From Iceland — Safari of the North: Hunting for Northern Lights

Safari of the North: Hunting for Northern Lights

Safari of the North: Hunting for Northern Lights

Jóhanna Pétursdóttir
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published January 22, 2019

I immediately regret the sun having fooled me into not dressing properly when we are waiting for the bus from BusTravel Iceland. This regret disappears quickly, though, once I find my seat in the comfortable bus, which only holds about 20 people. When the guide, Símon, welcomes us with a chocolate cookie, I am completely convinced. He says it’s for good luck—as if I need persuasion for eating chocolate. Then we go, heading to the unknown, in search of the illusive northern lights. Símon tells us to buckle up and informs us about the Wi-Fi password, as well as which apps are best to use to take pictures when the northern lights appear. We count ourselves lucky with the weather as the forecast is 5 on the scale from 0–9. For reference, the scale refers to the visibility of the aurora borealis. Over 3 means you can see them.

There is a sense of knowledge in Símon’s voice while he’s telling us myths and facts about the northern lights. “It’s probably the 315tht time that I am going to see them, but it’s always different,” he says, with excitement in his voice.  

The northern lights are formed by charged particles from solar flares that penetrate through the Earth’s magnetic shield and collide with atoms and molecules in our atmosphere. Because these solar flares are sent long before the northern lights appear, scientists are able to predict how strong or weak they will appear—which is then shown in the aurora borealis forecast scale. The fact that they are the strongest in the North and South Pole is due to the magnetic field that is formed in those areas of the globe. When the solar particles collide with the our atmospheric ones, the resulting ionization makes for colours such as white, green and purple, dancing across the sky. Símon says that they can even be red.

“Put your phone down and look up,” Símon says. We are standing in the middle of a remote field looking up to the flowing, flickering lights in the sky. It is freezing cold, but everyone is motionless, looking up in awe people. Couples move closer to keep each other warm; some are taking pictures, but no one says a word. The lights move across the whole sky turning white and green with a subtle line of purple. After having stood in the cold for a bit, Símon brings out hot chocolate to heat us up.

What I enjoyed very much about the trip is that outside, there was no one checking their watch, feeling pressured to return. Everyone had their special moment and our guide approached the group like a natural. “When I travel, I want to have fun. Because when I have fun, they have fun. I see it as travelling with my family,” he said when I asked how he carried that out so effortlessly. That, I can attest, is absolutely true. For that moment, I felt like family.

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About Our Guide:

Name:  Símon Adolf Haraldsson
Age: 45

From: Reykjavík, but my family comes from East Landeyjar, Akureyri, the Westfjords and Germany.Favourite part of the job: What I love about this job is being outside in this amazing country, meeting wonderful people from all over the world. and the fact that I get to create unforgettable memories both for me and my customers!

Strange guide moment: When people ask me about the northern lights, sometimes they say, “When do they start, How long do they last?” My reply is just, “It depends on the people working at the energy company this night!”

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