Well hello again… It’s the editor here ready to write my ‘Week in Review’ article for week 2. This week was all about Scandinavia, specifically Norway and the Northern Lights. It was the reason we had traveled half way around the world so our hopes were high, anticipation at a maximum and a complete sense of unknown. Would we manage to see the lights? Would it be so cold that it wouldn’t be enjoyable? Had we made the right decision to stay out of town? Would we find anything to eat? Would we be able to see anything in the darkness? Would we miss the sunlight? With none of us having been in Scandinavia and not being able to talk to many people that had… planning was down to research and so we stepped out of the plane with a real sense of… “We’ve got no idea what we are doing”!
Our first taste of Norway was Oslo – the capital of Norway. Two immediate things came to my attention… 1st) The cost of everything… It really is the most expensive country in the world! $40 for a taxi that drove a whole 650metres… Hhhmmm I wonder how much 1km would be? $20 for McDonalds nuggets…. $20 for a hamburger and no you don’t get fries or a drink with that… I could immediately sense that my additional waist line from Europe would be put to good use as a food source here! … 2nd) Norwegian people can be seriously tall… Now I know what you’re thinking – everyone is taller than me…. But I didn’t even reach their hip joint!!! It was crazy.
Our first “light adventure” would begin in Oslo tonight… Not the Northern type (we weren’t in the arctic yet) but in the form of fireworks. This was a reflection of what happens when it’s legal to set off your own fireworks. There was no waiting for the clock to hit 12pm and everyone to start cheering… Happy New Year! No instead the locals just start setting off the fireworks from 11pm (perhaps even earlier)… They don’t just set off little sparks but real ones that we would consider our best back home. Coupled with the council paid fireworks (incredibly amazing) you ended up not knowing where to look… hope that one would not come flying at you… and continued to look up high in the sky in disbelief… Knowing that no fireworks in the future would be able to compare! What a sight!!! …. And it was the only thing that is and would be free in Norway – hard to believe anything could be free!
So as I sat looking out of the window heading towards Tromso, in front of us was a big black line of darkness… It was almost saying fly into this and you’ve officially hit the Arctic. Looking back the other way you could see a line of light… As if to say “good bye daylight… See you soon”… The only thing that breaks the absolute darkness is the stunning reflection of the white snow everywhere… Even the locals say without the snow it would be so much darker… Darker? How could it be any darker? Yet over the next few days we would learn and appreciate the snow and the definition it provides for the mountains.
So six days and five nights later… This is what I have learnt about being in the Arctic in the middle of winter….
1. It’s cold (surprising?) so before you step out of the door I suggest the following attire… Knee high thermal socks covered by normal woolen socks, thermal pants, normal pants, special boots, short sleeve thermal top, long sleeve thermal top, hoodie, puffer jacket, gloves, beanie, neck warmer and then the vital part – your arctic thermal suit! This will take you an extra 20minutes to get dressed but well worth it. The benefit is you can lie in the snow for hours, stand in the wind and only your toes will feel cold. A bit funny but true!
2. Food… Well as we have already discussed price is at a premium so the best option is trying to stay at an apartment with cooking facilities. Now for us the forces conspired against us to eat… Every time we had time to go to the supermarket it would be closed, something would take much longer and we wouldn’t have time or we really didn’t want to eat the fish soup (being allergic doesn’t help)… So my suggestion is take all opportunities to stock up on back up supplies and if it means eating spag Bol from 7-11 for breakfast… Then you gotta do what you gotta do (as a side note it was really yummy)!
3. Driving… Driving on the opposite side of slippery iced roads, in a left side drive, changing gears with your right hand and it’s pitch black can be very difficult. I had a small go but thankfully Phil was the master of this! Hiring a car is a must if you choose to stay out of town… But would be ok not to have a car if you are staying in Tromso.
4. Sleep… Don’t expect much of this if you are in search of the Northern lights. We averaged about 4 hours a night… So if you are one who needs sleep make sure you don’t have an activity in the morning if doing a northern lights tour the night before. This is totally against Elliot tours ethos… Therefore we went with the 4 hours a night sleep model! Hhhmmm sleep on the plane soon?
5. Light… You get grey light between 10am – 1pm and while there’s no sun you are able to see the beautiful fjords and mountains. All other hours of the day are pitch black.
All of these five things are incidentals to the real reason you have traveled half way around the world. So the reason I leave having had one of the best weeks of my life and can’t wait to return is the activities we participated in. I have thought long and hard about this order… So coming in 1st place is (drum roll please…)
Staying at Lauklines! Earlier on I pondered the question of should we have stayed in Tromso or an hour away at Lauklines? The answer is undoubtably Lauklines. As it was right on the waters edge overlooking a fjord, you really felt as if you were in the middle of the Arctic. It was here that we got to experience our first glimpse and best night of the Northern Lights right from outside on the balcony. All you had to do was step outside look up (or forwards) and there was the dancing green lights. On the last night it at first seemed like the lights weren’t coming out to play and then by 9:30pm they did. As there is no light pollution we could clearly see them, where it would have been impossible to see them in Tromso this night as the activity was low. We were also able to go on the whale watching tour from here. While at times we got less sleep because of the time it took us to drive back from tours, it really was worth it. It was so much more than accommodation… It was the basis of an amazing 5 nights (although it would have been really nice if the closest supermarket or shop was closer than 25km away).
Coming in a very close second place was our Northern Lights tour with pro photographer Vida. Not only did he teach us to take the photos correctly, set up the cameras and make a really yummy vegie soup… But he took us to an amazing spot to watch the lights. For me it didn’t get much better than lying on my back completely surrounded by snow, looking up to the stunning stars and northern lights. As I think a previous blog infers… It was like I was doing “survival backstroke” in the snow. I was in my little happy place…. Such a wonderful memory.
Next… Huskies!!!! Dogsledding…. I absolutely loved this activity. Yep… I was back in my happy place again. I was super lucky to be paired up with the owner and pro dogsledder. This had a few benefits… We got to go fast and through all of the bumps and when I was driving he gave me clear instructions so I felt really confident and had a super enjoyable time. We had many laughs as we went through the snow mountains… Looking over the gorgeous fjord and we could see some light reflecting from the sun (PT got us to stop so he could take a photo as he hadn’t seen the light for nearly 2 months). The hot chocolate and chocolate cake in the lavu tent afterwards was also a highlight. Some Dogsledding places don’t let you drive, have up to 4 people on the sled and the owners treat the dogs really poorly. It was obvious PT loved his dogs and the dogs loved him… We got to drive the sled and were only in pairs. Carolyn and Phil also had an amazing time on the sled… Although we seemed to lose sight of them during the “uphill phases” and then saw Phil puffing significantly… Hhhmmm maybe a few more walks back home would have helped? We all had a giggle when the guide ever so nicely just ‘swapped a couple of dogs’ because they were getting old… Haha
Next was Snow mobiling at Camp Tamok in Lyngsfjord – 5km from the Finland border. Here the snow was incredible… A couple of metres thick and pristine… No foot prints on it for miles and miles. I was initially hesitant to drive… With it being a motor on ice… Hhhmmm generally not a good combination for me? Although I quickly gained confidence… Hhhmmm that was until the guide came up and said “no more hooning… Less on the gas… You need to lean into the hill… And more scarily… You’re gonna flip”… While I loved driving the snow mobile up hill and on the flat… Sliding on the downhill was quite scary and saw me at times became a little scared of the thought of falling off. Phil on the other hand was a crazy hoon and didn’t need to be told twice… “You can floor it over the frozen lake…” I think a small part of him thought he was Peter Brock. Carolyn was also a more cautious driver who took up the new skill quickly and confidently. I thoroughly enjoyed being her passenger. We stayed at Camp Tamok for the day… Chilling out by the fire inside the Lavu tent and then went for a night hike searching for the Northern Lights…. While the activity was low we still got some sightings and took a few photos before heading back home.
During our time we also did the whale watching tour… A “fizzer” Carolyn called it… Only seeing 3 whales briefly and having to be rescued by the Norwegian coast guard after 6 hours… Although it is a funny story “rescued in the arctic sea by the Norwegian coastguard in the middle of winter”… And we did a Northern Lights hunt with Marcus from Arctic Fishing. While this company is excellent it was a cloudy night so we had to drive 2.5hours south to catch a glimpse of the green sky. Still I enjoyed lying in the snow in my Arctic thermal suit… Sitting by the fire made in the snow and just soaking up the moment.
So as I sit here at Oslo airport… Having watched it snow outside for the last 3 hours… I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced everything that I have. To see the Northern lights is so special. While we had a few hiccups along the way… Stacking on the ice many times on the first night, being rescued, not eating or sleeping a lot… We got to experience so much in the Arctic. To answer some of the initial questions… No the light wasn’t depressing at all, when you do have grey light it feels special, we certainly made the right decision with accommodation, you can still see a little in the darkness, the coldness didn’t take away from the experience (as long as you have the arctic thermal suit) in fact it probably added to it.
My advice… Try to get to see the Northern lights once in your life time… And if you need any help ask “Elliot tours”… They do amazing trips. Haha
Now that I have exceeded the word count of the assignment… It’s ready to be handed in? Hhhmmm maybe I will get a good mark from the journalist on the provision that she had an awesome time too!!! (Gotta count for something). I’m exhausted!