1. Claiming the Office Bragging Rights – Barry Nolan
We were selling holidays in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland long before we established The Aurora Zone. In those early days, we didn’t really go with the intention of Aurora hunting, it was more about dog sledding and log cabins. Of course, our suppliers always mentioned the fabulous Northern Lights but even after three or four visits, our Managing Director, Ali McLean, still hadn’t seen the magic in the sky.
Indeed, he had taken to jokingly telling our partners and the various Scandic Tourist Boards that the Northern Lights didn’t happen at all and that they were just a marketing ploy by the most northerly European countries.
At that time, I hadn’t visited the Arctic so I was particularly excited in 2007 (I think) to head to Kirkenes in the far, far north of Norway. I was also especially determined to see the Aurora Borealis and hence claim the office bragging rights as the first there to do so.
I landed at Kirkenes in darkness and as I alighted from the plane I immediately started scanning the pitch-black sky. Nothing.
Kirkenes Airport is tiny, and it took a matter of just 15 minutes to collect my bags and step outside to find my waiting taxi.
The taxi had to wait a bit longer. I rapidly dug out my phone which was buried snuggly inside several warm layers of clothing and started texting.
“Ali. Just stepped out of Kirkenes Airport. The sky is ablaze with dancing-coloured lights. Amazing sight and no, they are not a marketing tool dreamed up by the Tourist Boards.”
Ali replied with just one word but it’s not one I’m prepared to share here!
2. Beware of Light Pollution – Dawn Kitson
A colleague and I decided to do our own Aurora hunt in our hire car in Finland. We parked up when we saw a soft glow in the distance to see if the arc of light we could see would grow or change.
Nothing happened, and it was only the next morning that we realised that we had spent 2 hours staring at the lights from a ski resort! My advice is that it is best to leave the Aurora hunting to the experts.
3. The First Time – Ali McLean
Before we set up The Aurora Zone, I had travelled north quite a few times without seeing the Northern Lights. Admittedly, this had a lot to do with my preference for remaining in restaurants with good company rather than venturing out into the chill of an Arctic night.
It was way back in 2007 or 2008 that I first visited Nellim in Northeast Finland. On meeting the owners Jouko and Mari Lappalainen, I mentioned that I had not yet seen the lights and joked that I was starting to believe that they were a figment of Finnish Tourist Board’s clearly feverish imagination.
Later that evening after dinner, I was sitting in the lounge enjoying a beer in front of a roaring log fire. Suddenly the front door to the building opened and Jouko rushed in.
“Ali, if you don’t believe in the Northern Lights, you had better come outside now!”
I abandoned my beer and warm spot by the fire and stepped out into the Finnish night to behold a sky filled from horizon to horizon with shape shifting green light. It was spellbinding and I must have stood there transfixed for about 15 minutes before Jouko said,
“You know, a tee-shirt isn’t really the right clothing for this weather, you should get a coat.”
I hadn’t even noticed the cold which was hovering somewhere around -10C! That was the totally mesmerising impact of my first ever Aurora Borealis.
Not wanting to miss a moment of the show, I ran indoors to my room and grabbed my coat. I hurriedly exited the building and cast my eyes skywards……..nothing! The Aurora had danced and, in the space of maybe two short minutes, the Aurora had stopped dancing.
That is one of the main lessons I have learned about Lady Aurora; she is a fickle temptress. She comes and she goes at her own behest, nobody else’s.
4. A Romantic Reindeer Safari Under the Northern Lights – Allan Cooper
My favourite Aurora memories are from Torassieppi Reindeer Farm in northwest Finland. This was where I saw the lights for the first time ever as I stood on the thick, thick ice of frozen Lake Torasjarvi.
The Aurora slowly danced across the lake towards us, forming a green-white harp-string effect above our heads: it was only then that I really understood how the Sami legends came about.
I was so taken with Torassieppi that I returned with my wife for a romantic break. Maybe we just got lucky but one evening, we were enjoying a gentle reindeer safari when green lights started to emerge from the coal black sky. Snuggled cosily in our sled we watched the lights dance for a good hour before returning to winter cottage.
It was exactly the sort of memory that sustained us through the long months of lockdown and an unforgettable and a reminder that things can be far, far better.
5. An Abandoned Reindeer Steak and the Best Auroral Display Ever – Ali McLean
I was sitting in the restaurant of the Luosto Tunturi Hotel in Finnish Lapland enjoying the company of my great friend, the hotel’s owner at the time, Juha-Pekka (JP) and, a rather good bottle of red wine. Adding to my contentedness was what is my favourite meal in the entire world, a superbly prepared and cooked pan-fried reindeer steak.
As JP and I discussed all things Lapland and tourism the other diners started to rise from their seats and head for the doors. I mentioned this to JP who replied,
“Ali, I know how much you love a reindeer steak but, do you love it as much as you do the Aurora?”
To be honest, I did think about it for a few seconds, but the lure of the Northern Lights is too strong, and, on this occasion, it was more than worth the reindeer-related sacrifice.
In the hotel courtyard about fifty people had gathered to witness what is to this day, the greatest natural spectacle I have ever seen.
The lights fell downwards towards us in stair rods of green, red, purple, yellow and blue. Such was the ferocity of the display that we were taking involuntary steps backwards as these shafts of vibrant coloured light sped towards us. Even the locals were outside watching, and they get a display two or three times a week but rarely one like this.
That must have been in 2008 I think, and to this day I have never seen a display to match that one. It was wonderful.
I apologised to the chef afterwards for having abandoned my beautifully prepared reindeer steak, but he was clearly used to people abandoning his lovingly created cuisine.
“It happens all the time” he told me, “to be a chef here in Lapland you have to be prepared to see your hard work wasted from time to time.”
6. Reduced to Tears – Kate McLean
I knew that seeing the Northern Lights can have a different impact on different people. Some folk whoop and holler, some run around frantically trying to get different angles for their photographs, some say a silent prayer and others just stand mutely dumbfounded by the sheer beauty of it all.
Me? I cried the first time I saw the Aurora
It wasn’t the most enthralling of displays but, seeing those coloured lights gently dancing in the Finnish night sky moved me to tears. I was with the people I love, my family, and standing on a frozen lake somewhere north of the Arctic Circle.
It was a perfect moment.
7. “Reindeer are like the Northern Lights, they don’t exist” – Barry Nolan
A lady with a Welsh accent rang the office and I took the call.
“There’s a picture of an animal on your website and I don’t know what it is.”
She guided me towards the relevant page and we identified the image which was of a sole reindeer surrounded by a vast winter wilderness with a distant backdrop of rolling snow blanketed fells.
“It’s a reindeer.” I said. This was followed by a slight pause and then a gentle intake of breath,
“Reindeer don’t exist! They’re just made up like Santa and the Northern Lights.”
The ensuing conversation lasted another ten minutes. I think I persuaded her the Aurora Borealis is “a thing” and might even have persuaded her that Father Christmas is real. However, she would not budge on the reindeer issue. Indeed, I wonder to this day if she still believes reindeer to be a figment of our collective imaginations.
8. The view from a Finnish Fell – Jono Archer
It was my first time driving a snowmobile at night, so my excitement levels were already high. We set out in convoy from Harriniva in Finnish Lapland, following the snowmobile tracks as our headlights illuminated the snow-covered forest beyond.
We gradually climbed up the fell, to the top of Olostunturi where we stopped for hot drinks and snacks. The view was remarkable – even in the darkness, we could see for miles. The timing was impeccable; as we switched off our engines and began to enjoy a warming drink, the Northern Lights started to appear.
At first, they seemed to twist and turn gently, flowing around in the sky. Then the intensity grew and green, white and purple shades of colour formed fantastic, ever-changing shapes as we all looked on in disbelief.
The snowmobiling experience was fantastic, but to see the Northern Lights like that was breath-taking.
9. Go to bed, you are drunk – Amy Hope
Some years ago, myself and two colleagues travelled to Norway’s “City of the Northern Lights”, Alta. On one evening of our stay, we hooked up with a very affable local chap called Trygvor who worked as a Northern Lights Guide in the area.
We spent three of four hugely enjoyable hours with Trygvor which included tales about the ghost of a German soldier, unwittingly eating dried reindeer heart and, absolutely no sign of the Aurora.
Despite clear skies, a favourable forecast and our guide’s best efforts we drew a blank. It happens and it is disappointing when it does so rather than head off to bed, we sought solace in a bar just down the street from our hotel.
To be honest, it turned into a bit of a “sesh” and, despite the hugely restrictive cost of alcohol in Norway, we were slightly the worse for wear by the time we left. As we walked back to the hotel, I cast my eyes skyward in one last gasp attempt to see the Northern Lights. And, what was that……?
“Look” I said to my colleagues “is that lights in the sky?”
They looked, they squinted, they peered, and they strained to see what I was seeing before turning to me and replying with,
“Go to bed Amy, you’re drunk!”
10. Yes Chef! OH YES CHEF!!! - Katharina Rogalski
Most of us here at The Aurora Zone have at some time abandoned a meal to rush outside and watch the Northern Lights. However, I doubt if any of them have ever been lucky enough to finish their meal under the Aurora.
I was staying at Muotka, a small hotel hidden away in the forests of Finnish Lapland. While we were eating dinner, the owner came into the dining room and announced that there was a spectacular Auroral display in progress directly overhead. I won’t deny that I left my table with some reluctance because pudding was due to be served and I have an extremely sweet tooth.
Imagine my delight then when five minutes later as I was staring skywards, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned round to find the hotel chef tempting me with a bowl containing a delicious looking slice of cheesecake accompanied by a fabulous compote made from the local cloudberries.
That really was doing it in style. The Northern Lights and a slice of homemade cheesecake…..I’d go a long way to repeat that combination.
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