Dressed in thermal underwear, thick woollen caps and gloves we were officially Arctic explorers. Not necessarily well-prepared travellers, and not necessarily stylish with our red noses and puffer jackets, but we made it.
Tromso is one of the places in Norway where you will most probably see the northern lights. The city is known for having the best part of old wooden houses in Norway; the oldest house dates to 1789. It certainly looks like an Arctic fairy-tale village with multicoloured cottages surrounded by impressive mountains such as the famous Tromsdalstinden in the east. The northern lights can be seen every year from September to early April, but the best time to see this natural phenomenon is from mid-November to mid-January when the sun does not rise above the horizon.
HE: The village is cute and it’s nice to walk around in it. Norway is known for its traditional knives. Look out for the Helle brand.
SHE: The tourist shops are generally expensive. My favourite buy was deer cabanossi – even though we haven’t eaten it yet!
We arrived in Tromso in mid-November, hoping to see the lights, and swept headlong into the town. Fortunately, it is easy to find a tour agency to take you on a tour to see the lights. The ideal is to get out of the city because light pollution has a huge effect on how clearly you can see the lights.
HE: Of course, we dropped by for a local beer. But the two beers cost us over R300, so this was the last time we visited a bar…
Locals love telling that they regularly see the lights on their way home from their local pub in the winter. However, we decided not to take the chance – one visits Tromso once only. For our tour, we decided to use Chasing Lights. The tours (like everything else in Norway) are unfortunately quite expensive, but we will gladly recommend the agency. They fetched us in a luxury air-conditioned bus – a necessity in the cold Arctic evening. Typically Scandinavian, they first presented a safety demonstration and made sure that every passenger’s seat belt was fastened before the bus left. And then the ride began. It felt like one of those TV shows in which they chase a storm. Our guides were dressed in thermal overalls and with their radios, they looked like a modern version of the Viking TV series. The radios were for communication with other buses. Each bus was packed with adventurous people going in different wind directions to detect the lights. And so we hurried from one place to the next to be able to see that blue-green phenomenon just for a moment.
SHE: Fortunately, the tour agents speak English very well. And they like to tell interesting stories from the area.
HE: The tour agents also took pictures and sent it to us afterwards. We don’t have a good camera, so we really appreciate that.
Our group drove out of Tromso for about an hour and a half and eventually stopped along a dark lake. The tour guides came prepared for a long, cold wait and made a fire on the bank of the lake. It illuminated the water that spilt over the rocks somewhat and made the pitch-black night look less threatening. The guides handed out hot chocolate and Freya chocolate biscuits that raised our sugar levels sky-high. Meanwhile, one of them set up a camera on the beach and peered through it every few minutes to see if there was any sign of the lights. Because the high-quality cameras’ lenses are much more sensitive than the naked eye, it is usually better to detect the start of a light game.
SHE: You don’t really know how cold it gets when you must wait outside for long periods. A skullcap is a must!
After about two hours of sociable waiting and chatting to the guides, the first signs of light could finally be seen. For about half an hour, we saw light green lights on the horizon, and everyone took photos like mad. When we finally got back to our accommodation at one o’clock the next morning, we were exhausted and freezing. We had enough adventure for one night.
- The Chasing Lights tour agency was reliable and very professional.
- On the bus ride, they stopped at scenic views of the lake.
- They are willing to drive as far as it needs to see the lights, even if it’s all the way to Finland.
- You have no guarantee that you will see the northern lights. Since the tours are expensive, this can be a huge risk.
- The light spectacle we saw was small compared to what you see on Google. Few people see the purple and green colours dancing like a waterfall right above you. It may be spectacular, but there is no way to predict when it will appear.
- The northern lights look less impressive in reality than on camera. Cameras are set to capture colours that are hard to see with the naked eye.
What to take with
- A good camera with a tripod
- Your own bottle of coffee because it can get cold!