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Iceland | Northern Lights

Iceland | Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) as defined by Oxford University Press (OUP) and found in the online dictionary by is:
"A natural electrical phenomenon characterized by the appearance of streamers of reddish or greenish light in the sky, usually near the northern or southern magnetic pole. The effect is caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with atoms in the upper atmosphere."

We came to Iceland in search of the Northern Lights, arriving in Reykjavik in the late afternoon. It was cold! 

Our pre-booked transfer from the airport to our apartment went smoothly. Once settled we walked the short distance into the city centre.

Reykjavik is an enchanting city, with many colourful buildings, bright shop fronts, and some great places to eat. Read about our experiences here.

Reykjavik © Holidays Beckon

The next morning I woke to find we had all slept in!  I was first up and it was already 10:00am, but it was still dark outside! The days are short at this time of the year! Something us Australian's are not used to!! In any case, it was a lovely relaxing way to start the day.

After breakfast (well almost lunch!) we headed into town to find an information centre where we could investigate tours to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. We found a great place called What's On in Iceland, where we booked a small group 4WD tour with Happyworld Iceland for later that night.

We walked around Reykjavik for a while, had a late lunch and headed for the supermarket to buy supplies for tonight's home-made Minestrone soup, something to warm our tummies in preparation for the cold night ahead.  At about 8:30pm we were collected by our tour guide, Gunner. The 4WD was quite high, so much so that the height challenged amongst us required a step ladder to get in the vehicle!

Happyworld Northern Lights Iceland Tour - Land Rover Defender

image : - Land Rover Defender

The lights of Reykjavik were soon behind us as Gunner took us to a remote roadside stop where we set up our cameras and waited for the Northern Lights to appear.  We were incredibly lucky that no other tour group stopped at the same location for most of the time we were there.

It was cold standing out there in the darkness!  Even though we had dressed appropriately with thermals & base layers, together with neck warmers, jackets, and double layered socks, you could still feel the cold slowly seep through your shoes and start creeping up your legs. 

Gunner told us that the trick to spotting the Northern Lights is to make sure your eyes get accustomed to the darkness. If a car approaches you need to shield your eyes, or turn away, so that the light doesn't make your pupils constrict.  Every time a bus or vehicle approached we'd all quickly turn away or shut our eyes. Maybe this left the impression that we didn't want them to stop! 

As we gazed into the clear night sky one of our party exclaimed: "I think I see them!".  

Sure enough, a faint grey-white glow was developing against the sky, almost like a cloud.  We soon learnt that the human eye doesn't see the Lights quite the same way a good camera can capture them! So it was that as we took photos we saw the green colour of the Lights. Even so, we could see them when they were faint and we could definitely see them when they glowed, bright & shimmering. We could make out the verticals and we could make out the dancing. It was simply magical!

I can't express the wonder at witnessing the Northern Lights except through pictures, so here are some that were taken during the couple of hours we stood outside, pointing, laughing, gasping & mesmerised.

Northern Lights © Holidays Beckon

Northern Lights © Holidays Beckon

Northern Lights © Holidays Beckon

Northern Lights © Holidays Beckon

After a couple of hours, a nice cup of hot chocolate and a shot of Icelandic Brennvín, translated directly to “burning wine”, we decided it was time to move on.  Brennvín is made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway and a popular distilled beverage, also known as the "Black Death". You could definitely feel it "burn" all the way down, but it soon warmed us up! Skál!

As we left the roadside stop we'd called our own for a couple of hours a big bus pulled up & out poured a number of tourists. Thankfully the Lights had already put on their performance for us and we were pleased to leave. On the way back to Reykjavik we saw the Lights start to dance even more than they had previously!  Gunner had also seen this and found a place to safely stop. We jumped out of the 4WD and watched in awe.

Northern Lights © Holidays Beckon

Northern Lights © Holidays Beckon

Northern Lights © Holidays Beckon

As the Lights started to dim we piled back into the 4WD and headed back to Reykjavik.

We were truly blessed to have seen the Northern Lights on our first attempt! A lot of people travel all this way and don't get to see them. It all comes down to the weather (you need clear skies) and relies on the solar winds causing a disturbance in the magnetosphere that results in  charged particles fall into the upper atmosphere.

By the time we got back to the apartment it was after 1am. We were weary but at the same time elated by the experience.

We also did a Golden Circle tour, which is very popular for visitors to Iceland. Read about it here.

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