Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chasing Aurora

Aurora Borealis from the Grayline Iceland Tours brochure

For many years I dreamed about going to Iceland or Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis. That dream became reality in mid September of this year when I finally landed at Keflavik airport in Iceland. The first few days of our stay was marked by rain and heavy clouds. Then a storm followed. It seemed hopeless. But on Thursday the sun came out and the clouds lifted. Grayline Tours confirmed our northern lights mystery tour and I was in heaven!

We were driven to Reykjanes Peninsula which is south of Reykjavik at around 9 p.m. The sky was still shedding the light of day so we drove quite a distance away from city lights to get the best view. I kept scanning the darkened skies for traces of the aurora and finally I saw a patch of green in the sky. It wasn't big nor was it dancing but it was there. The driver stopped the bus and we all trooped out of the bus to watch the aurora from an ancient lava field. It was chilly outside and we stood there for a while but the aurora never developed. So we left for greener pastures until we reached a lighthouse where we parked for an hour or so to wait for the northern lights to reveal itself. We were not lucky there either. As we were right by the water, it was much colder though we had the option to get a hot drink at the café. Most of us queued up for the restroom instead.

Downcast we headed back to Reykjavik. It was then past 1 a.m. We were told that our tickets were good for two years or until we see the northern lights. And I had made up my mind to rebook the tour for the following evening. As we approached the city, the bus went down a darkened road as the driver tried one last time to find the elusive aurora. And there in the middle of nowhere, the guide called us to get off the bus as soon as possible. What happened next was magical. Above us was a huge canopy of green and white lights. And all I could say was "Oh my God!". And yes, the incredible spectacle before us was His work of art. 

I couldn't get a good photo of the aurora. I only had my IPhone camera and my digital camera. But it's enough that I saw with my own eyes what I had wanted so much to see all these years. When I got back to the hotel, I reviewed the photos and found some smudges of green in a few of the shots I took. I increased the exposure of the image below in order to see the green rays better but it made the photo grainy. 

My photo of the Aurora Borealis

We saw the northern lights again the following evening from our hotel window. It was nothing like the images I've seen on Instagram or Google images but we did catch a green whirlpool. How amazing that was! What started as a hopeless pursuit amidst bad weather conditions turned out to be a good week for chasing aurora.

For more information about the Northern Lights tours, check their website at grayline.is or send them email at iceland@grayline.is. The mystery tour costs 6400 ISK as of this writing. Tours are conducted from September 15 to April 15. I highly recommend Grayline as their staff took us to many locations and didn't give up until we saw the fleeting northern lights. The ability to rebook the tour free of charge in case the aurora is a no show is quite reassuring.

*****

Image with lighthouse from Grayline Iceland Tours.




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