Chasing the Northern Lights with Hurtigruten
Norway boasts not one, but two of the world’s most dazzling natural spectacles. Natarsha Brown suggests you come for the light show, and stay for the sun.
Light, in its infinite and compelling forms, has the power to captivate. Whether it is painting desert plains in jaw-dropping shades of orange at sunset, making lapping waves glisten and shimmer with the dawn of morning, or igniting snow-capped mountains with a luminescent glow come twilight.
Such is the wonder it kindles in hearts and minds that countless myths and legends have surrounded its spectacles throughout time. In the Bronze Age, Norse civilisations believed that the sun was drawn through the heavens on a chariot pulled by a divine horse.
Not so long ago, the people of Lofoten supposed the Northern Lights to be the visible form of angry gods, able to ferry away souls to wander the darkness for eternity. Even today, to prevent an untimely disappearance, local superstition instructs one not to whistle when the skies transform.
Chasing the Northern Lights with Hurtigruten
Norway has few peers when it comes to natural light shows. Come winter, its silent, crystallised landscapes are set aflame with the neon celestial beauty of the Northern Lights as they explode and morph across the crisp night sky in striking hues of green, blue, yellow and crimson. By turn both explosive and elusive, this kaleidoscopic display is best seen from October to March when they are at their most vivid.
One of the most memorable ways to chase the lights is by sailing along the majestic northern coastline, where latitudes – between 60 and 75 degrees, aka the ‘aurora zone’ – are prime for viewing and are far away from the city glare. Not to mention the scenery in this part of the country, which is some of the most spectacular on Earth: think impossibly steep-sided fjords tumbling down into midnight-blue waters, punctuated by glorious waterfalls and grand glaciers.
Hurtigruten has been operating in these parts for more than 120 years, first as a cargo and postal service, then in the 1950s – when tourism started to flourish – as a passenger cruise company. Although the company’s ships have been revamped over the years to service this market, they are still a means of transport for the locals, who jump on board at random intervals to make short journeys.
The 18-day small group ‘Follow The Lights’ tour gives aurora hunters ample opportunities. Beginning with the famous Flåm Railway from Oslo to Bergen, guests then embark on the ‘Classic Voyage’ from Bergen to Kirkenes. Beyond Norway, a glass igloo stay in Finnish Lapland, a stopover in Finland’s capital, Helsinki, and a day trip to medieval Tallinn in Estonia are the crowning jewels in an expansive lineup.
In many ways, this is a cruise for the traditionally cruise phobic. Hooded waterproof jackets and thick woollen beanies are the dress code. The ship is not a flashy floating hotel with glitzy evening shows and multiple dining options – it is understated; a vessel for getting as close to nature and as many of its myriad mysteries as possible.
Days are filled with lectures on subjects ranging from historic expeditions to climate change, and passengers are encouraged to engage as much as possible with their surroundings – through intercom alerts signalling passing points of interest or on scenic on-shore excursions, such as husky sledding, museum visits to learn more about Sami culture, reindeer meet-and-greets, and guided walks passing through the homes of famous composers and World Heritages Sites.
All the while, you’re waiting with bated breath for the announcement that heralds the arrival of aurora borealis, so listen up for: “Could everyone please make their way to the deck.”
Soaking up the Norway Summer Sun
For those who would rather bathe in the perpetual daylight of the Midnight Sun, Norway in summer is just as bewitching. From late June to early August it never gets truly dark anywhere in the country and temperatures are pleasant both on land and at sea.
Of course, the best place to revel in the sunshine is as far toward the pole as possible, as this natural phenomenon occurs north of 66° N 33’, between the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.
Yet, on either side of the Polar Circle, you will find locals and visitors alike delighting in the drawn-out days through innumerable active pursuits: kayaking alongside lobtailing orca, traversing the frozen tundras in search of the elusive Arctic fox and nomadic polar bear, enjoying world class hiking in the countless expanses of national park, bathing in the sea or even attending concerts in island caves.
Hurtigruten’s ‘Norwegian Fjords, North Cape and the Arctic Sunshine’ allows guests to experience the very best of the warmer months and the great outdoors over an action-packed 15 days.
Discover Norway’s long fishing history in Reine, visit the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø, or take the perfect shot of that famous row of colourful, toy-like houses on the shore of Bergen. Regardless of the diversion, this journey will allow you to delve deeper into the selection of ports handpicked by Hurtigruten’s team of experts.
And, of course, there are boundless moments to bask in the ‘white nights’, or as Norwegian author Knut Hamsun so aptly described the magic in his 1894 novel Pan: “Night was coming on again; the sun just dipped into the sea and rose again, red, refreshed as if it had been down to drink”. I could feel more strangely on those nights than anyone would believe.”
You, too, will no doubt be hypnotised by the nocturnal sun and spellbinding night skies.