Thursday, 29 March 2012

Iceland 2 - In Search of the Northern Lights

After our exquisite day of chilling at the Blue Lagoon we went back to our hotel and had a meal, then we checked at reception whether the Northern Lights trip later that night was going ahead - the tour company cancels by 7pm if it is not happening and you can try again the next night.  As it was raining and cloudy outside we fully expected a cancellation, but much to our surprise the trip was on.

The bus picked us up at 9.30pm and sure enough the clouds had lifted and the stars twinkled above us. We headed through the suburbs of Reykjavik, I noticed that most people in the city did not close their curtains/blinds at night when their lights are on, rather strange...  We drove on into the blackness of Iceland's interior, we were heading ├×ingvellir, the site of Iceland's parliament from 930 to 1789.  It is also the area where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet causing a major fault line, fractured rocks and regular earthquakes. It's a fascinating place to visit (Glen and I went there in 2010 on our last visit to Iceland) in daylight, but of course on this night we could see none of this.

The northern lights or Aurora Borealis (this term was first coined by Galileo, Aurora was the Roman goddess of dawn and Boreas was Greek for the north wind) are seen around the north and south magnetic poles of the earth.  They are caused by the collision of charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. The charged particles originate when solar wind (caused by solar flares) hits the earth's magnetosphere. The differing colours are the result of both the height of the phenomenon and whether the particles collide with oxygen or nitrogen.  

At ├×ingvellir there were loads of people, and it took some of the special atmosphere away somewhat.  We got off the bus and joined the throng with eyes raised to the heavens.  There were a few lights scattered around the valley but not many and the sky was very dark, so many stars were visible, it was especially clear because there was no moon, it looked beautiful. The plough constellation was overhead, much higher in the sky than in the UK. It wasn't too cold so the wait was not uncomfortable - then again I was well wrapped up in long-sleeved vest, long johns, thick socks, wool lined boots, thick trousers, velour top, down coat with hood, ski gloves and a wool scarf wrapped round my head!!    

Unfortunately we did not get a show of Northern Lights, all we saw in an hour and a half was a slight arc of white.  It was very disappointing and the bus was quiet as we headed back towards Reykjavik.  Then after about 15 minutes our guide said that he could see Northern Lights in the sky to our right.  Everyone immediately went to the right and sure enough we could see some lights, suddenly the bus had come alive!  The bus driver pulled off the road onto a side track and we all excitedly piled out of the bus.  We were on a high mountain pass and it was very cold and there was snow all around, and there, above the jagged snow-capped mountain tops, were the Northern Lights.  They were a curtain of white/very light green that covered about a quarter of the sky. There was little light pollution here, only the lights from a ski slope just behind a mountain and the orange glow of the lights of Reykjavik glowed faintly behind other mountains.

The aurora were moving very slowly as if being blown by a very gentle, slow-motion breeze, there weren't many people now and there was a hush as we marvelled at one of the most beautiful natural phenomenons there is. There was something incredibly moving, almost magical and awe-inspiring about it. They would fade only to be reborn in a slightly different form and I felt quite emotional as I watched their graceful dance, one of my dreams had come true, and there was nowhere else I would have rather been at that moment than that cold, Icelandic mountain pass. 

After about half an hour the lights became fainter and we all piled back on the bus.  We had a bit of a scare when the bus wouldn't start!  I had visions of being stuck on that mountain pass all night watching the lights - not a bad thing!  The driver soon got the bus going though and we were soon heading back towards Reykjavik with a now very happy and chatty busload of people!


  1. Must have been an awsome sight. I'm so pleased you got to see the lights

  2. Thanks - one thing to knock off my must do list! One more Iceland blog to come sx