From Iceland — Looking For The Northern Lights

Looking For The Northern Lights

Published May 7, 2013

Looking For The Northern Lights

The first time I went looking for the Northern Lights here in Iceland was something of a learning experience. After about an hour of waiting outside, beachfront in Vesturbær, I learned why people here invest in wool socks. The next thing I realised was that just walking outside to see the Aurora can be a waste of time. That is to say, you can be sitting there all night waiting for the lights and never see them. I suppose that’s the risk you take. Still, there had to be a better way of doing this. At 03:30, I went back home.

Over the next few days I continued to check the “Aurora forecast” on, and as soon as it looked promising, I strolled down to the beach for another stab at chasing those pesky polar lights. This time, I went with two pairs of socks and an extra sweater, but I still wasn’t warm enough; Iceland in March can get pretty cold. I remembered seeing a photo once of a hotel in Finland that had glass-domed ceilings so that people could lie in bed and see the Aurora. Actually, this image inevitably appeared in my head every time I tried to see the lights, sort of taunting me. Wouldn’t that be nice. This time, I called it quits after about three hours, frozen, defeated, and no closer to seeing the lights.

After looking for the Northern Lights on your own, you realise it can be beneficial to go on a guided Northern Lights tour. First, the guides take you outside of the city to places where the Polar Lights are most visible; they know where to go. More importantly, you can sit in the bus and look out the window while you wait for the lights. Or you can have the guides freeze to death for you while you wait – in the warmth – until they tell you to come out. Despite these considerable advantages, I opted to continue to try to see them on my own.

Chasing Polar lights

So, I checked again to see the forecast. It looked good. It occurred to me that I should definitely try to see the lights while I’m here because who knows when I’ll be back for another chance. So, I rented a car, and drove outside the city as soon as it got dark.

I pulled off the road on to a dirt path where it was just about as dark as it gets. Sitting in the car is certainly a better option than waiting for the lights in the cold. It wasn’t exactly warm, but I could feel the wind shaking the car and I was happy to be inside of it. It wasn’t quite as nice as the hotel in Finland, but at least I had a bottle of water and some “Vanillu Kremkex” to snack on.

The bad part, however, comes in two parts. The first of them being that you’ll psyche yourself out when you’re in the middle of nowhere in the dark. I have never been more “alone” than when I was on a dark and dirty road a little outside Reykjavík. In some ways it was pleasant and truly enjoyable, and in others it was a little unnerving. The second and obviously more serious piece of bad news was that the night was over and, after all of my efforts and planning, I still hadn’t seen the aurora borealis. How frustrating! It was after this experience that I decided to give up on trying to see them; I had made an honest effort but this was ridiculous.

A few weeks later, – having given up on looking for the Northern Lights – my roommate’s cat woke me up at about 02:40. Having a hard time falling back to sleep, I got up to get something to eat. While my bread was in the toaster, I stood there bored and half asleep and lifted my head up to look out the window. I was outside about five seconds later watching the best light show I’ve ever seen.

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