Northern Light S in Iceland

by : Stuart Cheese

In my capacity as the UK Director of Operations for One World Tours Limited, every time we add a new destination, the questions come flooding in. Having recently returned from Iceland people wanted to know about my experience of the Northern lights, so here it is...

I am not really a people person and usually opt for private tours if I can get away with it. With clients in mind I like to experience the kind of things that they will experience when on holiday and not only that a group tour is far more economical, especially in Iceland.

I took a tour of Iceland in the winter months in order to be able to see the wonderful Aurora borealis along with other things that can only be observed in the latter part of the year. Of course the weather is very unpredictable at this time of year and the chances of getting a clear cloudless sky for a long period of time is something to be taken into consideration when doing an evening out such as this. One thing is definite and that is there is never a certainty that the trip will take place. If the weather is not suitable then the tour company will ring your hotel to let you know that the trip is off, offering a tour the next evening or a full refund.

The night that I was hoping to see the lights was very unpredictable and I was expecting a call to say the trip would be cancelled. Much to my surprise I was informed that I would be picked up from my hotel at 8.30pm, and so began my extraordinary adventure. I was picked up from my hotel nearer to 8.45pm and transported to the bus that would be my refuge from the cold biting winds, rain and snow blizzards for the next few hours. Once the bus had filled up we were driven off away from the bright lights of Reykjavik deep into the Icelandic countryside. At different intervals the tour guide exited the bus to check conditions and I began to feel that the short video about the Northern lights we had all been shown was the closest I was going to get to seeing them. For safety reasons we had to find a suitable place to park the bus in the darkness in order that we could all descend without getting run over.

Acting on a call from headquarters forecasting clear skies all fifty passengers got off of the bus and slid their way into position in the icy lay-by to get a good view of the Aurora borealis in the clear starlight sky. As I gazed upward all that I could see was the clouds making their way towards us at an astonishing rate. We were informed that this stop would be no longer than 30 minutes and then we would be moving on. The clouds were upon us before the 30 minutes was up so we all got back onto the bus under the guides instruction as he had it on good authority that he could locate the lights.

We drove further along when the guide pointed out to the driver that he could see something beginning to flare ahead of us. Once again he got off of the bus to check conditions and we drove a little further in order to park safely to disembark the 50 expectant visitors. So off we all got again and the guide pointed us towards what he believed was the start of a flare up. The area lit up not with the northern lights but with about 40 camera flashes aimed at what looked like a cloud to me. Hey I'm no expert and I was sure the guide knew what he was talking about and in order to not look ridiculous among my fellow light seekers I watched the "thing" in the distance. Well I was right after all it was just a cloud and it was back on the bus again.

By now I had given up any hope of seeing any lights other than passing car headlights and decided to stay on the bus for the next 3 disembarkations. From my window all I could see was the snow as it hit and slid off of it. At 11.30 the driver and the guide finally admitted defeat and began the long journey back to Reykjavik and I must admit I did feel sorry for them as they had tried very hard to show us something. The guide had mumbled through his microphone that these things had a habit of happening and that of course it was out of his control.

I could see the lights of Reykjavik looming in the distance and my hopes of seeing the Northern lights disappearing into the bitter night. "Stop" said the guide to the driver, "something is about to happen!" Of course it is, I thought feeling cold and tired, talk about the boy who cried wolf. I just want to get back to my hotel room now. The bus emptied out quickly once more with the people who were determined to see something as I stubbornly stayed in my seat. "Come on" the driver said motioning to me. But I wanted my nice warm seat. As I glanced out at all of the other "idiots" standing in the cold I saw the familiar waves of the sonic flares that looked as if they were directly above our bus. I got off of the bus and was treated to a most fantastic display of the most beautiful lights I had ever seen. At just after midnight I was standing in my snow covered surroundings watching this natural phenomenon and I was thankful of the tour guides persistence. Suddenly our long search had been rewarded and I came back to England feeling honoured to have seen another of nature's wonderful gifts.