In Search of the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are high on the bucket lists of most people these days, so when Fred. Olsen announced a series of cruises with the aurora borealis as their principal focus, it was an obvious choice. The far North of Norway is, of course, home territory for Fred. Olsen and even their new and slightly larger flagship, Bolette, is still small enough to reach into fjords and below bridges that many larger ships couldn’t manage.

It was a packed itinerary, too, with the great outdoors and the local fauna the main features: snowshoeing and ice fishing, reindeer sleighs and husky mushing, the world’s strongest whirlpool and hiking in the snow. Given this was all happening in the depths of the Arctic winter, appropriate clothing and footwear are essential as the temperature was almost always below zero and, at one stage in a blizzard in Alta (about as far north as you can get) it was -22C if you factored in the wind chill! This is nothing for Norwegians whose kindergarten-age children spend the winter mostly outdoors and it’s interesting, how quickly even we seem to acclimatise. On the way home, at the final port of call in Alesund, 5C seemed positively balmy.

Going so far north in the winter may seem something of a counter-intuitive move. However, if you really do want to see the northern lights you need a dark sky – something you’re not going to have in summer in the land of the midnight sun. Those skies don’t just need to be dark, though, they also need to be clear. Quite a big ask in February in Norway.

The further north you are, the better your chances, too. Curiously, at the North Pole you don’t see the aurora borealis, though, due to a doughnut effect but as we left Southampton, just about everyone on board was hoping by the time we reached our northernmost stops in Alta and Tromso, we’d be lucky. In fact, by great good fortune, the first sighting was just outside Trondheim – not even in the Arctic Circle – and everyone rushed on deck cameras in hand when Captain Jozo Glavic announced over the PA system that they had spotted them from the bridge.

After that, though, the weather closed in and our two days in Alta were marked by snowy skies (not to mention that blizzard). They were nevertheless full of adventure. First there was a visit to a reindeer farm and the chance to learn a little about Sami culture from reindeer herder Josef while sitting in a lavvo (a Sami tepee) around a roaring fire. The reindeer waited outside for us patiently, snow on noses and antlers and then took us for a sleigh ride through a silent winter landscape, snow falling (we were wrapped up in blankets) and the only sound the creaking of the leather harness. Quite magical.

The next day, the huskies were far from silent. They bark and howl like wolves until the moment they start running when they are silent and become completely focused on the task in hand – it’s something they were clearly born to do. This sled ride is very different from the reindeer one as they go at speed and some of these dogs take part in the annual Finnmark Race (the world’s toughest). It leaves from here and the teams of 14 dogs cover 1200 kilometres over 5-6 days.

We arrived in Tromso the next morning and the skies had cleared. This was brilliant news as this was the one night I’d planned to spend off the ship at the Aurora Huts, way out in the Norwegian wilds with no light pollution – so ideal for northern lights spotting.

The Aurora Huts turned out to be not quite as I’d expected. For one thing, they definitely aren’t huts but glass igloos that do slightly resemble a Dalek. There are just four of them and because they are built almost entirely of glass (including a domed roof) you have an excellent chance of spotting the aurora even from your bed.

The Aurora Huts turned out to be not quite as I’d expected.

For one thing, they definitely aren’t huts but glass igloos that do slightly resemble a Dalek.

There are just four of them and because they are built almost entirely of glass (including a domed roof) you have an excellent chance of spotting the aurora even from your bed.

We were just enjoying our supper of reindeer soup when the owner Thomas rushed in – “They’re here. Come now!”

In fact, there was no need to rush. For around an hour and a half, the lights danced across the entire sky, seeming to leap from the tops of the encircling mountains, greens, blues and even reds forming the strange shapes that traditionally made the Sami people believe them to be omens of disaster. Not for us, though. Surpassing all expectations, it was the high point of our trip. Absolutely thrilling.

Anna Selby was a guest on Fred. Olsen’s Bolette. A similar cruise is Borealis’ 11-night S2228A ‘Northern Lights’ cruise, departing from Liverpool on 13th November 2022. Prices start from £1,499 per person.

For more on North Experience:

To book your Fred. Olsen cruise or to find out more about Northern Lights experiences, call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678

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Anna Selby

Travel writer & author

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