by Greg Dickinson, The Telegraph, August 22, 2018
It was deepest December and I was on a plane at Gatwick Airport, about to go in search of the northern lights in Arctic Finland. I Googled “sunrise in Nellim” and the result quickly came back: “sun does not rise”. Four days, no sun. I could almost feel the vitamin D draining from my system at the thought of it.
The Northern Lights season begins in late October and runs until the end of March, so now is a good time to starting planning your trip. There is, of course, no guarantee that you will be successful in your mission to witness the aurora borealis but there are ways to improve your chances. The question is, just how hardcore are you willing to go in your search?
For the most dedicated northern lights hunters, there is an option to bathe in complete darkness for the entire trip. Off the Map Travel have just released a 24-hour northern lights itinerary, All Day Aurora, taking visitors to Svalbard between November and late January when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon.
“As the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon they are never guaranteed. To have the best chance of seeing them you need clear, dark skies and you will more than double your chances of getting just that when the sun never rises,” says Jonny Cooper, Arctic travel expert and founder of the company.
The question is, is it really worth holidaying in complete darkness to maximise your chances of seeing the Northern Lights? We weighed up the pros and cons.
It’s worth it
Telegraph Travel’s Annabel Fenwick Elliott said: “I'm perhaps unusual in that I'm a fully fledged night owl, with a profound fondness for the darkness. I've been both to Antarctica during the summer, when the sun never goes down, and several times to the Arctic Circle during the winter, when it never comes up, and on this factor alone, I was happier with the latter.
“So spending a week in Swedish Lapland sans-daylight in search of the Northern Lights was a fantastic experience in of itself, despite only catching a glimmer of them once. The sole logistical frustration, for me, was that it's hard to get decent photographs of anything or anyone in the dark.
“Regarding the aurora - the fables are true, they're entirely fickle and unpredictable. I returned to Lapland the following year, this time to the Finnish portion, and was told on the last night that as per the forecast, our chances of seeing them were hovering at around "zero per cent". Half an hour later, the clouds opened up at random and we were treated to the most dazzling show locals had seen all winter.”
It’s not worth it
When I woke up in Nellim, a village in the far north of Finnish Lapland, I initially enjoyed the novelty of it being pitch black until 11am. A blue half light engulfed the snowscape for a few hours before modestly disappearing again, and I felt a tangible awareness that we live on a rotating planet.
But the romance of the darkness ended there. By day two, there was something oppressive - almost claustrophobic - about never seeing the sun come above the horizon.
Orientating a holiday around an elusive natural phenomenon comes with a risk of disappointment, and when you commit this much money (we're talking over £1,000 for three days, without flights) and live in darkness for the duration, I suspect the disappointment is that bit riper.
As it so happens, I did see the northern lights. And yes, they were phenomenal, life-affirming, all the rest of it. But they also appeared at about 10pm; statistically, the most likely time to see the lights is around 10pm-2am. This made me wonder whether it would have been wiser to have planned the trip for a couple of months later and enjoyed the day activities - dog sledding, snowmobiling and snow-shoeing - in daylight.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment in the box below.