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 is Chairman of the board, but rarely forgets to remind us that he founded the UK's first ever Northern Lights holiday brand. 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.