The Northern Lights With Hurtigruten
As I boarded Hurtigruten’s Nordkapp, snow was settling on the decks, the steel-grey skies were closing in and the rooftops of Tromso were slowly disappearing under a white blanket. For those of us who had come to Norway on a short voyage in the hope of spotting the Northern Lights, it wasn’t looking good.
A bit of snow in Norway is no barrier to sightseeing and, in the absence of clear skies and any hope of an aurora borealis flash, we threw ourselves into the activities on offer. We visited a husky farm, where more than 200 dogs greeted us with a deafening howl, straining at their chains to get out in the snow.
The sledging was magical. We whizzed across the frozen landscape under a reindeerskin rug, on a sledge pulled by a team of 10 powerful dogs, and later huddled around a roaring fire with mugs of hot chocolate.
I had once visited Honningsvag – a pretty little city of brightly coloured houses pressed up against a mountain – in the summer, when wild flowers carpeted the surrounding hills and reindeer roamed the streets. Cruise ships flock here so that their passengers can stand on the clifftop beside a metal globe that marks the North Cape; at 71 degrees north, this is the very 'top of Europe'.
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Norway in winter is a very different story from the lush greenery of the fjords in summer: snow falls from every angle and an icy wind numbs fingers, noses and toes as it whips across the exposed clifftops. You marvel at the fortitude of the people living in this harsh landscape, and the mountains take on a starker kind of beauty.
By the last night of the voyage I still hadn’t seen the aurora. A feeling of despair began to settle even as I kitted up in thermal suit, crash helmet, snow boots and gloves for a snowmobiling adventure that would take us across the mountains from the village of Kjollefjord to rejoin Nordkapp at its next port, Mehamn.
A convoy of 20, we set off into the night, wrestling initially with the unfamiliar controls, bouncing across the dark, snowy landscape and focusing intently just to stay on the trail. My eyes quickly adjusted to the moonless night, the snow glowing an eerie blue.
We roared up a steep hill, the lights of the coast behind us, and cut our engines. Erik, our guide, pulled off his crash helmet and pointed to the sky. “Above you, the aurora,” he announced.
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Everybody gasped. A huge white arc stretched right across the heavens from the eastern horizon to the west, billowing gently, the red pinprick of Mars glowing through its curtain, Venus and Jupiter dazzling against a blanket of stars.
Reluctantly, we sped on, now fixated on the sky rather than the tracks in front of us, watching great circles of green light pooling and disappearing, spiralling and suddenly shimmering in all directions. No photograph can ever capture the magnitude of this phenomenon.
Imagine giant aeroplane trails covering the whole sky, crisscrossing, stretching hundreds of kilometres vertically as well as horizontally, constantly moving. We returned to the ship feeling euphoric.
And it wasn’t over. The aurora made another appearance that evening, en route to Kirkenes. The captain announced that there was a display in the heavens and everybody leapt up, abandoning the cheese course, grabbing their thermals and heading up on deck. I stood there until my hands went numb with cold, just gazing at the sky, wanting the show never to end.
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This article was written by Sue Bryant from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.