Kiruna

Chasing the Aurora Borealis

After a futile attempt to catch the Northern Lights in Iceland, I decided to head over to Lapland in Sweden to get a glimpse of the auroras! And boy, was I rewarded with the prettiest of lights! I’m so glad I got lucky this time, seeing it on my 2nd and 3rd night, and hopefully on my final night today too!

On the 2nd night, it was amazing because we decided to head out to the middle of the frozen lake to stargaze with our reindeer hide. We didn’t think the auroras would appear so quickly because the forecast said that it would appear at like 10 or 11 pm. However, we actually saw the aurora form, from a mere lining of green to a sky awash with colors. We probably sat on the lake for a good two hours, just admiring and taking in the beauty of the aurora. At first we thought we were hallucinating (wanting to see it so much that maybe our eyes were playing tricks on us), but then we all started seeing the same thing at the same spot, and we knew that we struck gold and started screaming HAHA.

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The whole sky was illuminated with the lights, and stretched across the entire horizon of the sky. It was constantly moving, taking on different shapes and I simply felt so, so lucky to be able to see it, within the comfort of our campsite. There we were, just lying down on the ice, gazing up at the sky. The feeling’s indescribable.

On the 3rd night, we saw it at the Abisko National Park, where the scenery was different because we had trees as the backdrop for our pictures. Even though we had a limited time at the park, we managed to take really good pictures! When we were on the way back, the northern lights were so strong, we could literally see them dancing, alternating between green and red. It must have been like a strength of 5 or something.

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This trip has been super fulfilling for me because I finally managed to tick the northern lights off my #bucketlist! And the weather in Kiruna/Sweden has been really beautiful as well. Clear skies and sunlight, what more could I ask for.

Tonight i’m heading up to the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko so I really hope I get to see a beautiful light display! They say the third time’s the charm isn’t it 😉

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Iceland

9 things before going to Iceland

  1. Self-drive

I think the Golden Circle is easily doable, and I wouldn’t have wanted to pay for a tour group just to bring me there because the 3 locations are all pretty close to each other. I also like the freedom a self-drive provides, because we can stop anywhere, anytime, to take pictures! It was also kind of my first time going to a foreign place without a tour, and I really liked it!

For example, at Skogafoss, we probably spent 1.5 hours at the waterfall because we climbed all the way up and spent time taking pictures, fooling around and admiring the glaciers. If we went with a tour, it would probably have been a ten-minute photo stop, so yeah I think Iceland’s good for self-driving!

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But also a word of caution!

Choosing to self-drive felt like a crazy and dangerous plan sometimes because of the weather conditions. The strong gales, the snowstorms. There was once we drove in like zero visibility because there was a blizzard, and the snow just covered the entire windscreen. Sometimes, the roads are covered with ice and we risked skidding. Driving at night was also a nightmare (no pun intended) because of the lack of streetlamps.

So, ultimately, it’s up to you! Orrrr you could just go to Iceland in summer instead haha.(Imo, Iceland is just waaaay better in summer)

  1. Book a 4×4

With all that snow and gravel, you’re better off driving a 4×4 or a land rover, as it’s better suited to the terrain. A larger vehicle is more stable and able to drive at higher speeds too!

  1. Back up plan

As mentioned earlier in my previous posts, the weather in Iceland is and will be unpredictable. When we arrived, all our plans went awry because of the pending snowstorm. Obviously, we were taken aback because we didn’t know better and had to scramble to form a rough plan. Thus, always have a Plan B when planning your trip to Iceland!

Some good ideas for when the snow gets too heavy are lava cave tubing/exploring, public swimming pools (i loved Laugardalur Swimming Pool) and museums.

  1. Waterproof everything

Waterproof hiking boots will become your best friend. Those big, bulky waterproof jackets? Your best bet in staying warm. Forget about looking fashionable in Iceland, I gave up a long time ago. Also, those waterproof zip block bags for your phones will come in really handy at the Blue Lagoon and when hiking in snow conditions!

  1. Call the tours to see if your own plans can get the green light

If you opt to go free-and-easy, an easy way to cheat your way through and not make a wasted trip is to call a few tour agencies and ask if the tour is still ongoing. They probably have the most up-to-date information on the weather and the experience to know whether to head out or not. So if all of the tours are cancelled, you’re better off staying indoors instead of making a wasted trip down!

  1. Book a Northern Lights tour

I know, with a car, it’s supposedly easier to go around hunting for the northern lights but in retrospective, I think that I should have booked a night tour for the Northern Lights instead. This is because I didn’t get to see any lights during the 6 nights I was there (pretty near impossible to achieve such a feat, I know)

As a beginner who has never seen the Northern Lights before, I personally feel that it would be hard for me to spot telltale signs of them even if other people tell me to look out of moving green specks of dust or gray lines in the sky. I may have just missed it, or not know where to look for it.

** There are 2 determinants in order for the Northern lights to be seen.

  • Cloud cover

It would be most ideal with clear cloud cover, 0/8, because you would be able to see the lights most clearly on a cloudless night.

  • Aurora Forecast

You’ll stand a good chance if the activity is Moderate (3/7) to Active (4/7)

You’ll need both in order to catch the Northern Lights!

** Edit: After seeing the Northern Lights in Kiruna, Sweden for 3 straight nights in a row (yay!!), I would just suggest going somewhere else to catch the Northern Lights instead of Iceland (if your main purpose is to see the Northern Lights) because the weather in Iceland is really unpredictable, and many of my friends have gone to Iceland with the hopes of catching the elusive lights only to have come back disappointed. Go to Tromsø in Norway, Kiruna or Lapland instead 🙂

  1. Sign up for more activities

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Given the chance, I would have signed up for more activities that are unique to Iceland only. I only went for glacier walking, and I thought that it was a pretty interesting and unique experience! I wouldn’t have minded trying out ice caving, glacier climbing, whale watching and a helicopter ride too!

  1. Shop at Bonus

Studying in Copenhagen, grocery shopping can be pretty expensive. So can you imagine our joy when we chanced upon Iceland’s discount supermarket? Everything was so much cheaper compared to Copenhagen, and sometimes even Singapore! Big supermarkets are pretty rare and hard to come by in Iceland, so my suggestion would be to stock up, because you’ll never know when you’re going to come across another one, especially when road tripping. Convenience stores are much more expensive, and cost maybe 2-3 times the price in Bonus!

9. Book your Blue Lagoon tickets in advance

The queues were so long when we got there, we were lucky to have bought the tickets online in advance. It’s 35 euros for the standard pass. Be sure to slap on the silica mud masks!

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