover currently hanging over Rovaniemi should have passed by then. I could not contain my excitement. I was going to see the Lights!!!
I spent the entire Saturday a nervous bundle of energy. Our plan: dinner, then bathtime for the boys, after which we would bundle them into the car with their duvets and pillows and lots of snacks, and drive to some spots we had staked out the day before during a drive.
As you may remember from my previous post, we had been very busy that Saturday, starting with our Husky Safari (17km of racing through Finnish forest) followed by a trip to Arktikum in the afternoon. So by dinner time, both boys were fairly knackered. Youngest stated that he didn’t want any dinner and when we pressed him, said he had a tummy ache. “Yeah right”, we said, as we rolled our eyes. Finally, we bundle them into the car with all necessary supplies and start the engine.
“Mama, my tummy feels funny.”
“You’re just tired mouse… go to sleep.”
“Okay… But I need the vomit bucket.”
Freeze. “You feel like vomiting?”
Husband throws me a glance and swings car round.
Handing him the wash basin from the cabin, Husband says, “You probably won’t need this, but just keep this next to you…”
But, as we pull out of the driveway, we hear….”Urghgghghghgh…” from the back seat and looking back, see Youngest’s head bent over the basin. Around swings the car. Again.
Husband takes the now-filled basin and washes it out. When he gets back in the car, I am just about ready to burst into tears. On one hand, I feel terrible that my baby was feeling so miserable (he had gone green by this point) and yet, I couldn’t quite let go of the idea of finally seeing the Aurora Borealis! My chance… possibly washed down the drain with the remains of what used to be dinner.
After some deliberation, we decide that while being sick can’t be pleasant, the conditions for seeing the Lights might never be this good for us again. And so we strike back out. Luckily, throwing up seemed to have given Youngest some relief and it isn’t long before we hear gentle snores coming from his side of the backseat. I, in the meantime, am on full alert and straining my eyes in a desperate attempt not to miss any bit of an occurring Light show.
As we pull into our first viewing point (we had a few on the list), we see quite a few cars already parked there, along with what looked like a bus full of Chinese tourists. Excellent, we thought. Perhaps this was one of those ‘prime’ Aurora watching spots that the tours were talking about? However, as minutes passed and we kept getting blinded by the lights of cars passing by or pulling into the parking area, we begin to doubt this choice. Perhaps it would be better to move on to our 2nd spot, which was another 20 min drive Northward but much more secluded? As Husband switches on the engine, I turn and …”STOP! STOP!” I shriek. “It’s starting over there!”And there it was. Swirls of bright green lighting up the night. Dancing over the open sky. Curling and flickering, brightening and waning. I was breathless and giddy with happiness. So much so that I hadn’t even noticed that Youngest had promptly vomited again after climbing out of the car. Husband patiently cleans him up while I stand rooted to the spot with my face upturned toward the sky, trying to take it all in and desperate not to miss a single moment of this magical sight.
We spend nearly 90 mins watching this amazing lightshow. I tell Husband that if I died now, I would die a happy woman. The boys had retired to the car after about 30 mins and Husband and I were left to enjoy the show and each other’s company. We hugged each other in that parking lot, getting a sense of satisfaction and completeness from having had the chance to witness this phenomenon together.
Unfortunately, the earlier chaos of the evening meant that I hadn’t had time to configure my camera properly and during the actual sighting, I was too mesmerised with what was going on above me to be able to think about mundane details such as camera settings. I regret this now slightly, but as Husband said, “Look… take it all in. Forget about the camera and just enjoy it.”
And I did.