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Hunting the Icelandic Aurora Borealis

 

Here at Extreme Iceland we love showing visitors the wealth of amazing sights to see in Iceland. Even on a short visit you´ll see geological and glacial grandure, vistas of biblical scale and beauty and maybe even some of the vibrant Reykjavik nightlife.


Hunting the Icelandic Aurora Borealis

Here at Extreme Iceland we love showing visitors the wealth of amazing sights to see in Iceland. Even on a short visit you will see geological and glacial grandure, vistas of biblical scale and beauty and maybe even some of the vibrant Reykjavik nightlife. And then, yes, there are the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis; many visitors come especially to hunt this most awesome of sights! If this is your goal you may be joining one of our many Winter Trips or perhaps have booked a private tour to see the Lights. Here at Extreme Iceland we think it´s important for you to understand what to expect of your Aurora Hunt and how you can be. If this is your goal you may be joining one of our many best prepared for it on our tours. Will you definitely see them? Where will we take you? How can we maximise your chances of the perfect moment and capture the perfect shot?

Predictions

First things first, the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon and cannot be perfectly predicted, even with the abundance of technology we now have at our disposal. It always ends as a game of luck and chance, but it is one that we all play with a great deal of excitement! Experience is certainly most helpful and so, your Guide will provide you with great insight and some training in becoming an Aurora Hunter. They will keep an eye on the Aurora forecast and share tips on how to use it best. Before you head out into the frosty night however, there are a few things you might like to know...

When to visit

You need to visit between October and April (though some people have been lucky outside these months) as this is when we get sufficient darkness to see those lovely colour-creating particles (a further explanation of how the Aurora works is here). This is when we run our Aurora Hunting tours, often combined with elements of the South Coast or other spectacular parts of Iceland. With the weather during these months it´s best to be wrapped up really warm and prepared for a cold wait outside.

Starry starry night?

Your guide will take advantage of every opportunity to see the lights. It is essential that we have a clear sky, though a few clouds can sometimes be OK. Lots of clouds will block out our view of the night sky and so can ruin Aurora Hunts, as can light pollution from any source (towns, chalets or even a greenhouse). The Aurora can fill the whole sky however so we will surely keep looking! Sometimes it might be necessary to drive a little to get to clear skies but, more often than not, staying where we are and waiting is the best way to play this game. So, aurora hunting isn't like hunting tornadoes or dinosaurs, it´s an activity we can do at our hotel or simply a quiet spot. Oh and did I mention with some very warm clothing!?

Lights out and look up!

Then, one variable that is sometimes very easy to fix... It needs to be DARK! So, we need to move away from any light source and get used to seeing in the dark. Put your phone away and wait, maybe even have a chat with your fellow travellers. If the moon is away on holiday or only a slight crescent it makes for much better viewing. Either way, find the darkest spot and if you're using a camera it´s best to have the screen off to keep your eyes focussed (much more info on Aurora photography here and here). As our eyes adjust to the dark we´ll see much better.

Now, spotting the Aurora can be difficult for first timers. Often they can start as suspicious looking clouds, perhaps with a green or yellow tinge (be careful not to get excited by light pollution though!) The best thing to do is wait, but taking a long exposure on an SLR for example can also be a good way to check. This is the point where your guide will be most useful and they will help you spot the Aurora developing over time and talk to you about taking photos. The show can be short or long, depending on how lucky you are! Again, patience is key but once you have seen them you´ll certainly keep at it a while longer. If there is no sign of it then checking throughout the night sometimes yields a great result.

Above and Beyond

Then, when the magic starts to happen you will be treated to one of the most spectacular shows on Earth. It won´t always look like the photos and videos you see but looking into the sky and watching natures unique art dance its merry dance is an experience you will never forget. If you didn´t have chills down your spine from the cold you will now! Some of you may focus on taking as many pictures as possible but just remember that standing and looking up is the best way to absorb this powerful other-worldly experience. Whatever way you wish to enjoy it we will do our best to maximize potential for the best experience..

So, to summarize, with an Aurora Hunt remember the following things:

  • Use the forecasting webpages to keep yourself informed
  • Use presets on your camera if possible to minimize fuss outdoors
  • Stay where you are unless there are bad low clouds
  • Get somewhere DARK
  • Be patient and keep looking
  • Stay warm!

We really hope that the Aurora Borealis forms a memorable part of your time with Extreme Iceland. Fingers crossed for an awesome show and Good Hunting to you all!

Contributed: Bill Wood