Northern lights: hunting the aurora borealis – a family pilgrimage

January 3, 2014

Chasing the northern lights is more than a holiday excursion for the Nation family – it’s a five-month adventure in Lapland
• Click here for aurora tips from an astronomer

Our philosophy can be summed up as, “Keep looking up!” We are a family of six who live for the aurora borealis, nature’s most sensational light show, and we are about to set off on our most illuminating adventure yet: a five-month northern lights pilgrimage across Lapland.

With the biggest increase in solar activity in 11 years, we want to make the most of this opportunity. We’ll be doing so with the help of our seven-berth motorhome, which has been adapted for winter conditions with a diesel heater and thermal insulation – ready for our boldest adventure yet.

We will sail to Denmark with studded winter tyres strapped to the roof and we’ll be living under the aurora in Lapland for five months, in temperatures that will dip to -30C. Travelling to Arctic locations with four young children in a motorhome is one step beyond the norm but our mobile home is equipped with toilet, shower, kitchen and full-sized beds, as well as resources so our daughters can be home-schooled. Time spent among Sami tribes on a day-to-day basis will no doubt be an education for us all.

How did we get so hooked on the bright lights? It all started in 2009 when we encountered our first aurora in Iceland. After many nights being frustrated watching green-tinged cloud, we all became mesmerised as the cloud finally cleared and a magical luminosity filled the sky. We witnessed an incredible energy and bright green light unfold above us and, from that moment, the allure of the aurora overtook us. We knew we needed to see more of this magical phenomenon.

Our next trip took us 200 miles into the Arctic Circle, to Tromsø in Norway, to more skies radiating emerald and ruby above snow-clad mountains. Sometimes we would drive hundreds of miles in search of cloud-free skies: the long quests looking for the lights always added to the thrill.

Life doesn’t get more special than the five-hour light show we witnessed in Norway this year. Seeing our family jump up and down with excitement as the sky came alive with light shooting in every direction was a priceless experience. The more humankind leaves its mark in the form of light pollution, the less vivid and vibrant the lights appear. That makes them a precious natural phenomenon to see.

But it’s not only the northern lights that appeal. During the five holidays we’ve taken under the auroral band, we’ve never been short of entertainment while waiting for the “Tricky Lady” to appear. From last year’s Norwegian Christmas in a lavvu (traditional Sami tent) to bathing in volcanic hot tubs, herding reindeer, eating hard-boiled eggs cooked on volcanic steam vents, natural hot-mud lagoons, Icelandic horse riding and fishing for our dinner in a fjord, we’ve embraced the outdoor life. These, combined with the simple delights of sledging, snow-topped hot chocolate, cooking sausages on a campfire, watching shooting stars and waiting for eclipses, makes for a winter paradise. 

Compare hotel prices and find the best deal - HotelsCombined.com Nungwi Village

As well as being a perfect travelling and living environment, our motorhome will also act as a workspace: we have jobs as a web developer and a music teacher. With mobile Wi-Fi for monitoring aurora activity, solar winds and weather, we will also broadcast real-time aurora chases for our 4,500 Facebook followers and allow the children to keep in touch with what’s happening back home.

Compare hotel prices and find the best deal - HotelsCombined.com Nungwi Village

In May, as the Arctic’s period of midnight sun (24-hour daylight) approaches, we will say goodbye to our beloved green skies, pack our snow gear away, and drive south through Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary (helping with a fruit-farm harvest), the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy for a further four months of adventure. But that is an entirely different story …

• Follow the Nation family’s adventures on aurora-addicts.com

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