It had been a long day when we boarded the minibus to venture out into the darkness of the Icelandic winter in search of the northern lights. Indeed, the prospect of gorging ourselves at the Laugarvatn Fontana’s restaurant, before baking in their geothermal mineral pools to the point of delirium under the dancing aurora, seemed like the perfect antidote to adult life.
Our guide for the evening was Helgi Gunnarsson, a veteran of Iceland’s tourism industry with around 40 years’ experience. His ideal aurora viewing conditions would be “sitting by a lake at the base of a snow-capped mountain, with the lights dancing around the peak and reflecting in the water, with someone you really care for, sipping a single malt.”
Of course, some elements of this dream are far from guaranteed, and during the journey into the countryside, the sky was blanketed by clouds, without so much as a flicker of aurora activity. We stepped out of the minibus a couple of times en route, hoping for some kind of flirtation with the northern lights, but the night remained deadly still and our luck, for now, was out.
Fortunately, our frustration was quelled almost immediately, thanks to three courses of food so excessive they were borderline taboo. After several minutes of introspection, we conjured up the desire to fight off our food comas, eventually lumbering out of the geothermal pool changing rooms into the frosty night.
It was a chilly night, and we took refuge in the first sight of warmth, which happened to be the children’s pool. Next, with the peer-pressure mounting to intolerable levels, we deserted our lukewarm outpost for warmer climes, working our way through the various bathing pools and hot pots that Fontana has to offer.
Exiting the water looking like Benjamin Button, it was time to get a sweat on in the sauna, before returning to the baths once more for a quick stargaze. By now, the sky was clearing, and our hopes of an aurora sighting were rising, due in part to our new-found, heat-induced sense of zen.
We re-entered our ride titillated by the renewed possibility of seeing the famed natural phenomena. Our tour guide, Helgi, was ready for the big showdown, as were we. Mutterings of aurora activity filtered through his radio as we passed through the Þingvellir National Park on the way back to Reykjavík. And then, outside of the van’s right-hand windows, the flickers began.
We quickly rushed out of our minibus and caught a glimpse of the vast green aurora through the clouds. “There is no one holding a lamp out there!” Helgi assured us. Unfortunately, our prayers to the Norse Gods to remove the obscuring haze went unheard, and the subtle glow soon disappeared back into the night.
While the northern lights’ cameo was short and reluctant, it still went some way toward capping off the evening, which had successfully transported us away from the travails of everyday life. Nevertheless, as we experienced, natural phenomena are unreliable. The tour operator knows it, so if you book the “Warm Baths and Cool Lights” tour and don’t see the aurora, you’ll be offered a free trip out into night later to try your luck one more time.