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!
The last place I visited on my quest to see the Northern Lights in the European winter of 2015 was the Swedish town of Kiruna. When I touched down on the 15th of January, the sun had emerged from hibernation and the snow was aglow with a soft pastel light.
Although polar night was officially over, the next day dawned with an overcast sky. It did not bode well for aurora viewing and indeed, I did not end up seeing any lights dancing over Kiruna. Luckily for me, there was still magic in the air.
This was the view that greeted me when I ventured for a walk from my cabin at Camp Ripan. Five minutes down the path and I felt like I was the only person on earth. The world was still and silent, save for the satisfying crunch of snow under my feet.
Kiruna felt like a winter wonderland, moreso than any other polar town I visited (except perhaps for Saariselka in Finland, too). The magic was in the trees. They had not been exposed by the elements and stripped bare, left to sway like skeletons in the bitter Arctic winds. Rather, these trees wore the weight of the snowy weather like an insulated coat, until it was time to feel the warmth of the sun once more.
This type of winter is the stuff of childhood dreams. I could very well have been in Narnia, lost in a land encaptured in the midst of winter’s spell. But there was no White Witch at work here. The snow that fell around me was a gentle and pure form of magic, painting the world afresh in the cleanest shade of white. Perhaps somewhere amongst these fairytale trees, all the secrets of the world lay hidden.
My quest to see the Northern Lights in January 2015 began in Ivalo, where I was lucky enough to see them twice, and continued in Tromso, an Arctic city in northern Norway. Unfortunately, my three day visit was a cloudy, snowy, rainy and blustery affair which prevented any colourful night skies from being visible.
I flew back to Oslo, my quest of seeing the Northern Lights in Norway unfulfilled, but compensated, somewhat, by the absolutely spectacular landscapes unfolding below me. I was flying in the early afternoon for a change and as soon as we ascended above the clouds blanketing Tromso, I was greeted by a vast expanse of relatively clear blue skies once more.
One particular sight captivated me the most. I found it stunning in its simplicity. A divided line of light on the horizon, perfectly balanced between the golden glow of day and the oncoming shadow of night. Darkness would have already fallen on Tromso by this point, as it was still in the clutches of polar night. Looking behind me, a deep violet glow was spreading across the clouds. Slowly, it was creeping its way forward to extinguish the last rays of sunlight still shining over Oslo.
As it turned out, a thick blanket of clouds on our descent meant there was probably no sunset visible in Oslo that afternoon either. But up in the heavens, it was a different story. Day and Night are always running to new corners of the earth, always chasing after one another but never quite able to catch up to each other.
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!