Chasing Aurora

From a twist of events, our family decided to spend the Christmas holidays in Europe.  We originally intended to visit the different Christmas markets and visit Santa Claus in his hometown in Lapland, then one thing lead to another. One day my brother informed me of our final itinerary after visiting a few Christmas markets in Germany – 14 days and 13 nights in Iceland!

“What? That long in Iceland??  Why?  And why are we spending Christmas Day and New Year’s Day in a cold island?  What is there that is about Christmas or New Year?”.  These were my questions.

The only answer I got was this:  “To make sure we’ll see the Aurora Borealis.”  And I still did not get it. 🙂

Seeing the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) was in my top three travel wish lists, but to spend 2 weeks in Iceland to make sure we’ll see it? Hmm…

Fast forward to December and January 2017, we did a clockwise self-drive on the Ring Road, with Reykjavik as our point of origin.  Out of our 2-weeks stay in Iceland, we only saw the Aurora Borealis three times, and none of those sightings were easy.

We saw the Northern Lights for the first time on our second night in Iceland, at Snæfellsnes, albeit our lack of anticipation for seeing it due to the cloud cover and the snowy weather.  We met some Koreans at the hostel who were very persistent to chase Aurora; they insisted that the lights would  show up as there was a star sighting and a very faint shade of green in the sky.  The lights show up indeed, but my sister-in-law and I failed to see them as they were gone the moment we’ve finished dressing up the kids and ourselves for the snow and the cold.  Then the lights showed up again that night after we’ve lost hope of seeing it.  And on its second show, Aurora Borealis was stronger and wilder.  It showed up in hues of green, blue, purple, pink and orange.  It danced.  And it bedazzled everyone.

Here are our photos of the Aurora Borealis in Snæfellsnes.

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My brother’s photo of the Aurora Borealis
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My husband’s photo of the dancing Aurora Borealis

Seeing the beautiful Aurora Borealis made us me overconfident about seeing it at least half of the time we’re in Iceland. But nights passed – two of those we’ve spent near the mountain top in Akureyri, away from the bright city lights, under clear skies but with the Aurora Borealis covering Canada only; one of those we’ve spent in Djúpivogur, with just a few houses surrounding us on a clear night but with no active Aurora Borealis activity in Iceland; and two of those in Vatnajökull where we thought everyone in the family will easily see the lights even from the guesthouse’s window.  Aurora Borealis proved to be very elusive; and in a country with a weather as unpredictable as Iceland, we I thought we’d never see it again as several “Aurora-less” nights passed. Until we decided to chase it.

We saw the lights for the second time on our last night in Vatnajökull.  Only my brother and his wife, my sister and I saw the lights though.  The two kids, my parents and my husband were left in the room as it was  already late (around 11 PM) and it was freezingly cold.  Because there was a highland in front of our guesthouse which we thought was possibly blocking our sight of the Aurora, we decided to drive around.  And yes, we found Aurora!

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Aurora and the Super Jeeps

We saw 3 Super Jeeps rushing to go somewhere and that was when we decided to go to a probably better spot – at Jökulsárlón (a glacier lake).  Aurora was dancing in all its glory at Jökulsárlón!  We endured the cold (imagine the glaciers!) as we thought it might be our last chance to see the Aurora.

Here are some of the pictures we’ve captured:

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I almost lost my fingers (to frost bite) to take this photo. 😀

Credits to my sister for the above the photos in mosaic

We saw the lights for the last time in Reykjavik on a New Year’s eve, when the sky was so clear, the Aurora had a very strong activity and the weather was good.  However, as it was New Year’s eve, there were celebrations – fireworks, bonfires and lights were all over the capital city of Iceland. Aurora Borealis was faintly visible, and we did not see its spectacular show as the city was well-lit.

I’ll end this blog by answering my questions prior to experiencing the Aurora Borealis:

“What? That long in Iceland??  Why?  With or without the Aurora Borealis, I’d say 14 days and 13 days is too short to see all that Iceland has to offer.  We barely scratched Iceland’s surface, especially with its very challenging weather in December and January.  More so, spending 14 days and 13 nights in Iceland is just right to get a high possibility of seeing the Aurora Borealis.  As an Aurora Borealis sighting depends on clear skies, good Aurora activity and dark surroundings, 2 weeks are just but right especially in a country with a very unpredictable weather as Iceland.  We were actually lucky to have seen it thrice, as some people have stayed for weeks without seeing it.

And why are we spending Christmas Day and New Year’s Day in a cold island?  What is there that is about Christmas or New Year?  An Iceland trip in winter is all about getting bonded in road trips, in borrowing each others’ thermal clothes in cases of shortage (lol) and in preparing home-cooked meals (restaurant food is very pricey).  Is there a better time to get bonded than during the Christmas holidays?  Secondly, Reykjavik’s traditional New Year’s eve bonfires are amazing and Akureyri’s Christmas winter wonderland appeal is unforgettable.  And best of all, Iceland gave me the greatest Christmas/nightlife experiences of my life – the Aurora Borealis. 🙂

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“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”            –Mary Anne Radmacher

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