A story focusing on our Northern lights experience in Iceland
Throughout our two-month trip across Europe before we arrived in Iceland, Lara and I had both gotten used to missing out on sites, activities and bucket list experiences due to long lines, bad weather and downright bad luck. Countless times we missed out on experiences we had both long fantasied about. We had missed out on various galleries in Italy because of incredibly long lines. We had missed out on seeing Nueschwanstein (a castle in Germany) because of heavy snow and poor visibility. We had also missed out on a French cooking class because it was all booked out. All of these activities and sites we both really wanted to see and do, however seeing the Northern lights in Iceland was clearly at the top of our bucket list. However, after the amount of bad luck we both had during our Europe trip, Lara and I both expected that we weren’t going see the Northern lights due to their unpredictability.
Lara and I hired a camper van to do a road trip around Iceland’s ring road for two weeks. All of our family and friends thought we were crazy to go on a road trip around Iceland during winter, but Lara and I both ignored everyone’s comments. We both knew Iceland during winter would be stunning and totally worth the cold weather. Three days into our Iceland road trip we were sitting around casually playing a game of cards in a warm camping shelter.
A couple from Prague approached and told us that the Northern lights were expected tonight and that we should go out as soon as possible to view them. We left the room in a hast leaving our deck of cards behind on the table and ran outside into the cold air, away from all the nearby lights. In the middle of a field, inadequately dressed, freezing cold and frantically looking around we noticed a faint dull green flicker in the distance. Have we missed it? Is that it? A soft green glow could barely be seen in the distance which could have easily been mistaken for clouds. We waited and waited and waited. Nothing. Although half expecting the lights to instantaneously reappear, they only seemed to fade and get weaker as they descended off into the distance.
Feeling teased but excited about the close sighting, we stayed up past midnight just encase they suddenly returned, but no luck. The following nights were also a big disappointment, with heavy snow showers, extreme weather and overcast skies forecast. We started to truly believe that we were not going to see the Northern lights. The following day we were forced to stay in our van all day as we were stuck in a blizzard. Luckily, because of the van and its extremely good heater, we were warm and comfortable inside. The van really protected us during the cold and extreme weather.
Experiencing 110km/h winds (as shown in the video above), heavy snow and white out conditions, we truly felt that we were not going to be able to see the Northern lights in Iceland. Fortunately, the following day the storm had cleared which allowed us to make it to our glacier hike and ice cave tour departing from the Glacier lagoon. The ice cave tour was absolutely stunning, with spectacular views of the vast glacier and breathtakingly blue ice caves. As we stopped for lunch overlooking the glacier lagoon, Lara asked the tour guide where was the best spot to view the Northern lights. We continued to explain to the tour guide that we hadn’t seen the Northern lights yet, despite being in Iceland for a week already. The tour guide told us, “All you need is three things. A clear sky, Aurora activity and just a bit of luck”.
Feeling tired from a full day of ice cave exploring, we pulled our camper van into the closest camping ground. After a delicious dinner and a much-needed hot shower we jumped into the back of our warm and cosy van for a cup of tea before bed. With Lara comfy in the back of the van, I got out to begin boiling water for our cup of tea. As I got out of the car, I halfheartedly glanced at the night sky. As I looked back down to ensure my footing, I got a slight glimpse of a green light in the corner of my eye. Spinning back around in disbelief I noticed the Northern lights were partially out just above us. Although only faint in color, I quickly opened the door to tell Lara. Lara didn’t believe me at first and thought I was joking. I insisted that I was telling the truth and I jumped into the driver seat. Lara joined me in the passenger seat and we drove off to a remote part where we could be away from all the lights of the visitor’s center.
In the middle of nowhere, we eagerly starred at the night sky and continued to wait for the lights to improve. However, the lights seemed to start fading. Feeling disappointed and defeated once again, we decided to call it quits as it was getting late. As we began to open the cars doors to drive back to the campsite, the Northern lights returned. This time, brighter and more spectacular than ever. The rich bright green lights dominated the sky and illuminated the surrounding landscape. Starring in disbelief, the lights seemed to get brighter and brighter as we gazed up into the night sky. Mesmerized by the green wave of light, the Northern lights burst into an intense array of green, white and purple. You could hear people off in the distance cheering along to the display unfolding in front of their eyes. The Northern lights danced across the night sky in a vibrant pattern with the streaks of purple looking especially spectacular. We had both never seen anything like this before, it seemed so surreal.
The experience was extremely special as we both believed that we weren’t going to see them during our two-week journey and we had lost all hope. I continuously took photos of the night ski while Lara laid back in one of our camping chairs. We watched till they began to fade again into the distance. Still in disbelief, we drove back to the campsite discussing the events which had just unfolded in front of us. We had finally seen the Northern lights, something we both thought we would never get a chance to see, a very special and incredible sight which we will never forget. We couldn’t believe how lucky we had been and we both agreed that hiring the van was the best decision we had ever made. The van gave us the best chance to see the Northern lights by allowing us to drive away from the light pollution of Reykjavik.
At the end of our trip in Reykjavik, we were discussing how amazing seeing the Northern lights were after noticing a clear sky that night. A group of three overheard our conversation and asked us where was the best place to see the Northern lights as it was their last night in Iceland and they were yet to see them. We just told them the same thing everyone else kept telling us. “All you need is three things. A clear sky, aurora activity and just a bit of luck”.
Read more: Iceland Review
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