Northern Lights Delight. Iceland, January 2014
I don't know where the idea came from really. I woke up one day and decided that I was off to Iceland to see the northern lights. I had tried back in 2011 in Norway and again in 2012 in Canada so it seemed fitting that I try again after doing a little research. Turns out, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Timelapse viewable on YouTube.
Step 1: planning.
I managed to find fairly cheap flights from London, Heathrow straight into Reykjavik, Iceland. As I was flying just after New Year, I struggled to find anyone who wanted to tag along. In the end, I managed to twist my brother and sister's arms so off we went.
We flew with Iceland Air for approximately £170 return. This was on a flight that landed in Iceland at around 11pm and left Iceland around 4pm. Perfect timing. We had five days in Iceland in total and relied solely on this Icelandic metrological site to tell us where the lights would be and when. All we had to do was monitor the site the week before we left and the rest would be easy...
Step 2: arrival.
We had read that it only got down to about -4c in Iceland in winter. That may well be true unless the wind coming straight down from the artic is blowing a chill factor of -27c. We were absolutely frozen stepping out of the airport!
We had hired a 4x4 through Sad Cars as they were considerably cheaper than other car hire companies. Being based off-site from the airport probably helped to bring the fees down. They offer a free shuttle service to and from their office, located just a short drive from the airport.
We signed the papers, checked the car over, filled up with petrol and began the six hour drive north to Akureyri. According to our website, that's where the lights had been dancing just the day before. All going well, we would see them on our drive considering if was now already after midnight.
Step 3: akureyri.
It ended up taking around ten hours to arrive in Akureyri. The wind was terrible on the drive and I was almost having to fight with the steering wheel to stay in control. Fortunately there wasn't any fresh snow falling but the darkenss never lifted. 7am dark. 8am dark. 10am dark. Nonetheless, we didn't see the northern lights that first night as we had hoped. It was the first time I've ever felt really affected by the dark. 2pm the first signs of light gave everything a pale blue tint. Morning was here! Akureyri was a stunning place, even in poor lighting. We visited the tourist information office and were told of some spectacular sights to see whilst in the area.
We had booked to stay at Accommodation Akureyri Guesthouse. I can't rate it highly enough due to the helpfulness of staff, size of rooms and convenient location. Not to mention the great price too. This became our base for the next few days as we set off to explore.
Step 4: the chase.
Disaster struck as it seemed the whole of Iceland was to be covered in cloud for the next week. Making it impossible to see the northern lights! We decieded to stay in Akureyri for two whole days. We would go out exploring between 10am and 4pm. Then come home to sleep before setting off in search of the lights again at 10pm until about 3am. It was a busy few days but we made sure to do lots of sightseeing in between.
We made it up as far as Siglufjöròur and beyond, driving down the west coast of that outcrop of land. It was spectacular to see such scenery. We were hoping the furhter north we stayed, the more chance we would have of seeing the lights once the cloud cleared.
Just as we had covered as much ground as possible- due to more snow and blocked roads. The news came through that the lights would be putting on a show no less than 550 miles south of our current location. Needless to say, our car was packed and we were on the road racing south as quickly as possible. It was a long drive and we made the group decision that there was no time to find a hotel so we would be sleeping in the car that night, lights or no lights!
Step 5: the show.
We made it down south for about 11pm. There was no time to stop at a restaurant so it was service station food and toilet stops. It really felt like a race against time, what if tonight was our only night!! Eventually we were just an hour or so outside Vik on the south coast when something caught my eye. We pulled off highway 1 and sat watching. There was an unusual patch in the sky. It didn't look like much so we carried on driving to take the next exit on to a dark, less busy road. It was the right decision. Within moments of pulling over in a gateway the sky began to dance. It was like watching a laser show. We were mesmerised watching it unfold. After an hour or so it seemed that it was moving so we decided to chase it. It was about 4am when we pulled over to sleep for the night after seeing quite literally, the most spectacular show on earth.
Step 6: iceland is amazing.
After a terrible sleep, which we of course weren't bothered about, we found a restaurant, found some wifi and booked into Gesthus Selfoss. The lights were to perform again that night and this would put us in a central place to visit the geysers at Geyser. We also went to see the 2010 volcano which exploded causing much disruption. It was surprising how harmless it now seemed! We stayed in a little cabin which was perfect for us. It would be a great spot to stay in summer and very cheap too.
That night, as planned, the lights showed up again and we were fortunate enough to see another show. Best pics featured below.
With the lights seen, our mission was complete. It was time to return the car and fly back to London.