When I look back on a life full of extraordinary travel experiences, witnessing the Northern Lights in Iceland will probably be at the top of my list.
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The bands of light are created when particles from the sun interact with earth’s magnetic field. They’re generally visible from late September to March, anywhere from 6pm to 6am. Conditions have to be just right, but don’t panic if the weather looks rubbish. There’s a saying in Iceland: ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes’. They’re not joking. You can experience sunshine, rain, wind, sleet, hail and snow all on the same day. It’s like Melbourne on crack.
Most hotels in the remote parts of Iceland (get out of Reykjavik to avoid light pollution) offer an Aurora, or polar light, wake-up call. Make sure you sign up. And then get ready to change from PJs into thermals, coats and scarves in the blink of an eye. You need to be fast because when – if – the lights do come, they might only last for minutes. Or for hours. They might be white/grey, yellow, pink, purple/blue, ruby red or, commonly, green. But don’t expect the crazy lurid green you see in photos – your eyes can’t fully capture the lights like a camera lens.
The lights might appear as ‘dancing’ curtains, ribbons or bands, a steady glow or a rainbow that twists like a tornado. The holy grail is a ‘waterfall’ – when the lights are directly above and rain down on you. If you’re lucky you might see one of these. We saw every single one on a single night – more than a few tears were shed in the presence of this extraordinary natural phenomenon. Even the locals and guides said it was one of the greatest nights they’d ever witnessed. And yet the night before had been a total washout. That’s what makes the Northern Lights so special – they’re unpredictable, elusive and require real effort to see them. And you might not see them. But if the Green Lady does come out to dance, you’ll never forget it.
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