Northern Lights in Iceland: Chasing the Aurora All the Time

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My main purpose to come to Iceland in February was not only the snow and ice. Actually, up until recently I was absolutely no fan of a winter vacation. AT ALL! You’d rather find me in a hot tube in Miami or other parts of the South than drag me out into the shivering cold and take pictures when trekking through knee-deep snow. (All with a happy smile on my face.) But in the last year or so this must have changed. Perhaps I finally grew up or I just discovered how beautiful life is when taking on some challenges. I also read this article which made me believe that the Northern Lights would be a vanishing phenomenon for the next 11 years and all of a sudden my interest was spiked.

Therefore, one of the main reasons I decided to take this trip in the cold month of February was the Aurora Borealis. The beautiful interaction between excited sun particles entering the cold atmosphere at night time, causing all types of different colors, but most commonly green. Read more about it here and here.

Double Exposure and the Northern Lights
Double Exposure and the Northern Lights

While I had missed it a back in April and my Northern Lights tour was cancelled on the two nights I was in Iceland, I vowed to myself to return one day just to be able to see them live and in-person. Little did I know how soon I were to return to the land of fire and ice. Funny how life turns out that way. Or how cheap plane tickets were at that time of year. Either way, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only did I get to appreciate a hot bath in the freezing cold and explore some amazing landscapes in the snow. But I also saw the Aurora on two nights during the entire 7-day-stay I had.

The thing with the Northern Lights is this: They are very unpredictable. Especially during times when it tends to snow often and cause the sky to be overcast. That’s certainly not when you will see them – no chance at all. So on the first two nights I spent in Iceland that was the exact issue we ran into: Blizzardy conditions with basically zero visibility.

But then, quite unexpected, on our way back to Reykjavik, we actually were luckier than thought. It was one of those moods you are in sometimes, when you really want something to happen but the forecast says your chances of it occurring are basically zero. While our bus was making its last stop at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, which is illuminated in the dark, our guide pointed out how lucky we were indeed. “Looks like those are the Northern Lights after all,” he cheerfully announced. “Either that, or it’s the light from the waterfall.” His joke did not go unnoticed and many people were already pretty angry at him getting our hopes up and then crushing them. He then laughed and said that these were indeed the yearned-for Aurora and that we should go enjoy them.

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We had about half an hour. I was the first one out of the bus, with a few people behind me, who all knew that the main reason I had come to Iceland was indeed this unpredictable occurrence. No surprise then that they all gathered around my camera, wanting to see the end results. It was a magnificent stream of green shooting across my camera screen. Whereas in real life it looked more like a white milky streak across the horizon. Some of the fellas had the brilliant idea of taking group pictures in front of my camera so we ended up getting some great souvenirs of the overall group vibe. I’m actually happy it happened this way because now I will never forget the great time we had together.

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Parts of our amazing group
Parts of our amazing group

Ironically, this was the strongest I saw the Aurora throughout the entire 6 nights I was in Iceland. Despite visibility being up to 5 only two nights later. I had booked a proper Northern Lights Tour and our bus was lingering around Pingvellir National Park for almost 4 hours straight. But we ended up seeing them very vaguely in the first few hours, then they seemed to have vanished completely. A girl I met told me later-on that they had come out at 2am. It must have been quite a light show, just like you’d imagine: Clouds of green wafting right at you and screaming ecstatic words into your face. Well, the Northern Lights Tours only go until around 12 midnight, so that was my light show for now. I am still happy I got to see them somewhat – even if not very strong. Perhaps this is all just a sign that I have to return no matter what and give Iceland the proper amount of time it deserves. For now, this will do.

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The sky itself was pretty magnificent. We could see all the star constellations and point out the Orion to each other. Overall, it was hard to concentrate after a while, though, because of the cold. Despite me wearing heat-tech undergarments, two pair of socks, two pair of gloves and other warm accessories, I was cold for most of the time. February nights should certainly not be taken lightly in the Artic.

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