“Come out of the car, I can see the lights! We need to get to the lake fast!” says Ryan Oliveira, our expedition guide and aurora hunter for the night. All of us rush out as we’re on a mission to hunt the Northern Lights near the Arctic Circle in Finland’s Lapland region. We’ve just seen a faint glow and haze so far, but Ryan from Beyond Arctic knows better and has brought us to Lake Vietonen, about 62km from Rovaniemi. We scramble our way through the grass and reach the base of the lake. And then the drama unfolds…
A dream come true
I spot a faint hint of green light on a pitch-dark but cloudy sky. Within five minutes, the green gets a bit deeper. It doesn’t clothe the entire sky but is more like a beam coming out of the heavens. As one streak turns pinkish and purple, we all squeal in delight. It seems as if an artist is creating dramatic, magic brushstrokes with a paintbrush in the Arctic night sky. And then the lights start dancing in front of us, dispersing in different directions in short, spellbinding bursts.
I cannot believe I have seen the Northern Lights. Being addicted to travel, this has been on my bucket list for so many years. Now here I am, standing in the insanely gorgeous Finnish Lapland region watching my dream come true. When dreams come true, tears and goosebumps can follow. I have never connected with the sky the way that I did in those five minutes. Lapland makes one believe in magic and harmonises one with nature in so many ways, leaving a person feeling humbled and a tiny speck in this vast planet.
Ryan quickly sets the camera and then asks us to pose one by one. My smile hasn’t been wider any other day of my life, I feel. With the temperature hovering around 1 or 2 degrees centigrade, it is very cold but thankfully not snowing since we are here around the beginning of autumn. When the lights disappear, we go to a small enclosure where Ryan sets up a crackling fire. We roast some marshmallows and warm ourselves before returning to the hotel in Rovaniemi a happy bunch. Little do we know what lies in store for the next evening.
Floating worries away
After spending a lovely day in Lapland’s delightful capital city Rovaniemi, we head out for a rather unusual experience. Since it’s cloudy, we are not expecting to see the aurora borealis again because they only appear in a clear sky. We make our way to yet another lake, about 25km away, where we float without getting wet!
It is freezing at Joutolampi Lake but we are asked to get into bright orange dry suits which look like overalls from the television show Money Heist. These dry suits are massive and also cover our mouth so that no water gets in. We venture inside the lake and for some time, I literally float my worries away. But what follows is something unexpected.
Second time lucky
I get out of the lake and can spot a faint glow in the sky. I know in my heart that it is the auroras. For the next hour, it is a light show like no other. The lights form a full arc and are actually dancing in front of us. Green, pink, purple — the bursts of colour are much stronger than what we had seen the previous day and stay for a good while. I go inside, clamber out of the dry suit as quickly as I can and run outside with my phone to capture them. And the lights are still shimmering.
There are numerous myths and stories behind these lights but for me, they are a mystical phenomenon that leave me with a sense of wonder at nature’s many faces. The happiest country in the world definitely makes these two nights very special and I return a very happy and more peaceful soul.
Things to keep in mind while planning a trip to Lapland to see the Northern Lights:
- The best time to spot them is from August-end to March-end.
- You need a clear sky to see the Northern Lights so the chances are quite slim on a cloudy night.
- Although it is possible to spot the lights in Rovaniemi, it is best to go somewhere around, maybe near a lake, so that the reflection of city lights is minimum.
- Instead of venturing out on your own, it is better to go with a Northern Lights tour company. They are experts and know the best places to spot them. I went with Beyond Arctic but there are other companies that can be found on the official website of Visit Rovaniemi.
- Wear warm clothing such as thermals, a down jacket, woollen gloves, a muffler, socks and a cap because you may be outside for a long time and it can get very cold. You may need a parka (an insulated jacket that’s much warmer than a down jacket), earmuffs and snow boots in winter when the temperature can dip below minus 10 degrees centigrade. Some companies provide these clothing items but it’s best to check before you travel.
- Carry snacks like chocolates or dry fruits in case you have to wait for a long time for the lights to appear.
- You will need a wide-angle camera lens and tripod for professional photography.
- Some expedition guides are also professional photographers who will take pictures and send them to you.
- The lights appear brighter on the phone than to the naked eye.