Barry's blog posts
After arriving in the beautiful city of Honningsvåg, the northernmost city of Norway, I was in my element. Although chances of seeing the Aurora were slim, I was happy enough to admire the stunning view from my window of the harbour scattered with lights reflecting from the water and lined with fishing boats and nets ready for tomorrow’s work.
The drive to this enchanting (extremely small) city, along the Norwegian coastline, made for some spectacular views, with the sunset creating a pink tinge in the sky above the mountains, causing me to come to the conclusion that my trip wasn’t going to get much better than this.
If I had a pound for every time I have been asked this question I would be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. If I had an exact answer, I would be rich beyond the dreams of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet combined.
The problem with the Aurora is that it is a natural phenomenon and regardless of whether it is September, December or March, its appearance can rarely be predicted much more than a few hours in advance.
Have you noticed that there has been far less mentioned in the media recently about Auroral displays over the UK and yet pictures of the Northern Lights taken further north continue to flood onto social media sites?
This is exactly what we said would happen in our blog back in November and given that we are dealing with something as unpredictable as Mother Nature, we are prepared to give ourselves a hearty pat on the back.
The light pollution created by more than 8 million people would render even the most vibrant of Auroral displays above the UK’s capital pretty much redundant but, for six weeks only, the Northern Lights will be visible in SW3.
Our representative Dan has been busy looking after our Aurora Zone guests staying in Nellim this winter. We caught up with him to find out a little bit more about his time there:
'My role at Nellim is to ensure our guests have the best experiences possible! From organising the pre-arrival details, the day-to-day chatting with guests, to waving goodbye at the end of the holiday, it's my job to help things run smoothly.
The Treehotel has expanded their unique portfolio of impressive contemporary accommodation to bring you the brand new, magical ‘7th Room’, created with Northern Lights lovers in mind!
If you haven’t heard of the Treehotel, where have you been!? Located in pine forests by the Lule River in Swedish Lapland it is one of the most architecturally impressive collection of rooms. Set up by Kent Lindvall and his wife Britta in 2010, the portfolio of rooms consists of The Cabin, The UFO, The Mirrorcube, The Blue Cone, The Bird’s Nest and The Dragonfly, each with their own unique character.
Have you noticed how popular Finland has become recently?
Every time I open a magazine or the travel section of a national newspaper it seems that everybody is tipping Finland as THE hot destination for 2017.
The Sun is currently in the declining stage of Solar Cycle 24 and this has prompted some speculation that Auroral displays will become less commonplace. Fortunately, this is not the case because the Aurora stems from two sources: Coronal Mass Ejections and Coronal Holes.
During the declining stage of the Solar Cycle it is the less violent but more stable Coronal Holes that are the more likely to cause the Northern Lights to dance in our night skies and the beauty of these holes on the SUN’s surface is that they can come round time and again.
Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s contest is to decide the celestial heavyweight championship of the year.
In the blue corner; The Northern Lights!!
In the red corner; The biggest moon for 70 years!!!!
Warning! Contains scenes of nudity
Temperatures in March tend to be milder than in the very heart of winter. Okay, it’s still not exactly tropical and only the hardiest of souls would brave the elements like our hero below. However, Aurora hunting requires patience and the chances are that you will be warmer waiting in March than in say December or January.
There are various theories flying around online suggesting that the Aurora Borealis is going to disappear as the current cycle (Solar Cycle 24) enters its declining stage to 'Solar Minimum'.
Such theories are frustrating because, as our Managing Director Ali McLean will tell you, the inspiration for The Aurora Zone was born on two consecutive nights in 2008 when we were at the lowest point of Solar Cycle 23.
It has been said that as we reach the 'Solar Minimum' stage of Solar Cycle 24, the Northern Lights will disappear from view.
For us to reassure you as to why this won’t happen we have to take a look at the science behind the magnificent Aurora Borealis.
Have you been watching Professor Brian Cox’s brilliant ‘Forces of Nature’ series featured on BBC One? This week’s stunning final episode focused on the science behind the colours of our planet.
Brian travelled around the globe experiencing phenomena such as the gentle beauty of a moon bow in Iceland, to the transformation of the sun-drenched Serengeti.
Finally, he landed in Northern Norway to uncover our favourite of all nature’s marvels – the spectacular Northern Lights.
Travelling to the Arctic not only takes you into Aurora territory, but it takes you into vast tracts of pristine wilderness where stunning views become almost commonplace.
In the Arctic there is nothing bleak about the winter environment. Wildlife abounds, and you will certainly develop respect for your surroundings and individuals who have made it their home over the centuries and even in modern times have an admirable relationship with the nature around them.
If you were lucky enough to enjoy one of our Northern Lights holidays to Muotka or Nellim this winter you will be familiar with our representative Ben. We caught up with Ben and here’s what he had to say.
How many times did you see the Northern Lights this winter?
Too many times to count. Every show is different which is what makes it so unique and special. For me, the times when I enjoy them the most is when I can see the different colours and the incredible movement. When it's like that it can't fail to send shivers down your spine.
Credit: Marrku Inkila
This winter Katrina Seator has been working as our representative in Finland, looking after our Aurora Zone clients who were staying in Harriniva and Torassieppi. As this season draws to a close we asked Katrina to tell us about some of her favourite experiences of the season and for any top tips for our future travellers.
Dog Sledding and the Northern Lights in Greenland
As Product and Operations Manager here at the Aurora Zone, I have been a regular visitor to the more northerly and remote corners of Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway for many years. At first, the thought of travelling to places that lie north of the Arctic Circle was somewhat daunting but with growing experience it is something with which I have grown very comfortable and I occasionally found myself digging around for evermore remote places to visit.
Three Alternatives to the IceHotel
“a heady mix of sublime beauty and exquisite disappointment.”
If you watched Alexander Armstrong’s Land of the Midnight Sun on ITV this week you’ll have doubtless been awestruck by the sheer beauty of the IceHotel in Sweden’s Jukkasjärvi. Armstrong was rightly smitten with the IceHotel’s breathtaking interior areas and marvelled at the skilled craftsmanship of the ice and snow artisans who gather every October to create this annual monument to ice and snow architecture.
What the program didn’t reveal was that the affable presenter expresses far more mixed sentiments in the book “Land of the Midnight Sun” which accompanies the series. Yes he agrees, the IceHotel is astonishing but, he wasn’t as enthusiastic about what he perceived as an over-commercialisation of the project. Having expected “the pinnacle of refined luxury” he instead encounters “a huge complex that feels like something between a shopping centre and one of those “Christmas Wonderlands” that pop up in the Home Counties in the run up to Christmas each year”
Our forefathers believed that the Northern Lights were anything from spirits of the departed to vanquished warriors to the gods themselves.
Some saw the lights as a portent of good, guests travelling to a celestial wedding for example but, in the main, the lights were generally associated with something more malevolent.
We’ve been looking through our vast library of images to illustrate just why our ancestors held the Aurora in such reverence. Here are a few examples.
A Very Angry God?
That is one very, very frightening face reflected in the mirror like waters of the Paatsjoki River in Northern Finland.
Given the nature of my work I regularly travel to the destinations featured here at The Aurora Zone and, as a result, I get to know the countries very well and also its inhabitants. I most frequently visit Northern Scandinavia and whenever I meet a Finn, a Swede or a Norwegian for the first time I always ask the same question:
“Where is your cabin?”
Almost without exception, Scandinavians own a cabin, a cabin with no running water, no electricity but a cabin which almost invariably enjoys an enviable lakeside position. These cabins are where the good people of Finland, Sweden and Norway escape to immerse themselves in nature, to relax and to just generally have a pretty laid back time.
A few years ago, one of our Finnish suppliers invited me to come over and spend a few days at his remote lakeside cabin. He could get some time away from work in late-October and simply wanted to enjoy some downtime before the busy winter months.
As with most of our guests, my first impression of Lapland in the winter is one of awe that so much snow can possibly exist in one place.
I was never fortunate to go skiing or anything like that when I was younger, so for me this was the first time I had seen what real winter can look like.
It is obvious when you travel to somewhere like Nellim in Finnish Lapland that the snow in the UK is really rather pitiful and quite literally pales into comparison to the thick deep white snow of Lapland. It covers everything – roads, paths, rooftops, trees, frozen lakes, giving the whole place a magical, pristine and beautiful feel.
The Northern Lights – An otherworldly experience
Way back in 1958, an absolutely massive solar flare resulted in the Northern Lights being visible as far south as Mexico City. By all accounts, the emergency services were inundated with panicky calls from residents who thought the dancing lights in the sky heralded an extraterrestrial invasion!!
You have to see the Northern Lights up close and personal to understand why the good people of Mexico City reacted in the way they did.
Stand on a frozen Arctic lake and watch curtains of ethereal light shimmering and billowing overhead. It soon becomes apparent why Stone Age or Iron Age man might have believed Mother Nature's hypnotic light show to be the spirits of the departed or celestial warriors engaged in combat of the immortals.
Be one of the first to stay in an AURORA BUBBLE!
Nestled in a quiet corner of Finnish Lapland under an endless northern sky the Aurora Bubbles are set to become THE place to watch the Northern Lights shimmering dance.
Ideally located by Lake Inari- you will find yourself in perfect Northern Lights hunting territory.
How appropriate that on St Patrick's Day, a huge geomagnetic storm should set the Aurora Borealis dancing across the skies from North America to Northern Scandinavia.
Due to the altitude with which solar particles collide with our atmosphere, the Aurora is usually predominantly green which seems to hit exactly the right St Patrick's Day notes. However, because of the sheer ferocity of the geomagnetic storm raging above our head, today's Auroras are likely to be multi-coloured with yellows, reds, pinks and blues as much to the fore as the more "traditional" green.
In the Arctic temperatures can drop down to -35 and because of polar night it's mostly dark. Handling the camera with thick gloves in the dark can be challenging.
You should do some training with gloves on and get the feeling for the buttons.
One important thing is not to breathe too much into the camera. The vapour freezes in the camera and can be very nasty especially in the lens. So keep a good distance to the camera and if you use the viewfinder, try not to breathe while looking through it.
We are very excited to announce our newest northern light adventure: Abisko Autumn Aurora Adventure photography trip.
For the first time ever, you will have the chance to join us in Abisko National Park during the warmest time of the aurora season.
This once in a lifetime trip will allow you to experience the northern lights in the relative warmth of Autumn and will provide you with an opportunity to photograph the auroras reflecting in the beautiful rivers, lakes and streams of the Arctic.
How many times have we heard this said about Northern Scandinavia?
There is a perception that 24 hours of darkness falls north of the Arctic Circle for the entire winter. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Even in deepest December, when the sun doesn’t appear above the horizon for several weeks, there is what the locals call “blue time” or “kaamos”, an eerie yet magical grey/blue light that is neither night nor day.
Take somewhere like Muonio in Finnish Lapland. Muonio is a small village situated in North East Finnish Lapland and, according to people who know far more about these things than we do, the sun will disappear below the horizon on 10 December 2013 and reappear on 02 January 2014 (for 32 minutes).
It’s that time of year again, when the Northern Lights have begun to make an appearance across the Arctic sky. If these spectacular displays are anything to go by it looks like we are in for a real treat this Aurora season.
These images were taken only two nights ago (21st August) in Harriniva by Northern Lights guide and photographer Antti Pietikäinen. This certainly makes us very excited as our first autumn Northern Lights holiday departures are only weeks away!
Go in search of the Aurora Borealis! To see our selection of autumn Northern Lights holidays click here - but be quick as we have limited spaces left!
Our guide Trygvor picked us up at the hotel and before leaving we poured over the latest meteorological charts downloaded from the local Weather Centre’s website just 30 minutes earlier.
“It’s not a great night for the Aurora” was our guide’s very frank and somewhat disappointing summation “but, if we head south away from the clouds then we will find the Northern Lights”.
With renewed vigour, we jumped into the warmth of Trygvor’s car and headed out of town. As we drove south away from the Arctic Ocean we were told to keep our eyes peeled, not on the Arctic firmament but the roadside.
Solar Maximum – You Have Not Missed Out!
The sun's magnetic field changes polarity approximately every 11 years. It happens at the peak of each solar cycle as the sun's inner magnetic dynamo reorganises itself. On 06 December 2013, NASA predicted that the sun’s polarity would flip sometime in December which would herald the peak of the current Solar Cycle 24. This peak in the sun’s activity is known as the ‘Solar Maximum’.
Solar Maximum is the period during which the Northern Lights tend to be at their strongest and most frequent.
At the time of writing (30 Dec 13) and despite reports to the contrary in certain parts of the media, NASA has not yet announced that we have reached Solar Maximum.
We’re often asked “when is the best time to travel to Northern Scandinavia?” and it is very difficult to provide a concise response. A quick straw poll amongst my colleagues revealed a diversity of responses to what is evidently a highly subjective topic.
Some are fascinated by the midnight sun and savour the warmer temperatures of summer whilst others prefer the stunning autumnal colours of September, known locally as “Ruska”. Unsurprisingly, there was a big call from the parents in the office voting for either the December magic of mid-winter, February half term and Easter.
Personally, I always head to Finnish Lapland somewhere between mid-March and early April and, in many a conversation with the locals, it seems that they too favour this time of year.
Late March to early April is a time of change and renewal in Lapland. You get the best snow of the winter because by now, it has been falling for anything up to six months. The perfect snow provides the perfect canvas for warmer temperatures and stunning ice-blue skies that stretch endlessly away over the forests and still frozen lakes to a far and distant horizon. The air is as pure as anything you could ever hope to breath and the days become almost visibly longer. Yeah!
Forget that myth about it being permanently dark above the Arctic Circle; by mid-March it is light until around 9pm and Aurora hunters have to go out increasingly late for their Northern Lights fix.
Nevertheless, my experience is that is worth waiting for darkness to fall because the great thing about March and early April is that the improving weather very often means less cloud cover and it is cloud cover, not a full moon, that every Aurora hunter hates. Add in a theory that the sun is more active around the spring equinox and you have a pretty good time to head north.
If you do, you may very well see me there too. Give me a wave as you pass me driving a team of dogs through the snowy forests or ice fishing on a frozen lake surrounded by pristine and perfectly silent nature.
Most importantly, once darkness has fallen, try not to bump into me or anybody else for that matter because it is all too easy to do when your gaze is fixed skywards.
You could say that the Northern Lights have become Lapland’s equivalent to mobile phones; nobody these days seems to be able to take their eyes off them regardless of where they are walking or heading. So, no matter when you travel, make sure you watch where you’re stepping as you marvel at those overhead lights.
We’re sometimes asked for statistics regarding the frequency of displays of the Aurora Borealis in the destinations we feature and unfortunately, we have to reply that statistics on the subject are pretty meaningless. Basically, across the Auroral oval, the Lights appear around 200 times per year regardless of whether you are in Finland, Sweden, Norway or Iceland.
However, it is impossible to make any long term predictions as to which of the 200 days will yield results and which of the remaining 165 (or 166 during a leap year) will not.
Finland Northern Lights. Image Antti Pietikainen
Katrina- Aurora Zone rep
Here at The Aurora Zone, we know how important it is to have someone on hand to answer any questions or queries you may have during your holiday. For this Northern Lights season, the lovely Katrina has been our rep in the resorts of Harriniva and Jeris in Finnish Lapland. So we thought we’d catch up with her to find out how her first winter in the Arctic went.
I must apologise if the title of this missive sounds like a football coach drilling his players about finding space and remaining focussed but movement and shape are key when it comes to the Northern Lights.
Movement and shape. Credit: Antti Pietikainen
The vast majority of Auroras are green, very often myriad shades of green but multi-coloured displays are rare.
Image: Markku Inkila
It may seem slightly strange but here at The Aurora Zone, we can’t wait for the end of summer.Yes, summer is lovely with warm, sunny days and long hours of daylight but therein lies our problem....daylight, there is simply too much of it.
Late last summer we speculated as to whether the 2014/15 Northern Lights season could match those of the previous two years which had delivered some unforgettable displays.
In June 2014, NASA confirmed that the Sun had reached the peak of its current solar cycle and, rather excitingly, geophysical research suggested that the declining period of a solar cycle often coincides with significant solar events. There's nothing that gets an Aurora hunter more excited than increased solar activity so we thought we would ask a couple of the best in the business to review the season so far. It seems that it has more than lived up to expectations.
Markku Inkila lives near Ivalo in North East Finland and is, without any doubt, one of Scandinavia's most knowledgeable and enthusiastic Northern Lights guides. We asked him to sum up the season using his own words and a couple of images:
This autumn was crazy, 12 nights straight and we saw the Northern Lights every night. During the winter we have seen lights every clear night and that is awesome! There has been lots of talk about solar maximum that was supposed to be last year and the year before, but the thing is that we are in the middle of the "aurora zone" so it doesn't matter what year it is, we see them nearly every day when it's clear sky.
Ali rarely forgets to remind us that he founded the UK's first ever Northern Lights holiday brand but behind his self-promoting braggadocio is a genuine pride that The Aurora Zone has been responsible for helping thousands of people tick the Northern Lights off their bucket list.
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