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What it’s really like watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

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Original blog post featured in The Journal by Intrepid Travel, by Steph Millington.

The widely disputed list of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World contains some staggering spectacles, but I consider only one worthy of being at the top of the chart; Aurora Borealis or The Northern Lights.

Why? It’s an exclusive natural phenomenon where no one display will match the next. I recount the moments leading up to the first time I witnessed the lights in all their glory…

Northern Lights

Skipping down the hotel stairs like a kid at Christmas, a small group gathered around the local daily newspaper in reception. I’ve never read the weather forecast with so much interest. Clear skies expected. We’re good to go!

Wrapped up in my warmest cold weather attire, almost waddling towards the door of our vehicle, I felt a sense of nervous excitement. We’re heading out of the bright lights of Reykjavik and into the darkness to a more remote corner of the country for a better view.

Sunset in Reykjavik

Sunset in Reykjavik

As the journey gets underway, I fiddle with my camera settings feeling determined to take the perfect shot that evening.

Stepping gingerly off the minibus onto the thin layer of snow underfoot, the group disperse to set up camp. Some had brought little folding stools to sit on, most had a tripod for their camera, which is so key for taking that golden picture when the time comes.

With impeccable comic timing, Bjork’s “It’s oh so quiet” pops into my head as the group starts to settle and hush descends, all eyes on the sky, mouths left gawping at the stars. The atmosphere prickles with a sense of anticipation.

As the hours pass, a few of us have started to huddle like penguins against an icy backdrop. Sips from a flask of hot chocolate or drams of Icelandic Schnapps (an acquired taste) are taken like a medicine to ward off the cold.

Looking around in the darkness, I see people swaying from one foot to the other, others pacing in small circles and swinging their arms, or readjusting their hats, jackets, gloves and scarves. Part of me wonders whether I’ve stumbled across a warm up for a bizarre late night athletics meet. “We’re here for the Northern Lights, right?” I ask of my bewildered neighbour, who smiles sympathetically and looks back up at the sky.

Suddenly, quiet coos of delight and gasps of amazement break the silence and I blink several times to ensure my eyes aren’t deceiving me.

Northern Lights Iceland

Northern Lights, Iceland

A green shimmer wafts across the sky, growing in intensity with every minute. There’s no guarantee how long it’ll last or what shape it will form, so I soak it all up with a contented grin on my face.

Eventually, the dancing, shimmering miracle fades and vanishes but the imprint in my mind will be with me forever.

Check out Intrepid’s 6-day Northern Lights Escape trip.

Multiple viewing opportunities are possible over several days in areas chosen to avoid light pollution. This gives you the best chance of witnessing nature’s magic at its colourful best.

All images courtesy of Intrepid Travel.

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