30 March 2013

Iceland – Seeing The Northern Lights!

I don’t know what’s been holding me back from writing about this VERY MAGICAL experience.. (erm maybe time constraints..) but here it finally is!During the course of our eight-day trip to Iceland last November, we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights (a.k.a. Aurora Borealis) TWICE.Β The first sighting happened on the most perfect night – after we had returned from glacier hiking and ice-climbing at nearby SΓ³lheimajΓΆkull Glacier and had a delicious dinner at Volcano Hotel.There weren’t many guests at the hotel at the time as it was low season, but everyone was not-so-secretly on the lookout for these curious green lights. Every few minutes or so, we would peek out the window or have a stare-off with the night sky, hoping to see SOMETHING.

Tools I Used

I used two apps on my iPhone – Aurora Buddy and Aurora Forecast. I found the latter to be more useful – which explains why Aurora Buddy is now no longer existent.

Aurora Forecast is developed by TINAC and is available on both iOS and Android. It can be used for both northern and southern hemispheres and it’s great because it gives you hourly predictions of solar activity. This is part of what determines whether there are ‘lights’ in the sky or not. However, cloud cover is also an important element as obviously.. what’s the point of level 10 activity when it’s hidden away behind a thick blanket of crappy ol’ CLOUDS? This website by the Icelandic Met Office provides a good cloud cover forecast.

SADCars, our car rental company, also has a concise guide to hunting the Northern Lights in Iceland.

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I don’t want to bore you with a bazillion photos, so here is a small selection of my favourites taken that night. All photos were taken using my old Olympus PEN or my friend’s Panasonic Lumix, not any fancy SLR camera.. hence why they might not look that awesome ;p

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^Just at the entrance of the hotel.

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I was lying on the cold hard ground whilst taking this photo. I remember staring up into the sky, camera tucked away, just enjoying the moment and thinking what a beautiful wonderful world it was (it IS). Β And how fortunate I was to be there. Fortunate for the luxury of sight and happy to be alive.

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It was all around us.. up above the hotel building, down towards the sea, and back beyond the mountains.

Sometimes they would disappear for a while, and then reappear when you least expect it. Almost like a tease!

We watched the lights dance – yes they really constantly move and change shapes.. like.. magic. There’s no better word, sorry πŸ™‚

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^Stars.

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I couldn’t believe how incredibly lucky we were.. we stood in the freezing cold watching this magic for HOURS (about 3-4 hours I think), in the company of our fellow hotel guests. We were all mostly silent throughout, as if out of respect for the greatness that was happening in the sky.

Some people indulged themselves with large tripods and giant cameras planted firmly on the ground, creating videos using time-lapse photography (as each frame needs to have a long exposure).

The Camera vs. Your Eyes

It’s important to note that what you see with the naked eye is NOT like what you see in photographs of the aurora. The colours are much more vivid in a photo due to the long exposure and so they appear greener than they really are. What I witnessed that night was mostly a milder, more washed-out shade of green. Sometimes, the camera can even pick up bits of the rarer red or purple colours when actually you couldn’t see them in real life.

But the beauty of what you see with your own eyes is that you can experience the lights while they are ALIVE. Alive as they move, breathe, and dance for you!

I made sure not to spend too much time behind the camera. I wanted to watch, smell, feel, and listen with the best tools I had – my own mind and body.

Note from TinyIceland:Β When the forecast looks good like above 4-5 then you will see the green colors bright+other colors if lucky with the naked eye:)

[On the night these pics were taken, the forecast was about 3-4]

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^Here is the one crappy pic that we managed to get with me in it.. haha

Final Tip

I want to stress that when I planned this trip, I constantly reminded my friends that seeing the northern lights was NOT the purpose of visiting Iceland. I wanted it to simply be a BONUS if we did see it, and if we didn’t, it would be completely fine because we would’ve made the best and most of our time there.

I made sure our itinerary was full of activities that did not include chasing down these lights. However, since we were driving the whole Ring Road, most nights were spent in ‘middle-of-nowhere’ locations where there were almost no light pollution (you need the sky to be as dark as possible, to increase the visibility of any solar activity). I also timed the trip to happen during the new moon (i.e. no moon), so as to at least give ourselves theΒ best chance possible!

Have you seen the Northern Lights before? Tell me where and how much you LOVED it!

*For the rest of my Iceland posts, please see my Travel Log.

7 Comments

Winnie |

You lucky lucky lucky thing. I love that you managed to capture these on camera – I can only imagine how awesome it felt to have experienced it around you – it’s such a beautiful thing to see in real life. Hopefully I’ll get to see them one day!

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Libb Raa |

OMG … i have always dreamed about watching aurora ….every time i c anyone having that amazing moment i feel like i want to kill my self that why i cant see them but still hoping one day i ll get lucky

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