Chasing the Northern Lights in Norway

by Dec 3, 2012100 Things, Europe, Norway9 comments

Less than 12 hours after Matt got home from his work trip to Ireland we headed to Gatwick airport for our flight to Tromso, Norway (via Oslo). It’s safe to say that Gatwick currently wins for my favourite London airport. It only took 45 minutes to get there from our house and it wasn’t that busy so we were through check in and security in record time.

After 2 uneventful flights (we like those), a few hours of waiting for our connecting flight, and eating the most delicious hot dog ever, we arrived in the (very dark) city of Tromso.

Shall we have a little geography lesson? Ok! Norway is a very long country and Tromso is so far north that it’s actually in the Arctic Circle by the northern borders of Sweden and Finland.

And with that little tidbit of information, we ticked off #43 – Visit the Artic. You all know I’m from Canada and enjoy the cold (as long as I’m wearing appropriate clothing – besides that time I thought I could get away with only a t-shirt when it was -25C) so I definitely felt like I was in my element in the Arctic. I freaking loved it! It was cold, icy, and there was snow on the ground. I did get a little cocky at one point telling Matt all these tricks on how to walk on ice then promptly slipped and fell on my ass. He didn’t fall once the whole time we were there…

One of the coolest (no pun intended) things about being in the Artic was the lack of sunlight. Dawn starts at about 8:30am and hazy light starts to fill the sky.

Breakfast with a view

Then the sun actually rises at 11:00am but doesn’t make it over the mountains before it starts to set.

Sunset @ Malagen

By 2:30pm, it’s pitch black again. While it was quite a surreal experience, it also totally messed up our body clocks and we felt so tired we had a couple naps in the middle of the ‘day’.


The first place we stayed at was Malagen Brygger about an hour outside of Tromso. Yes, it was very pricey but we wanted the opportunity to see the Northern Lights without the lights of the city in the way. Malagen is a resort-type lodge that has a few different options for accommodation. Through our package, we got to stay in a 2 storey, bright red, fisherman’s cottage. It had a lounge and full kitchen on the 1st floor and 3 bedrooms plus bathroom on the 2nd floor. Oh, and 2 balconies.

Sunrise @ Malagen Brygger

View from our room

Our package also included a buffet breakfast and sit down dinner so we made sure to load up. I wasn’t expecting the food to be very good in Norway, but it was so delicious  Probably some of the best food I’ve had on our trips yet. And meatballs for breakfast? Genius.

First rule of travel: load up on the free buffet breakfast.

Alcohol is really expensive in Norway so we only had one drink each the whole time we were there – 2 glasses of CASK red wine added up to £14 (or $30NZD).

We caught our first glimpse of the Northern Lights on our way back to our cottage from dinner. They didn’t have much colour to them and looked like a weird patch of fog moving around the of sky. I didn’t have my camera on me so there are no photos of it, unfortunately!

The second night we were at Malagen, we were meant to go on a kick-sled lights chase so we donned our (awesome) survival suits and (equally awesome) hats and headed out.

Our survival suits

It was too icy to do any of the activities they had planned so we just hung out in a hut with a glass roof waiting for the lights to show up. There were 2 Aussies also with us and since the lights didn’t want to make an appearance, we spent most of the time chatting with them.

Our biggest problem was that it was really cloudy while we were in Tromso which has a huge effect on the Northern Lights. We thought we’d be clever and set an alarm for 3am since it was likely to be clear then. I have not seen a darker sky in my life. No sign of anything except a few stars and the moon. A couple days later Matt read that the magnetic band around the earth (where the lights are active) moves over Tromso from 6pm – midnight. Would’ve been good to know that when I was taking this picture…


So we had to go back to Tromso without getting a good look at the lights and only had 2 more nights to see them.

Tromso is such a pretty city. Half of it is on the mainland, and the other half is on an island and they are connected by this super high bridge. We walked around for a little bit (until we got too cold) to take in the sights. They love Christmas (or any other reason to celebrate) more than anyone I’ve ever seen and I guess you have to when you don’t see the sun for months on end.

Tromso Bridge

Hearts in Tromso city

Tromso church

Back at our hotel, we partook in the free Make Your Own Waffle station…


…then went to our room to do some research on how/when to see the Northern Lights (for a description of how the Northern Lights are created, you can check out Wikipedia). Matt came across a website that had a live sky cam and we’d check it every few minutes to see if there was any activity. Suddenly, Matt yelled “LIGHTS!” and we grabbed the camera gear and headed outside.

Now, I was busy fighting with the tripod and getting the right settings on the freaking camera so I missed the main event but Matt assures me it was the most amazing thing he’s ever seen (as evidenced by the fact that he turned into a giddy little boy right before my eyes). I caught the tail end of it though….yay.

Because of the way cameras work, they pick up more of the colour in the lights than we do with our naked eye. So when I looked at the sky, I didn’t see any colour and only a little bit of movement but my camera picked up this:

Northern lights over bridge

Taking photos of the Northern Lights involves using a 30 second exposure, a concept lost on some (drunk) people apparently. While we were shooting, a group of inebriated albeit very nice locals came up to chat with us. One was concerned that I had lost my lens cap so thought it would be a good idea to wave his hands in front of my camera. Not cool, dude.

Hand wave

Out of desperation, we bit the bullet and booked ourselves on a Northern Lights chase for the following (and our last) night. Again, very expensive but it meant we were away from the city lights and with people who knew what they were doing when it came to seeing the Northern Lights. And we got an added bonus we weren’t expecting.

Our guide (Trine) was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. Matt and I sat in the seats directly behind her as we drove to our destination and she chatted with us the entire way. Her excitement piqued when she got a phone call (still legal to talk and drive in Norway apparently) from another guide back at the base.

They had humpback whales in the bay which was a very rare occurrence. It was too dark to see them but we definitely heard them blowing air out of their blowholes. I so badly wanted to get out on the water! But we settled for listening to them while we searched the sky for the Northern Lights.

Even though we had perfect conditions, it looked like we’d be out of luck yet again. We took the time to play around with the long exposure…

Playing with long exposure

…and take photos of the ice ring around the very bright moon.

Moon ring

Then it looked like something was about to happen.

As I was explaining earlier, the camera picks up more of the colour than our eyes do. These photos were taken exactly the same way only a few minutes apart and you can (sort of) see the difference.


With lights

Just a light glow of green in the second one but that was the only hint we got for another couple hours.

Keeping warm

Keeping warm

Soon it was time for us to head back to the city as it was getting late and starting to cloud over. Just as I was about to pack up my camera, I took this.

Northern Lights

On our way back to the city, our guide decided to try a different location in a last ditch effort.

Thanks to the sharp eyes of her uncle (I think? It’s a family owned business) we pulled over to the side of the road and set up the camera (AGAIN. Tripods are annoying) just in time for a proper show of the Northern Lights.



Northern Lights

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

I’m not kidding when I say it was magical. Seeing the Northern Lights may be crossed off the list now, but it’s sure to be an annual trip.

*In case anyone is looking at going to Tromso, our final (successful) Northern Lights chase tour was with Tromso Friluftsenter with the lovely Trine as our guide.