During my stay in Ivalo at the beginning of January 2015, I spent two nights at a wonderful place called Guesthouse Husky. Not surprisingly, the guesthouse offered husky safaris. I booked one to finish off my stay in Finland, excited for the opportunity to experience these amazing creatures in their element.
This particular snapshot was taken just before we commenced the husky ride, when I still had enough feeling in my hands to operate my camera. The husky dog’s expression in this photo always makes me laugh as he was such an energetic boy and kept jumping up and down, tail wagging wildly and howling to high heaven in his desire to get going. I managed to capture the exact moment he turned around to look at us, as if saying what are we still doing here, come on, let’s GO!!!
It was an unforgettable experience, and not only in the sense that it turned out to be the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m glad, though, that I braved the freezing temperature of close to minus forty degrees so that I could see these huskies in action. It gave me a newfound respect for these friendly dogs which, as a team, could easily run distances of over 60km at a consistent speed of about 20km/h. Now that is what you call endurance!
It was twilight time when I arrived at my new accommodation just outside of Ivalo village on January 4th, 2015. I had two nights booked at a family-run property by the name of Guesthouse Husky. True to its name, there were about 150 huskies on the property. Being a dog lover, this was my idea of heaven and it turned out to be a fantastic stay.
About 1pm, I decided to brave the elements so I could meet some of the adorable husky puppies yapping playfully outside my room. Considering visibility was excellent, the temperature was not unbearable and I needed some exercise, I continued to walk around the property, shortly coming across a snowy road leading to my favourite sort of place- the unknown.
Wandering amongst the vast expanse of uninhabited forest, my attention was soon drawn to the horizon, where a faint, dusty pink light seemed to be kissing the tops of the trees. Seeing this hint of colour was a pleasant surprise and I quickly set off down the road, hoping to glimpse more at the bend. It felt like I was chasing an elusive fading shadow and this snapshot was the best I could manage.
Afterwards, I just stood in the middle of the road for a while to appreciate the stillness and silence. Occasionally, a slight wind would echo through the forest, brushing snow off the trees and sending it adrift in the air.
This is a land of extremes, the border of one of the great wildernesses of the world. Yet the pale light of twilight also made it feel fragile and new. I felt that if I waited long enough, that dusty haze on the horizon would turn into fire. In reality, the day never did quite dawn. It faded before it had ever truly begun. Perhaps it is why this corner of the earth still feels so unspoiled. Long may it stay that way.
It took me 40 hours to get to Ivalo, Finland. The journey started on New Year’s Day 2015 and involved four flights, including a six and a half hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Berlin seated next to the worst passenger I’d ever encountered in over a decade of flying.
When I finally got to my accommodation, I was exhausted beyond measure. I have no trouble sleeping on planes but I hadn’t been able to rest much at all this time around. (Being seated next to the Worst.Passenger.Ever obviously didn’t help.)
It’s safe to say stretching out in my bed at Hotelli Ivalo was the most glorious feeling ever and I had an epic 13 hour sleep. When I woke up at 9.45am on January 3rd, I was surprised that the world outside my window was nowhere near as dark as I’d anticipated it would be, given the sun would not be rising for another six days.
I had no grand plans to do anything that day and actually ended up just relaxing in my room and observing the twilight hours. Having just come from Perth, where we were in the middle of summer and experiencing 14 hours of sunlight a day, it was a very interesting ‘day’ adjusting to the phenomenon of polar night.
This particular collage shows the progression of twilight into night. The top picture, looking out over the frozen Ivalo River, was taken around 12.30pm, the ‘lightest’ time of the day. The smaller pictures were taken at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. As you can see, by about 3pm, it was pretty much back to black.
All in all, there were a solid four hours where there was enough light to ensure you didn’t feel as though you’d spent the whole ‘day’ in perpetual darkness. Just enough to prevent cabin fever, I’d say 😛
In my quest to see the Northern Lights, I started off the year 2015 by visiting Ivalo, a little village in the Lapland region of Finland with a population of about 4000 people. Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland and is situated in the Arctic Circle, a part of the world where the sun remains below the horizon for a lengthy amount of time in the winter. When I visited two years ago, the sun had last set on December 3rd, 2014 and would not rise again until January 9th, 2015.
I was aware before arriving here that my four night stay in this town would be spent in polar night. I had also read that a certain amount of light filters through around noon during the ‘civil twilight’ hour. (In fact, many places within the Arctic Circle experience more twilight hours than equatorial regions.) Yet, it took me quite by surprise when I opened my curtains at 10am and saw just how ‘light’ it actually was outside. It seemed like just another grey, overcast winter’s day. I wasn’t going to be living in pitch blackness like I’d imagined after all.
It just goes to show you can never quite know what to expect of certain things until you experience them for yourself!
Yesterday marked two years since I saw the Northern Lights for the first time. I remember it was about 5pm when one of the staff at the guesthouse where I was staying knocked on my door to inform me the lights were putting on a show. I’d been working on my laptop and was somewhat surprised by the early display- not that I was complaining! I quickly got dressed in my layers and rushed outside, camera in hand, ready to capture the magic- only to discover I’d left my memory card in my laptop. Hence, I have no photos of the spectacular sky that night, though the dancing heavens left such an imprint on my mind that the memory of it will never fade regardless.
The next day was very cold but the sky was clear- a promising sign for another light show that night. My wish was granted around 9pm, when a rippled green ribbon broke through the darkness and curled its way through the midnight sky. The display was a lot fainter than the previous night, the final remnants of a dying solar storm. Emerald wisps would glimmer and glow, then disappear to leave only whispered memories of magic and mystery. It was not a long display and though I kept a lookout for the next few hours, there was no encore performance.
Although this display was nowhere near as intense as my first aurora viewing, it was still beautiful in its own way. Indeed, this is part of the magic of the Northern Lights- you never quite know what you’re going to get. Plus this time, I’d been able to capture a few photos which I was very thankful for because, despite going on to continue my chase in Norway and Sweden afterwards, and then Iceland later in the year, the weather gods never granted me another viewing and I haven’t seen another aurora since this day.
The Northern Lights are the most beautiful and mysterious thing I will ever see in my life, and the only thing that could ever make me want to leave my bed and go outside on a -30 degree night. Many people regard them as a bucket list item, and rightly so, but for me, seeing them once, then twice, is not enough. Once you have seen them, a part of their magic stays with you forever and I dearly hope I will yet see them again one day.
Can someone please take me out of the 40 degree heat we are experiencing in Perth right now and send me back to Ivalo? It’s surreal to think that exactly two years ago today, I stood underneath a bitter cold Finnish sky and watched the universe dance.
The cosmic marvel that is the Northern Lights is something that I will never stop dreaming about and in my never-ending pursuit of colour and light, they will always be the ultimate chase.