Northern Lights

I really felt “out on the edge” in Utsjoki, Finland, 450 km (280 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. It was Elyn’s long-held desire to see the Aurora Borealis—the “Northern Lights”— that led us to schedule this trip to the place that billed itself as the best chance to view the Aurora. Our hosts were Aurora Service Tours, who provided transportation from Ivalo Airport to our base, just outside of Utsjoki and across the river from Norway (see map). They housed the 14 of us in 7 comfortable cabins, each with its own electric sauna, and provided optional daylight activities, including dog sledding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling expeditions. The central theme was aurora chasing every evening. The accommodations were far from being “on the edge,” but I still felt some trepidation and experienced a mysterious allergic reaction that I couldn’t find any source for.

Finnair, the official Finnish airline, provides service to Ivalo, but the final 200 km (125 miles) to Utsjoki must be covered by surface transportation. Highway E75 is the only highway that goes north through that section of Finland. Our British driver/guide, Daniel, expertly negotiated the ice-covered highway, buffeted by strong winds that nearly blew us off the road, and delivered us to our base camp safely. I have the highest regard for the skills of this young man. He made our stay at Utsjoki comfortable and made sure that we were able to view the auroras. He came to the cabins each evening at 7:30 and either drove us to where we could view the lights or stayed with us outside the cabins as we experienced them.

The Northern Lights are the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere. Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. Green, the most common color, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. There is no guarantee you’ll see the aurora, even as far north as we were—it all depends on conditions such as sun activity, cloud cover, the brightness of the moon, etc.

Perhaps it is time for some truth telling. The photos you will see in the video presentation below show the lights in brilliant shades of green with occasional pink touches. That is the way the camera “sees” them, but what we actually saw with our naked eyes was much closer to white or grey. Only if the auroras are extremely strong will the eyes be able to see the colors. We were not aware of this fact and were somewhat disappointed with what we saw. If we had done more thorough research before the trip, we would have known what to expect. Nevertheless, the light shows were spectacular. I have Photoshopped one photo in the video to show what our eyes (as opposed to the camera screen) saw.


We made a side trip one day to Inari to visit Siida, the Sámi museum. The Sámi are the indigenous people of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, and parts of Russia, an area that is generally known as Lapland. The Sámi are reindeer herders who traditionally followed their herds across Lapland. They experience their lands as one country, in spite of the national borders that have divided them. Persecuted by the European Christians who considered them ignorant “natives,” they have managed to maintain some of their culture and language. The museum was an interesting view into their culture, although it downplayed the darker aspects of their treatment by so-called “civilized” peoples. We purchased a few items that we thought were authentic Sámi handcrafts, enjoyed a meal in the museum café, and returned to Utsjoki for more aurora viewing.

This was our first trip to Finland, and we hope to return. We spent three days in Helsinki, which is a bustling modern city with excellent museums and a thriving foodie scene. I have begun to think of the Scandinavian region as a possible escape from the heat of summer in Spain.


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