Chasing The Lights

A powerful display of Northern Lights during a geomagnetic storm.

The Northern Lights are as elusive as they are impressive, making Hurtigruten’s promise to show you them even more appealing. Here’s what happened when our Into The Blue Copywriter, Rebecca Martin, joined the search.

It was my first night aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Kong Harald and the whole ship had slipped into a post-dinner lull in the Panorama Lounge when the announcement came over the speaker system. It was the Captain telling us, in a manner so casual it was as if he didn’t know that he was about to tick something very important on many bucket lists, that the Northern Lights had made an appearance on the horizon. The excitement was immediate and palpable; in a flurry of Arctic fleeces and weighty Helly Hansen jackets, we headed out on deck en masse.

Photo Credit: Ørjan Bertelsen 

Photo credit: Ørjan Bertelsen

Sure enough, there they were. Faint at first, tinging the sky with a shade of soft green, before shooting from the horizon in beams. Whether it’s because I refused to eat my carrots as a child or not, is open to interpretation, but my eyesight in the dark is atrocious. The trusty and tarnished glasses that get me from A to B when the sun goes down had been left in my car at the airport, yet the green glow of the Northern Lights lit the skies so brightly, that even I could see them. Some turned their attention to capturing the perfect shot (a process involving apertures, tripods and other technicalities), whilst I joined those who simply stood and stared. We were ambling along the Sognefjord, plates full of Nordic fare in our bellies and the aurora borealis in full force ahead of us; this is how a bucket list should be done.

There are few things in life that don’t lose their magic as we get older and the Northern Lights are surely one of them, their appeal extending to all ages. Like almost every natural phenomenon, their mystical presence is in fact caused by science; the lights form when charged particles are emitted by the sun during a solar flare, penetrating the earth’s magnetic shield and colliding with the atoms in our atmosphere on arrival. Science has made it easier to predict when the elusive lights will make an appearance too, with apps and alerts now capable of forecasting the likelihood of activity based on the planetary magnetic index. Technical stuff indeed and even more reason to have Hurtigruten’s team of experts by your side as you search the skies. Since 1893, Hurtigruten’s ships have negotiated the legendary Norwegian coastal route between Bergen and Kirkenes every day, all year long. If there was ever an expert in chasing the lights, Hurtigruten is it.

The morning that followed the previous night’s Northern Lights encounter brought with it bowls of the best hot cinnamon oats, served with a side of scenery that had us all reaching for our cameras once again. That’s the great thing about a Norwegian coastal voyage; the backdrop during daylight hours is so awe-inspiring, that the arrival of darkness and the anticipation of those mystical lights almost becomes an afterthought.

Despite raising more than one toast to bucket lists the night before, the view outside my window when I woke early the next day was enough for me to shoot out of bed and up to the deck within minutes. The dark water reflected the snow-capped mountains like a mirror and I quickly decided that it was the most amazing view I had ever seen. The air was the freshest I had breathed and the sun was the brightest I had seen it, its heat not yet enough to change the Arctic scenery of Norway’s vast icy expanses. We were charting a course along the Sognefjord towards Skjolden, a route not usually taken by Hurtigruten’s ships but one that would give us a taster of the landscape guests could expect to encounter on a full coastal voyage. It was hypnotic.

Whilst our own short trip was incredible, those who embark on a true Classics Round Voyage will see infinitely more. Described by Lonely Planet as ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage’, the journey takes you from Bergen to Kirkenes and back in 12 days, covering 2,500 nautical miles and calling at 34 ports, 22 of which lie north of the Polar Circle.

One thing to understand from the outset is that this is not a cruise but an exploration. The dramatic scenery can’t fail to stir your sense of adventure; the Lofoten Islands, Trollfjorden and the Seven Sisters mountains are more amazing in person than you could ever imagine from photographs. The wintertime casts light in shades you’ve never seen anything like at home, from the purple and yellow glow over Bergen, to the ‘Blue Hour’ created by the indirect sunlight over Trondheim and the North Cape; every inch of the landscape is a photographers dream.

It is during the winter months that the aurora borealis is most often seen and Hurtigruten are so confident that the lights will occur during your 12 day voyage, that they will give you another 6 or 7-day Classic Voyage with half board FREE OF CHARGE if they don’t. Hurtigruten’s Northern Lights Promise applies to all Classic Round Voyages between 1 October 2016 and 31 March 2017, giving you the chance to become a true explorer during the time that Norway is at its most wild and inspiring. Let your adrenaline flow on a RIB safari or husky dog sled ride, take a horseback ride along the beaches of the Lofoten Islands, watch a midnight concert in the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø, whale watch or kayak with the fjords encompassing you from all angles; the options are endless and the excursions range from action-packed to relaxed.

One of the best places in the world to enjoy the Northern Lights is from the deck of a Hurtigruten ship and with the promise of a free trip if they fail to make an appearance, there’s never been a better chance of ticking the phenomenon off your bucket list. With regional flights departing from around the UK, the magic of the Northern Lights is closer than you think.

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